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The days of your power to act in your own behalf, to cultivate the self, are over. You’re here to be acted upon, to be purified, to be loved. As C.S. Lewis has pointed out, the “weight of glory” is not going to be easy to bear. That’s why he considered purgatory “a hopeful doctrine”.
The particular suffering of purgatory is God working to prepare you for that weight. At this point, you’ll have no doubt about your eternal destiny, no doubt about His perfect love, but also none about how far you fall short of capacity to bear it. Perhaps your Sabbath practice has helped prepare you for the complete powerlessness to effect change – the utter surrender of self into God’s hands – that is Purgatory.
How capable are you of non-action, of allowing yourself to be acted upon, turned, stopped, stomped, kneaded, exposed, wounded? Have you practiced letting go of your own goals, progress, will – your acting upon the world to control, manage, manipulate, change, improve it? How passive can you be to Love in the midst of life’s active dimension? These are all things you can practice on your Eucharistic Sabbath. (During the week, get out there and practice acting in freedom to cultivate yourself and rock the world around you!)
Sabbath-keeping will certainly help with all of the ‘purgatories’ you experience during life on earth – suffering, interference with self-will, humiliation, and the like – and will permeate your active week with the sweetness of surrender and rest. So, I think, this practice will help you through the bittersweet pangs of Purgatory itself.
So, why plan? Life…it’s what happens when you’re planning something else, right??
Much of my adult life has been spent learning to balance the idealism of planning with the realism of life. If I give up on time management, I lose things that need time in order to build up – like community, tradition, books, gardens. If I can’t roll with the punches of lived life, I’ll end up reacting against reality, instead of responding creatively to it.
Fr. Giussani (yes, those who know me well should have this memorized!) says that freedom is “correspondence to reality in the totality of its factors. My projects, hopes, ideas, desires and energy level are factors, and so are the needs of others, the weather, the response-ability of other people, and all the other externalities that interfere with my idealistic scheduling.
I’ve found that good planning practices provide a structural framework that allows me to maintain interior freedom. That freedom brings capacity to absorb life’s punches and ride life’s waves better. My practices currently look like this:
Right after Thanksgiving I print out my list of Standing Dates, and 12 blank monthly calendars for the next year. Transferring the birthdays, tax deadline, Holy Days, annual and monthly chores and other ‘every year’ dates to the months provides the basic ‘landscape’ for the year. Here are indicated our In School days, and my At Work days, without any details about specific tasks.
Next, I take out the bulging file marked ‘Next Year’ and ‘map’ any commitments to specific dates. Finally, since that file contains everything I’ve hope to fit in ‘next year,’ I sort all the little slips of paper, articles and other to-do reminders into quarterly files – a rough idea of the season when it makes sense to consider scheduling them into real dates. I put “check Q file” on the last Saturday before each new quarter, and then forget about all this. A system won’t work if my mind stays preoccupied with what’s in files for later!
During this relaxed weekend (all leftovers!) I lay out my work priorities for the coming year from a separate ‘Work Basket.’ This sequence keeps home and family obligations ahead of my part-time ‘job’ of writing, speaking, etc…. Doing the ‘next year’ planning now gives me a much more relaxed Advent and Christmas. During December, I can let go of the new year completely, knowing it will come in its time, instead of having that mountain of to-dos looming threateningly on the horizon.
On the last Saturday before each new quarter, I take out the Q file and list each item on the Notes area of one of the next three months. The actual scheduling will not occur until I plan those months. I toss all the slips of paper, keeping only backup material that is needed for an item, such as a coupon, or how-to article, in the Q file – noted by an asterisk on the list of tasks. A few things get pushed into the next Quarter’s file (I use 3-hole-punched plastic envelopes in a binder).
The last Saturday of each month is Plan Next Month day (on the list of Standing Dates, and so now already marked on each month’s ‘map’). I transfer the month to a Weekly layout. Behind the tab ‘Weekly’ is a blank week to copy, and a weekly chores list. (I’ve also used a purchased calendar with both Monthly and Weekly spreads. The key is that the weeks stay pristine and blank until I consciously plan them.) Taped to the back, or behind each month’s tab in the binder, are any slips of paper kept as reminders of tasks to fit into the more finely detailed weekly plans. Anything new that comes in after the weeks are laid out must either be scheduled directly on a particular day, or put off until the next month. You may want to re-read that last sentence!
