Nation mourns death of 41st president, recalls his life of public service
The holiday season is a time of love and peace. A celebration of faith and tradition with family and friends. It’s a period of reflection, renewal, joy, and generosity.
Or, at least, it’s supposed to be.
Regrettably, the pressures of the commercialization and material expectations of this special season often make peace seem more like a dream than a reality for many people and often long before December even rolls around.
We don’t know any reservations with which Jim may have grappled, but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that he also felt twinges of reluctance to part with something so high in monetary and sentimental value as his gold watch. Regardless, his action demonstrates that his love for his wife enabled him to give up a dear possession.
How do we serve those we love? Are we unselfish in giving of time and sharing our blessings, material or otherwise? Or do we like those people only because of how they can benefit us?
3) The most valuable gifts aren’t necessarily material goods. As you may have suspected by now if you’re unfamiliar with the tale, Jim and Della each selected an item for the other to complement his or her prized possession. Della bought an elegant gold chain for Jim’s watch, and Jim bought a lovely set of hair combs for which Della had wished. Materially speaking, their well-intentioned generosity was in vain since neither could use the gift. However, neither one is vexed for long.
Jim has a “peculiar expression” when he first sees his wife’s shorn locks. Furthermore, he must comfort Della, who is initially distressed when she unwraps her combs, but she soon smiles agreeably and remarks how fast her hair grows. When Jim sees his watch chain, he also smiles and suggests storing away their gifts temporarily. Della then prepares their supper.
As thoughtful as the material items were meant to be, Della and Jim’s sacrifice for each other was the gift of greater value.
O. Henry concludes his story by describing Jim and Della as “the magi,” saying that of all wise men this young couple is the wisest because of their self-sacrifice for each other.
We have been taught that it is more blessed to give than to receive and that we also receive when we give to others. However, we sometimes forget that the hidden ingredient behind the truth of these words is love. It is selfless love that animates sacrifice and makes it sweet and that empowers the act of giving to be something other than a mechanical offering.
O. Henry reminds us of this lesson through the fictional characters of Jim and Della.
The gift of self-sacrifice might entail giving up material goods like the Dillinghams did. Yet self-sacrifice could also mean we give up previously-made plans to take care of a sick loved one or to call a friend going through a hard time.
Self-giving could also come in the form of devoting time, energy, and resources to create something homemade (instead of store-bought) like a hand-knitted scarf, a home-cooked meal or a photo album of old memories accompanied by hand-written notes.
What better time than the holidays to re-ignite a more personal and selfless type of love in our attitude to gift-giving and in our interactions with loved ones and in our communities? We may find that our disquieting holiday stress melts into the joy and goodwill that this season is meant to celebrate.
Gifts come in diverse places and forms. They can be large or small. They can have life-altering consequences or maybe provide a temporary lightness of heart.
An unassuming, easily overlooked gift arrived in my life a couple weeks ago. I was at the library hurriedly searching for a new story, scanning some of the authors a good friend of mine had suggested but nothing was piquing my interest. I said a quick prayer– yes, I prayed for Jesus to help me find a good book. He cares about all our concerns even those as seemingly insignificant as checking out a book at the library. Finally, I decided to look for another of my friend’s suggestions: Dear Mr. Knightley.
I went over to one of the search computers, typed in the title and, lo and behold, Dear Mr. Knightley was available at that library branch, no request necessary. Thank You, Jesus!
Oh my gosh! I devoured that book. It felt like finding a new friend. And I am now currently re-reading it. 🤓
Though a bit of my initial enthusiasm has waned on a second reading, it’s a book I will likely re-read again in the future.
Dear Mr. Knightley is a well-written, engaging Christian romance/fiction. The characters have some depth and dimension to them and have believable development and growth. Moreover, if the title didn’t give you a clue, this novel is brimming with references to classic English literature (Mr. Knightley is the hero in Jane Austen’s Emma).
Don’t be wary of its Christian classification. It does not brow beat you or preach at you. Rather, it’s through the faith, goodness, and love of some of the characters that the heroine begins to believe in God’s love for her.
Written by Katherine Reay, it is a re-telling of the 1912 story, Daddy-Long-legs by Jean Webster (which is now on my to-read list, haha.)
Samantha Moore, the main character, has had a difficult childhood – abusive parents, in and out of foster homes. She’s now in her early twenties and endeavoring to find her place in the world and to take ownership of her life.
