Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Everything is Grace

The hike toward the trailhead!
One day in March of 2008 I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail. It was during my first week and I had discovered that things were a lot harder than I thought they would be. My knees began aching sharply within the first few hours. I was developing blisters. Dinners included rehydrated noodles, stuffing and a bits of trailmix. I was surrounded by astounding beauty, but many times my focus was on my aching body as I tried earnestly to take one more step up hill or down on malfunctioning knees. That day I was hiking in the rain through the valleys and hills amid rocks slick and slimy with moss. The day was grey and I felt lonely. I was alone. There was no patch of sunlight filtering through the leaves in which to find solace. I distinctly remember hiking along in this droll mood when another hiker walking jauntily up the trail behind me with his dog passed and we spoke a moment. I said something like, "you picked a day like today to come hiking?" He said that he was a thru-hiker a few years ago and that the trail was beautiful whether in rain or sunshine, and that if it bothered me much then I might not make it to Katahdin. I felt defensive at the time. What, don't I have the right to complain about even the weather? But he was right. My perspective had the power to determine whether or not I could persevere through 2000 miles of the rough terrain or allow discouragement to send me home. I was home after 204.5.

Reading Lumen Fidei is helping me see life in the proper light. The first star I placed in the encyclical was to underline this paragraph:
"Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants." - Lumen Fidei, 13
I underlined it precisely because I felt that it perfectly framed the tangled appearance of my life before encountering the light of Christ. Life seemed a series of unconnected instants in which I sought an endless parade of new pleasures and challenges. The avoidance of suffering was the supreme virtue, and yet for a reason I could not explain I also yearned to be tested against suffering. Without keeping my eyes fixed on the transcendent and powerful God man who gives purpose to suffering, I found myself quickly losing resolve every time I faced a tough moment.

In my teacher classes I met an atheist Jew. He was a great person. Funny and articulate, an outdoor enthusiast. He told me that his father was in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Something about him stuck with me and though I never talked in depth to Rene again, I kept thinking about Judaism and atheism throughout the weeks of training. I happened to listen to a Catholic Answers podcast about atheism and a caller asked about why so many Jews are atheists. The guest responded that in his experience many became atheists because they could not comprehend how God could allow something like the Holocaust to happen to the chosen people. I kept thinking about how Corrie Ten Boom and Saints Edith Stein and Maximilian Kolbe grew in faith through tragedy while others lost what faith they had. I can't help but think that faith brings its own light. Like Lumen Fidei asserts, believing is understanding. Faith puts things into focus. Focus on God and His path which leads sometimes one illuminated step at a time into the unknown. A faith in the God who keeps his promises and always works for the good of those who love him, even when the good is a little hard to see with our selfish human perspectives.
The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound your whole body will be full of light. Matthew 6:22
Months ago I was walking and thinking about how joy has to be chosen. There was a moment then that I desperately asked the Lord, "do you even want us to be happy?!" He has since helped me see how to choose joy! I have spent too much of my life complaining and taking things for granted, seeing things negatively instead of making an effort to trust God and look for the good and rejoice in every circumstance. I've reflected on some aspects of this here and here. I decided several weeks ago that for this new year, I would write down one little blessing each day in a journal so that I could have a collection of sweet little glimpses of God's face. Later, I somewhat providentially stumbled upon this book:

After reading some of the book, I decided to modify my New Year's resolution to list not one item per day, but to fill up an entire journal with a list of little blessed nothings. I started early, and since Monday I am up to 77 blessings! It's such a joy to do already. Much better than a weight loss resolution, I tell you! The words of St. Therese keep coming to me unbidden, "Everything is Grace". I truly want to learn to live that in my life this year. I aspire to live an integrated life. A life of abandonment to divine providence (I even picked up a book of the same title). A life open to seeing God in hints and whispers, soft breezes, cats' meows and glorious nature. I want to be at peace with myself, my life, my limitations, my bank account. Live in the moment. Live for God today and believe in my heart that everything is grace.

My inscription in the front of my new journal.

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