I hope that you, some day, run into The Monsters’ Monster, a witty, subtle tale about the power of gratitude.
Let’s all, like the Monster, say “dank you” a bit more.
ps – Happy Thanksgiving, all.
The other day, I saw a car and a bike heading toward each other on the same narrow-ish street. Then I saw the car slow down, pull over, and actually put two tires up on the curb to give the bike more space.
I see similar deference to bikes here routinely. It’s “how things are done around here.”
Sometimes, we are so immersed in the culture of a place or institution that we do not even name or acknowledge the reality of “how things are done.”
But when we slow down and observe (and/or listen to people who are not like us), we see this “how things are done” more clearly. Once we have seen it, we have the choice to consider if this kind of culture contributes to our common flourishing.
If it does not contribute to our flourishing, we can then choose to live and speak a different way.
There is a profound power in the reality of “people like us do things like this.”
The principles of Catholic Social Teaching get repeated quite a bit. Human dignity, common good, solidarity, etc. The list usually has seven.
A colleague shared a similar list with me the other day that had eight, and the eighth has had me thinking.
It was the principle of non-maximization, asking us to intentionally leave time unscheduled, land untilled, opportunities on the table.
Pause for a second to consider how wild (and difficult!) that is for us.
I recently read that St. Francis of Assisi organized that part of their community land was to be left uncultivated so that all could see all what grew there (wildflowers and such), beauty that sprang up without their work.
When we see the wildflowers, it undermines the lie that we are in control as well as the compulsion to be in control. It leads to a more abundant life.
And where did we get indoctrinated with the opposite (the principle of maximization) anyway?
Daily silent prayer helps us arrive at a place of inner clarity.
The extended solitude of annual silent retreat also helps us arrive at a place of inner clarity.
The experience of these clarities is distinct, and both help us to see to those things in our lives that are of ultimate value and engage them with great love and courage.
For years, when I was home full-time with our son (and then sons), I would change up how I answered the question: “So, what do you do?” One day, I heard myself answer: “Well, I am the keeper of slack in our family system.”
And, you know, I kind of liked that title! I began to use it more often and so began to take it more seriously.
I tried to be the keeper of slack *outwardly*, leaving time unscheduled so that I could be present and responsive to family.
I also tried to guard against tension *internally*, building prayer and meditation into my days, hoping to be more attentive and loving.
I must say that I do not feel necessarily accomplished at this guardianship, and definitely less so this year than in years past. But I am still trying, and would love for the “keeper of slack in the family system” to be a common term. It would certainly help me follow through more consistently on this sincere aspiration.
I am ruthlessly protective of my email inbox, subscribing to nothing that is not (to me) consistently valuable.
A few months ago, the number of things I subscribe to went from two to three.
I signed up for The Daily Difference, the free email published by The Carbon Almanac Network, a source of reliable and easily understandable knowledge on climate change. Their tagline is: It is not too late.
It is consistently excellent. No doom, no guilt, no whipping up negative emotion. Just fascinating, simple insights about how to care for the earth and then tell your friends.
It consistently fills me with hope, and helps me to believe and to act like it is not too late.
When our sons are playing, they often fall out of sync. One begins playing in a way that the other does not like. The dissatisfied one, then, expresses his displeasure to us about what the other is doing.
We then say, “Please tell your brother how you do want to play.”
And almost always, he will turn to his brother and, focusing once more on the perceived offense, say, “I don’t like that!”
As you surely have noticed, “I don’t like that!” is not a satisfactory articulation of how he would like to engage.
But how often do we do this very thing in public life! We are experts at saying what we do not like or do not want, and too rarely take the time to articulate a different way forward. It feels more comfortable to comment instead of contribute.
So, if we do not like something that is happening, let’s agree to do the most courageous and productive thing: To say what we do want and what we will commit to in order to bring that thing about. With imagination and commitment, we can play together differently.
Our family is fairly in love with the movie Encanto. Every time we (routinely) listen to the soundtrack, this bit from the introductory “meet the family” song catches my attention.
It’s when the grandma tells us about how the family can “earn the miracle that somehow found us.”
The trouble, as they all learn, is that we can’t earn a miracle.
The compulsion to try to earn the miracle of our lives, though, is deeply human and imminently understandable. If I were to earn it, the logic goes, then I would have some control over it. And how does my ego love to control!
But the wonder of the sacramentality of our lives… the grace woven through our being, the natural world, our relationships, the unfolding of our vocations… is already ours. No earning necessary. It’s taken care of.
The task, then, is to receive these things whole-heartedly and without pretense, as a child. So freed, we can respond to this abundance with wild generosity.
When our sons can’t find the toy or the book that they are looking for, we’ve learned that the most productive thing to do is to start cleaning up the mess. When we clean up, we inevitably find the thing we were looking for.
The mess is where things go to hide.
In our church and world, there is plenty of mess. And by mess, I do not mean conflict. Conflict can be healthy and will always be with us.
The mess I mean is what happens when we do not practice empathy on the “other side” of the conflict, choosing instead to whip up the indignation of “our side” against the other. This failure of empathy creates a mess: layers of wrecked communication, triggered egos, activated amygdalas. This mess confuses the important issue at hand and barricades us more deeply on our illusory moral high ground.
Too often, the mess is where we go to hide, and almost always unconsciously. Hide from our own vocation, our own capacity for connection, commitment, and contribution.
It is far easier to focus on someone else’s mess than to do the hard work we are meant to do.
Holiness, I think, consists in realizing that we are not better than anyone else and all need grace in a profound way. This humility frees us to begin to clean up the mess and find the love we were seeking in the first place.
A few weeks ago, when we were together for Easter, my sister’s son did the following for our older son.
As our son was putting his lego set together, his cousin carefully laid out the remaining pieces.
Good spiritual direction does something similar, I think. From a tangle of experience, a loving director is capable of mirroring back our experience in such a way that invites us into clarity.