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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!
Hilary Hart’s Body of Wisdom was given to me as I’d been speaking about How Women Disintegrate and How Women Heal. I did resonate with about 70% of what she said, felt wary, but interpreted positively, about 20% more, and must reject the last 10% unequivocally. That leaves me in a quandary.
I can’t recommend the book itself, on the chance that a poorly-grounded Catholic might not discern the problems in it, but I feel the kinship of lived experience, and am grateful for the author’s poetic depth and insight. Read as a theological argument, Body of Wisdom is easily dismissed. But it would be unreasonable to read in that way what is meant as an evocation of conversation among wise, mature women. I must enter into such a book as I would enter an encounter with a person – in awe of the mystery before me, with respect for our differences, and appreciation for every good, true, beautiful, praiseworthy aspect of her being. With that in mind, and with no love for any ‘feminine spirituality’ that leads outside the bounds of my Catholic faith, I call attention to what edifies me in Hart’s offering.
First, I’m thrilled at her acceptance of gender as an essential aspect of being – a signifier rich with metaphor, that points toward the realization of a distinctively feminine approach to life, relationship, spiritual growth and service. Contra the androgynous, mentalized, self-defining ‘spirituality’ of modern Gnosticism, Hart’s approach is earthy, grounded, embodied in and affirming of physical reality. Contra the anti-human, mechanistic efficiency of modern scientific materialism, Hart presents woman as deeply spiritual and irreducible to objective functions or roles.
I’m also delighted to see, on every page, the affirmation of life’s sacredness, of child-bearing as a sacred trust, of new life as a wonderful treasure. It strikes me that we would do well to make such a beautiful, feminine appeal to women’s life-giving nature a greater part of our own fight against abortion.
Hart counsels, as I do, that women must be deeply true to themselves in order to give fully and effectively to their families and others. She thinks – and I heartily agree – that friendships among women (when ordered toward high good and away from rage, despair, pettiness and superficiality) are essential for the development and realization of what St. John Paul II called ‘feminine genius.’ We also agree that the world (even the Church, I’d say) desperately needs the gifts, giftedness, and self-giving of women to rebuild social capital, lines of communication, and networks of support for a culture of life.
A woman’s capacity for creativity, social influence, and healing can be ignored (or dismissed as ‘New Age-y’, which is ridiculous, but I’ve seen it happen), or deeply engaged to restore balance and bring healing to the disordered, broken world around us.
I suggest we focus on what Hart – passionate, poetic, person-oriented – has to teach about waking up the genius of women, and leave a modest veil over her understandable excesses. They are understandable, because she, as yet, stands outside the protective covering of a Church structure that she interprets, wrongly, as all-masculine. Where the Church has gone far beyond her thinking – female saints and doctors, Marian devotion, theology of the body, for instance – we can amplify her sense of the positive power of womanhood. Where she excels – attention to the lived experience of women, rich and emotionally engaging prose, respectful interfaith dialogue, for instance – she should lead us.
This book has a place in the conversation of discerning, well-formed Catholic women – especially those who nurture friendships with non- or newly-Christian women.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to the, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. John 21: 4-7
The fishermen had been going through all the motions, and were drained of strength and disappointed and hungry. In obedience to Him, they rehearsed those motions one last time: gather the heavy, sodden net just so; heave together to lift and throw it; pull against the enormous drag of deep water and haul it back in to the boat with calloused hands and aching muscles.
What they had been doing all night in their own strength finally brought an abundant reward when the motions became acts of obedience. If you have been going through the motions at Mass, and bringing up an ’empty net’ over and over, you can revitalize your experience and start to take home a full catch!
In this talk I gave practical helps for the common experience of dryness, dullness, emptiness in the lives of Mass-goers. I created it for an evening of reflection led by the Apostles of the Interior Life, when they invited members of their Collaborator Family to contribute to their parish mission work. The Apostles, my Family, are something of a ‘sending community’ for me – rooting my speaking and writing in the practice of their charism and the sharing of their goal to lead people deeper into the interior life of union with Christ.
This was one long talk! I gave it as three separate one-hour talks for an all-day RCIA retreat, and felt a real excitement about the adventure of growing up ‘unto Christ’ among those new Catholics and their sponsors.
What does it mean to ‘grow up unto Christ’, and how do we actually accomplish it? How do we deal with Scripture’s admonition to ‘become like little children’, while growing more mature? What does freedom look like, and why don’t more people desire it?
How is the spiritual life connected with all the other things we must learn as we grow up? I presented a simple, 1-2-3 model for the Turning, Engaging, and Acting we must do continually in order to participate in the work God does to raise us up.
Though it is simple, it’s quite rich in metaphors and cross-connections. I may have to turn this one into a book one of these days! I’m sure it informed Souls at Work, and was certainly informed by Souls at Rest, but isn’t the same as either one. It is fascinating to me to watch God write books in my life, and then write life into my books. It makes me wonder how anyone does write without also having opportunities like this to talk, as well.
I love Dorothy Sayers’ book The Mind of the Maker, and enjoy taking people through it to share her insights into the creative mind of God. She and I are both struck by the strange truth that, though God is (above all things?) a Creator, and we are made in His image, there is not much attention paid to developing an understanding of what ‘being a creator’ means.
It seems extra-spiritual, perhaps, but isn’t this right to the point? If we care what it means to be a good father, a wise ruler, a truthful judge (because these metaphors help us understand God and our own roles in life), but we care nothing about learning to be a creator, a storyteller, a dramatist, a musician, a poet, an artist of any kind, what does that say about our ‘spirituality’??
Yet rarely do I see Christians taking a drawing class, for instance, because they assume there is something huge to learn there about God and His ways; about themselves and their ways. But there is! When you realize it is the whole person who sees and not just the eyes or brain, you begin to realize how much more there is to see than you have understood.
When you try to act, but cannot release yourself to allow the giving of the character to a waiting audience, you find out something about your self-consciousness, and understand more deeply what the Incarnation cost Christ. When you think you have sound (even great) ideas, but never put them to the test of struggling to articulate them, opening them to scrutiny and judgment and comparison, you are missing something about who you are and what virtue is.
Well, I could go on and on, and wouldn’t have to if everyone would just get on board and read books like this! Being a creator, an artist, a maker of form, is a path of spiritual growth, if you understand the potential and the limits of this metaphor.