Let's talk about your need for holy leisure, interior freedom, poetic education, creative expression and cultural engagement. Authentic, joyful, humorous...many talks to choose from...custom crafted presentations...workshops, retreats, group facilitation...let me help you!
Why, you might ask, do I have my friend Jenny’s Iron Man Triathalon photo-finish hung over my desk? She’s young…doesn’t that make me feel old? Oh yeah. She’s physically fit and strong…doesn’t that remind me painfully of my bum knee and my overweight? Uh huh. She’s wearing a triumphal smile…doesn’t that rub my nose in all my failures? You bet. She’s been focused, disciplined, and well-trained. Yes, that makes me feel a bit ashamed of my shotgun, sometimes lazy, and amateur approach to reaching my own goals. She’s victorious – and boy, did she ever earn that victory! – and my big win has yet to happen.
Not what you’d call an uplifting image, right?
Wrong! When I look at that photo I see a gal the photographer couldn’t catch. Her youth has made my ‘old age’ a mentorship that has made a difference. Her teachable spirit has soaked in everything I’ve wanted to give, in a world where most young people don’t have time to listen. She’s physically strong, but that’s nothing compared to the emotional and spiritual strength I’ve watched her grow into. Her sufferings have made my better-body longings seem trivial. She’s joyous in triumph, but I’ve seen her joyous in defeat. That smile of victory speaks to me of victories no race course but the eternal one could test.
She’s relished the opportunity for focused discipline, and recognized in it a luxury and a privilege. I’ve had the privilege of more leisure and thanked God for the different race He’s letting me run. She’s got spunk and talent, an eye for beauty and poetic depth, resilience and faith and passion and honesty and goodness. Together, we have a friendship that doesn’t need the other to look exactly like the self – a friendship that leads us together to the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Jenny’s beauty breaks my heart, but not with jealousy. The picture of her crossing the triathalon finish line after fifteen hours, thirty-nine minutes and twenty-five seconds reminds me of the power of one minute of life to make a difference, of one more hour of work, struggle, or discipline to make a difference, and of one Christ-filled, free, beautiful woman to make a difference.
An inspiring image? You bet!
In the 1960’s, in Alabama, a black maid was still a common help in white households. My grandfather’s maid, Beulah, had been with him for years and grown comfortably accustomed to his habits and preferences. My visits were rare, however, so she could never become quite used to me. She accepted my noisy intrusion into her quiet, orderly territory with cheerful resignation.
She was an exotic novelty in my all-white world and, at five, I wanted nothing more than to watch her, big and black, towering majestically over me as she muttered through her day’s work. If I could make her laugh, opening wide that great pink mouth to let loose a deep contralto belly-full of chuckles, my joy was complete.
One day my desire to pester my ‘playmate’ away from her chores and her desire to finish them in relative peace resulted in a game of hide and seek. Somehow, I was always the one hiding. Her attempts to find me seemed to grow more and more half-hearted. I didn’t know how long it had been since I discovered a great hidey-hole behind a big chair, but I had the feeling she’d forgotten all about me. I emerged with great trepidation, heart pounding with the expected thrill of surprising her and declaring myself the forever winner of the game.
Beulah had, indeed, forgotten me so thoroughly and gone on with her work so industriously that the moment of my shouting “BOO!” triumphantly was a moment of sheer terror for her. Her screaming and jumping were more than I had bargained for, and my excitement dissolved into frightened tears. Her sobs and exclamations made her seem a stranger to me – not my gentle, quiet friend in the least.
By the time my grandfather appeared to inquire if the house was on fire, we were both so hysterical we couldn’t explain a thing. His befuddlement and helpless attempts to set things straight turned our crying into laughter as unstoppable as the tears had been. He walked away unenlightened and muttering something about fickle females. We stayed friends, but never played that game again. I hope this memory gave Beulah a few chuckles to remember me by.
This is a shameless plug for my own book! I’m so excited that Angelico Press has published Souls at Work, and I have high hopes that it will be a blessing to readers. Someone has asked “What kind of book is this?” and it’s hard to put it into a typical category.
It is ‘self-help,’ because I enjoy talking to people who enjoy self-improvement. It is ‘educational,’ because I look at the world through the lens of the classical Trivium and suggest this as a model for self-educators and for teachers. It is ‘Catholic spiritual direction,’ because I strongly believe that your interior life will be much improved by taking on reality in all its forms – art, persons, subjects, buildings and more.