If it cannot be scheduled within the details I’ve anticipated for these next 4-5 weeks, it is a Next Month task. Either I note it directly on the future month’s map as a scheduled item, or tape a note there to be considered during that monthly planning session. I have to trust my system to keep hold of all this future stuff so that I can walk away from it without worrying about it! I don’t want to get bogged down in the future, or to allow my current weeks to get overburdened. Those near-to-now days and the buffer allowed in them for the intrusion of unavoidable realities must be protected.
On Saturday, I transfer my Next Week to a daily list. This provides one more chance for a reality check, some shuffling and the addition of a dinner menu for each day. Over the years, I’ve sometimes created monthly meal plans, and could pull this week’s menu from that plan and make adjustments as necessary. Today, I’ll also look through The Basket, where all week I’ve been tossing tasks that come in after my week began. The Basket protects my whole week from unnecessary interference, and I trust it to hold all the slips of paper that represent new tasks that arise during the week.
Sunday is Sabbath (you did read Souls at Rest, right??) – no computer on, no email, no schedule for tasks (perhaps a tiny reminder: ‘Dance at 3 today,’ ‘thaw chickens for dinner,’ ‘serve at soup kitchen 1-3,’ ‘HB for dinner.’) Your Sunday may be different – be acted upon more than you act upon the world, please!
The better I get at just doing whatever is on my day’s list, the smoother everything runs. I get into trouble when I rebel against the system at this lowest level, where the heights of idealistic planning meet the smallness of actuality. On my day, the structural elements are in in (such as ‘School Time: 8-12,’ ‘Dr. Appt. 10:00,’ or ‘Blocked for Writing Project’) and flexible-time tasks are in pencil. (I love to erase them when done, thus making my visual ‘day’ more and more open and spacious as I do what needs to be done.)
Information about, or for, other family members appears on my day only if it is my responsibility to manage/remind/supervise them – off to the side of ‘my day,’ if possible, and in a different color ink. Sometimes I take time to play with markers, decorating the six next days and placing them in strangely shaped ‘boxes,’ and at other times I want my days in plain, symmetrical boxes, or on separate index cards instead of on one page. I have found that a little playfulness with the physical ‘day’ can help me approach a ‘next week’ with a greater sense of freedom and enjoyment.
What about all the new to-dos that crop up when I check mail and email, take phone calls, remember something urgent, or get a new idea? Those, if not right now scheduled for a specific date, get tossed into The Basket. They wait until my planning for the next week, when I either fit them into specific days, or send them into the next month, quarter, or year. Most of what comes in during a day is not of an emergency nature, and will only derail me if I let it. Much more is just information to file away after weekly planning – not a matter for scheduling at all.
Physical vs Electronic
I have experimented with electronic calendars and it was a miserable failure for me. I felt lost without the actual handling of the ‘materials’ of my life and the physical maps of time. I felt utterly disconnected from the reality I was trying to order. It didn’t surprise me that the plans I carefully entered into the computer failed to prepare me, as my physical handling does, for realizing those plans in Real Life. There is something about moving tasks around, knowing they are physically stored, touching my own past thoughts and future time, and letting a calendar or list make a space of time a vessel to be filled creatively that requires real paper, scissors, tape, files, markers, pens, and ink!
Well, that’s the basic framework. The details have changed drastically over the years (‘Daily’ chores may now be ‘monthly,’ many new birthdates have been added to the Annual list, my work days are now ‘official,’ I do ‘Bills and Budget’ once a month now instead of weekly), but the basics have continued to serve me well even as I’ve adjusted and improved them. I recommend you gradually begin while the kids are little, but expect very little until the average age of your children is about 10! The test of any organizational system is whether it supports the realities of our human lives effectively. I am able to ‘find time’ for quite a lot of ‘unplanned’ reality within my own near-future-picture, because I keep it spacious and realistic. I invite God to surprise me, and welcome the adventure of each new day.
Whatever planning you do, I wish you freedom in and through it!
One thing I love about the shape of my days is that I get several new beginnings sandwiched in between dawn and dark. My habit of napping – begun of necessity during the years of (constant??) pregnancy – has stayed with me as a mini-Sabbath that is a priceless gift. From it, I emerge newly begun every afternoon. The Divine Office is a dip into a pool of deep refreshment three times a day: Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer.
