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A lab-coated investigator places a box on a table before each participant, in turn. “What is in the box? Say whatever you think,” he says, to each one, alone. One person answers “Apples,” because the box says “APPLES” in red block letters. Another notices a word scribbled in marker on a label at one end and says, “Wine Glasses”. A third peeks into the box through a small hole in its side and says “Nothing in there.” Subject #4 lifts, shakes and smells the box, looks into all the torn places and holes, and says, “Clove-studded oranges.” Mr. 5 says, “I have no idea,” and when pressed to say whatever he thinks, laughs and says “I give up. A bomb?”
Finally, #6 answers. “Could be a hamster – there’s an air hole. Might be books, walnuts, tools – anything! How ‘bout a whole series of smaller boxes? Let’s see…there’s air in there, and dirt, probably. If it’s photographs you could say the box is full of memories. Depending on the books in there, that box might ‘contain’ India, or another planet, or a fairy world. What if it’s some high-tech gizmo…then it contains the work of dozens of scientists, years of research, rare earth. Wow! Should I go on??”
#1 used language decoding skill – relying on the accuracy of the label.
#2 did also, but took in a bit more information, held both labels in mind, and made a judgment.
#3 got his senses more fully involved, but didn’t realize the limitation he unconsciously accepted.
#4 used more sensory information, and gave the one correct answer.
#5 used his freedom to resist constraints instead of to play the game.
#6 answered as a child, or a poet might, because the question itself stimulated his imagination. He, following instructions to report “whatever he thought,” tried to report all the mental events triggered by the suggestion, “What might be in a box?”
I offer this scenario by way of explaining why I find it difficult to give short answers to interesting questions.
Case in point: our archbishop recently convened a ‘listening meeting’ to gather input for his ten—year planning process. I would never have presumed to offer any opinions about his management of the archdiocese, or his vision for it, but….he asked. And I began to consider the questions he asked. (What is the archdiocese doing well? What should be our main priorities? What should the archdiocese look like ten years from now?)
The first thing I noticed was that there were huge foundational gaps in my knowledge about the archdiocese. If I were going to picture it ten years along, I’d have to understand its current state better. A list of questions I’d like to ask developed from those gaps. Then, in my imaginary leap to “What would you say if the Archbishop was interested in your thoughts?” I discovered a wealth of material that didn’t quite fit into the three-question, one-paragraph format I’d been offered. Hence, a list of questions I wish he had asked.
Finally, set loose to create my own vision of our archdiocese, ten years older and wiser, I came up with lots of ideas. I had no idea what to do with all this outside-the-box response, and considered just keeping it to myself to save trouble for Self and the Bish’. But, it was all there, and such things, in my experience, do not go away. They beg to be at least typed and file away so as to free mental space for other work. And when I considered tucking those lists away and going on with my life, I really wished I could do it! (After all, when one knows one’s response is likely to be of little use to the recipient, to be a pain in his neck, or to be considered ridiculous and childish, one prefers to crawl under a rock with it!) But then, there’s that nagging sense that you are what you are, and God made you that way, and if nobody else answers in this way, it might be even more important that you do, and if everybody takes his response and files it the Archbishop will get nothing in the way of feedback at all.
So, a quick cover letter of explanation (“I’m a good girl, I am! This is not a challenge, or a rebellion, or a demand, or a joke, but a real offering.”), enclose the three lists, and I’m done. I won’t write out my answers to the questions I wish he had asked unless he expresses some desire to see them. Sigh…. By now, though, the Q’s had provoked A’s – one thing leads to another, and so now I’m actually interested in what my answers are, whether he is or not.
Enter: Blog. Here’s the entire series:
This is where I make room for my own thoughts, where I ‘essay,’ or try out my ideas. So, this is where I’ll post my responses, in case anyone is interested. Here’s a pdf of the Q’s and anyone is welcome to give your own A’s – to your pals, to me, to the Archbishop. If I were really leading an archdiocese, I’d want everyone’s responses. I might have to get help reading and sifting out main streams of thought, but I’d want the input. If he doesn’t (and I can’t imagine he’d have time for all this!), it’s all the same to me. This has been a good thinking exercise for me, so I’m happy. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy. Watch this space for my Q’s and A’s in the weeks to come. Consider writing up your own responses, and do suggest Q’s you wish the Archbishop had asked us.
I’m placing a contact form here, in case you, or the Archbishop, would like to get in touch about this Research Project of mine.
I enjoyed creating this talk to fit into a women’s retreat about Christ’s offer of “living water”. They gave me a free hand to choose my topic and approach, and I chose the promise, in Psalm 1, that we “shall be like trees, planted by streams of living water.”
Their focus was on the woman at the well, to whom Christ offered living water. Mine wove in this Old Testament reference, and they worked together beautifully.
God’s grace does ‘rain’ down on the righteous and the unrighteous, but is also cached, for those with taproots, far beneath the surface. To get to this abundant supply, we need to extend those roots and reach deeply into our Catholic heritage, Liturgy, and Divine Office.
We need to cultivate a poetic receptivity that draws in supernatural grace naturally.
I love the tree as a metaphor for me, growing spirally up through round after round of sameness. One begins to love those cycles as soon as it becomes clear they are actually leading upward, onward toward eternal destiny and toward holiness. Without that, we’d just be on the appalling and pointless Hindu wheel of life.
Praise God that we really are like trees!
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.