It is ‘poetic,’ because it is meant to give you entrance into my own lived experience, and so is written with a richness of vocabulary and diction that is sadly missing from many 10-bullet-point books. It is ‘hard,’ because it invites you into the adventure of working out your salvation in the rough and tumble tensions of things that are difficult for you. It is a ‘workbook,’ because I ask you to do the work of writing it for yourself (!), or, at least, responding to its questions to make it truly your own.
It is ‘dangerous,’ because there is no true growth or education possible apart from venturing into the unknown territory of the Real World with only our imperfect realization of Christ to guide us. It is ‘Catholic,’ because it is deeply indebted to and respectful of the Faith, and is predicated on my own love for Christ and His teaching magisterium…without being at all a work of theology.
What else? A fountain of youth? Yes. A great conversation starter? Yes. A fun romp through science, art, literature, architecture, and more with, not an expert, but an interested fellow student? Yes. A help in understanding relationship dynamics? Yes. A new perspective on the new evangelization? Yes!
So, as one who is obviously totally unbiased about this book, I highly recommend you get a copy and share the news that it is available. THANKS to all who take the plunge and wade into this ‘invitation to freedom’. Together, Catholic writers and readers must discover what it means for an artist to be, not a law unto herself, but a member of the Body of Christ. I so look forward to your response to this book. Please tell me what kind of book it is when you know!
Don’t waste the food! Don’t waste the oil pastels and the good watercolors! Don’t waste the expensive fabric, the nice paper, the good wine! Above all, don’t waste time playing, chatting resting! Have you ever thought about the paradox of forming the highest things?
To learn to turn ideas into works of art, we must indulge a bit – not recklessly, but with some daring – in wasting art supplies. Give a kid the kind of art supplies you don’t care if he wastes, and I’ll bet they’re also not satisfying to use, either. Interest will wane. To learn to cook, we need to take some risks with foods.
No skill at words is acquired without long practice tossing away and rewriting ‘wasted’ words. No friendship is strengthened without great ‘waste’ of time together. No love is proved by other than life poured out in service. To turn feasts into practice for the Eucharist, we need to taste the finest wine (Note: the ‘finest wine’ I’ve ever been able to afford cost $26 a bottle, but it’s the thought that counts, and paisano is great for most meals. As fans of Rumpole, we call ours ‘Chateau Kaw Embankment’!)
We must learn to value and to give what is of highest value. There’s the paradox. Only a child can give, or use up, or waste with complete abandon, and only an adult can rightly value things. It is the work of growing up to become able to bear the tension of doing both. To give without knowing the value does nothing to honor the recipient, and to value without giving communicates no actual good.
A priest once counseled that if time is our greatest asset, the best gift we can give Him is to waste it. Since I write and speak about Holy Leisure, this was great reinforcement! Sabbath rest is all about learning to be, to be acted upon, to be whole and offer that wholeness to Christ. It can be very, very hard in our goal-oriented, product-producing, efficiency-loving culture to let go and give God some simple leisure time. Even our Christian culture tends toward purpose-driven lives and accomplishing great things for God.
I hope you’ll learn to waste boldly where the great thing being accomplished is YOU!
My whole life is an argument! It’s not that I go around picking fights, but that every choice I make, every action is, in its own way, an argument for choosing that action over other possibilities. This quality of actuality – one judgment realized in concrete form necessarily limits the range of possibility for the next choice – is one reason we keep ideas and virtue locked in a mental tower, and so seldom actualize them in forms, gestures, incontrovertible proofs of what we have thought about.
Thankfully, I don’t live intimately among people who choose quite differently. So, there’s not really much overt argument about my life choices. Every now and then, I realize that my very presence – because of these choices, not because I’m constantly mouthing off about my decisions – is a challenge to someone else.
I know how they feel. I’ve felt it myself – a little defensive in the presence even of someone who has chosen to dress nicer for this party, or go ahead and buy from that company. They might feel a bit wary that their choice for something I clearly chose against might be grounds for exile from my heart, my community, or my regard for them.
Their remedy – if my experience is any indicator – is to be much more clear than people usually are about the whys and wherefores of their own choices. The real challenge is to see that it’s me who needs to shift course when I feel defensive. I need to go over my own reasoning with a teachable spirit (not a combative, internal, self-righteous rehearsal) and then take a calm stand based on my own judgment.
Most important, I need to ‘own my own stuff’ and not attribute my discomfort to the other person, as though he were forcing me to defend myself.
I can stand my high ground, but need to stay free while doing it. Read some surprising reasons why you should argue.