It may seem strange to think of Night as a new beginning, but it’s a wonderfully quiet, still, relaxed phase for one whose mind can let go of today and tomorrow by way of the night office. Sleep (young moms may have forgotten what a full night’s sleep is, but even a partial sleep is heavenly!) is a vital time of brain-reorganization and integration that takes advantage of your incapacity to act, in order that you may be acted upon. Great ideas and creative solutions to problems are often born during a restful night, and God sometimes touches the sleeping soul with healing, or guidance. Sleep is not a waste of time!
Beyond all these new beginnings, a day full of ‘life’s challenges’ can be a sort of obstacle course in which I discover that God’s mercies are not just ‘new every morning,’ but in every moment. It can be nice to start the day and experience it as one whole, smooth thing from morning to night. But if your days are much rougher, with lots of challenges and obstacles, do focus on all the fresh starts such a day provides!
In “Stour Valley and Dedham Church” (select link for large image in new window) Constable has painted the Vale of Dedham – a familiar and beloved area of his native England. In the foreground, men shovel compost from a dung heap. The landscape behind them is groomed – tidy and clean, in comparison with the random, blowsy growth on and around the dung. That the manure pile is tucked away from view – actually behind a separating hedge – is emphasized by the artist’s use of light and shadow. The untamed fecundity of the sprawling vine (front, center) that emerges from the manure is a contrast to the expanse of land tamed by man, which fills the middle ground.
Seen in the distance is the church which, though quite small and slightly off-center, is the center of organization for the village, the surrounding fields, and even the workers, whose presence in the center-foreground points directly ‘upward’ in a straight line to it. The skyscape that fills the upper third of the canvas emphasizes the extent of man’s domains even as it seems to flatten and limit them – perhaps a suggestion that, for all his mastery of the things of earth, man is still dwarfed by Creation and its Creator.
The tower of the church just barely ‘touches’ the sky at the center of the far horizon, and draws attention more to itself as a center of human activity than as a meeting place for man with the Divine. This reflects, perhaps, a bit of the English, Protestant ‘humility’ by which the form of ‘church’ was emptied of its sacramental power. Since both the dung area and the cleaner field-and-stream area are painted evenly – similar colors, balance in space and lighting, connected organically – the artist seems to sense the beauty of both areas, and to appreciate the dependence of the more ‘noble,’ or ‘glorious’ landscape on the humility of hummus, and human labor. The workers, though handling the lowest of elements, are dignified by their central, forward position, by the link to the church, whose Sabbath days crown their labors with rest, and by the beauty of the lands to which they make a vital contribution.
The heavens look on the whole scene with a calm detachment that seems to place all that lies beneath into proper subordination and peaceful proportion. Constable has used diminishing size, faded color and decreasing detail to create the perspective of great distance. The size and sharp detail of the wagon in the foreground, if compared to the small, less sharp image of the church in the middle-ground, might suggest, in addition to spatial proportion, the proportion of six days labor to one of Sabbath worship and rest. This is certainly God’s created world, but man deserves credit for working it with the sweat of his brow.
The flat gray of the sky, reflecting the green fields below, seems continuous with the landscape, rather than an overarching and distant, celestial heaven. The artist is clearly proud and fond of this view, and the men whose nobility is represented in it. His frank approval seems to echo God’s own pronouncement that what He sees here is good!
I created this talk for Benedictine College’s Symposium on the New Evangelization. It’s about the role art can play in helping us realize our ideals of virtue and holiness. I linked G.K. Chesterton, his character Innocent Smith (from Manalive) and St. Francis of Assisi to show how Chesterton wove the things he loved most about St. Francis into his character, and thus drew all that joy and abandonment to God a bit closer to himself and his readers.
Quoting Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis, his own biography and autobiography, Manalive, and Orthodoxy, I moved back and forth between the character and the saint, the ideal and the imaginative realization, to suggest that we need such imaginative bridges to move toward full appropriation of supernatural joy, toward holiness. That art may serve to help us realize ourselves more wholly, more fully without any violation of the art, the ideal, or of our own being suggests that Catholics would do well to enter in to the work of creating stories, poems, paintings, and other works with the goal of becoming saints in the process.