“For if a man resolve to submit himself to carrying this cross — that is to say, if he resolve to desire in truth to meet trials and to bear them in all things for God’s sake, he will find in them all great relief and sweetness wherewith he may travel upon this road, detached from all things and desiring nothing. Yet, if he desire to possess anything — whether it comes from God or from any other source — with any feeling of attachment, he has not stripped and denied himself in all things; and thus he will be unable to walk along this narrow path or to climb upward by it”
--St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, book 2, chap. 7, 7
Yesterday, I went with my sister, mom, my sister's mother-in-law, and a couple of nieces to see Our Town, and there were 2 scenes in the play that are related to the transitory nature of life...the first is, "you have to love life to have life, and you have to have life to love life." Right before this, the Stage Manager talks about how the two moms have cooked close to 50,000 meals between them in their marriages. In some ways, it is like he is implying that, because they have just skated through the day to day of their lives, they haven't really lived. The thing is that this quote in question is embedded in the scene where the two moms talk about traveling to Paris, and they are talking about how Mrs. Gibbs wants to see something beautiful and exotic at least once in her life. At the end of the play, we find that Mrs. Gibbs never gets to see Paris, but it just points to the fact that we often let the day-to-day of our lives get in the way of truly living life.
I know that, for me personally, going through the process of my divorce opened up some possibilities that I never would have thought about beforehand, as well as allowed me to pursue some opportunities that were formerly closed. While I was married, I remember often straining against the constraints that my marriage brought--I gave up personal goals for the good of the marriage more than once, and lost other goals and opportunities because of the spottiness of my ex's work history/lack of follow through during our marriage. While some of this is natural and right in a marriage, life can be a monochromatic monotony if one gives up too many of those goals and dreams. A corollary to the above quote is that, when you lose the love of life, you lose life. So now, I sometimes feel like I'm just waking up to all of the possibilities before me...It is overwhelming, scary, exhilarating, and exciting all at the same time. I hope that I don't squander this opportunity like Mrs. Gibbs and Mrs. Webb.
The other scene in the play is from the last act, when Emily's spirit and the Stage Manager are having a conversation about what it means to be alive and what it means to be dead:
Emily: Wait! One more look. Good-bye , Good-bye world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners....Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking....and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths....and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth,you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every,every minute?
Stage Manager: No. (pause) The saints and poets, maybe they do some.
(italics emphasis is mine)
I think that this particular scene carries with it a sense of being present--we often are busy doing other things, like texting or emailing rather than living in the moment that we are in. In the process, we lose some of that realization of life. The funny thing is that this play was set in the early decades of the 20th century, when phones and cars were not ubiquitous. I believe that what was true back then is even more true now! I admit to being guilty of a lack of presence, as I always have my email with me on my smart phone, and often have my iPad with me as well. I must admit that this is one of the things I am looking forward to most about my walk on the Camino--I'm going to spend most of my time totally unplugged from technology. I think that I'm going to need to learn how to live without the electronic tether again. I know that we used to do this all the time, but most of us can't imagine living without our cell phones anymore.
And, I think that is what St. John of the Cross is getting at too--we need to be willing to be present with the situations God gives us, no matter whether it is a good or a bad situation. When we can do that, understand that the situation is passing, and not grasp tightly to it, then we can use the situation to grow closer to the Lord. When I clutch anything, good or bad, I have removed the ability for God to give me anything--my hands are clenched around what I already have. This looks like bitterness, when it is a bad thing I have clenched my fist around. It looks like wistfulness, nostalgia, and pining after the "good old days" when I have clenched my fist around a good thing. Neither help me to become the person that the Lord wants me to become, though. When I can open up my hands and let go, I then have room in my hands and my heart for the Lord to move in, and to fill me with Himself.
This is why I love reconciliation so much--it is a way to help me to let go of the sins in my life, the bad situations, and to un-clench my hand from around them. This is also why I love lent, for all my moaning and groaning about eating fish on Fridays--it is a way for me to evaluate the good things in my life and to learn to hold them with an open hand as well.
I want to be among the poets and the saints Thornton Wilder talks about--one of the people who really realize the wonder and the weightiness of our life here on earth. Won't you join me on the journey?