She loves reading and writing (to borrow a phrase from Anne of Green Gables: I think she’s a kindred spirit!) and is attending graduate school for journalism through the financial support of her anonymous benefactor, the mysterious Mr. Knightley. The only condition for the arrangement is that she must write him letters describing her life and her progress in school. Hence, the book’s narrative takes the form of letters penned by Samantha to the mysterious Mr. Knightley.
Reay writes in the afterword that this is a story about forgiveness. Which is true. Samantha states decidedly at the beginning of the story that she does not forgive. However, by the conclusion, she is faced with a life-altering opportunity to forgive, and the painful growth she has undergone may enable her to assent to doing so.
Another motif of the novel is “unwarranted and undeserved” grace, as Samantha’s mentor Father John describes, and the choices we make to accept or reject that grace.
Samantha must accept and acknowledge the wrongs committed against her as well as her own sins and shortcomings and consciously strive to do better. She must give and receive second chances.
Then, of course, there is Samantha’s love life. This brings me to another element of the story: the various types of love.
True, constant love of any variety is something basically foreign to Samantha. She always has used her affinity for literature and its characters as a means to hide and to hold people at arm’s length, actually quoting stories to evade revealing her own thoughts and feelings.
Now, as she begins to blaze a path forward, she must learn to offer and accept love in a healthy way and in a variety of scenarios: to parent/mentor figures, to friends, and to potential romantic love interests.
One of my favorite relationships in the book is between Samantha and Kyle, a teenage foster kid for whom Samantha plays the role of mentor. Yet this mentorship blossoms into a true friendship, and Kyle is the catalyst for an event that brings major healing both to him and to Samantha.
The primary love story, which I won’t spoil, involves a handsome young novelist and is refreshingly clean in this “too-much-information” culture in which we dwell. It has its fairy tale elements, but it also has a lot of reality as two struggling, striving people find friendship and eventually love.
Samantha is relatable to me in many ways. From her physical description (tall brunette), to her proclivity for reading and writing, to her feeling of disorientation and being behind the curve in some areas of life. Our childhoods were not remotely similar, but there is much in Samantha that I think many twenty-somethings can find appealing.
Another perk to this book is the rich reference made to classic literature. It has re-awakened my interest in reading some stories which I haven’t picked up in a long time and in delving into some new ones as well (like Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South).
Of course, after reading Dear Mr. Knightley, I wanted to read more of Reay’s work. Accordingly, I checked out The Bronte Plot, also filled with literary references, coming of age, and finding forgiveness. I definitely plan to read more.
As I said at the opening, gifts come in surprising packages sometimes. And though I am always truly grateful for books and stories, finding this new golden nugget felt like a God-wink, a little gift that popped up just when I needed it.
If you’re looking for a breezy summer read that also has heart, I hope you pick it up and enjoy!
Happy Easter!! Hallelujah!
One of my favorite aspects of the Catholic Faith is the extended celebration of Christmas and Easter.
The Catholic Church doesn’t confine these holidays to one day only but rather these feasts are assigned whole liturgical seasons. We can really revel and soak in the grace and joy of these marvelous days.
And this is completely fitting because the Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus are literally the most important events that ever have occurred or will occur in human history. No human words can adequately convey their magnitude.
They should fill us with uncontainable joy, gratitude, and hope for He has won our salvation.
We are now coming to the end of the Easter octave, eight days that liturgically are viewed as one day, namely, Easter Day! The Easter season then stretches until Pentecost Sunday, totaling fifty days altogether. #Catholicsknowhowtoparty 😉🎉
Fortunately, I have been on spring break from dancing and teaching this week following Easter Sunday, so this holiday has truly been a holiday for me. While I was driving on Monday, the thought hit me that a mere day after Easter so many people were having to return to their ordinary schedules of work and commitments. Yet we shouldn’t be ordinary in these extraordinary days! They should be filled with prayer and praise and celebrations!
However, in the midst of daily responsibilities and tasks, we can still strive to cling to Easter joy and hope and have our own moments of rejoicing, even within the quiet of our own hearts and minds.
This past weekend I attended the Easter Vigil, which St. Augustine called “the Mother of all Vigils.” I usually attend Easter Mass Sunday morning, but this year, I decided to attend the Saturday night vigil for the first time in a few years.
There are many ways to describe this remarkable liturgy: Sublime. Mysterious. Beautiful. Ancient. Joyful. Simple. Symbolic. Glorious. Hope-filled. Sacramental. Solemn. Exultant.
One of the most awesome parts is the lighting of the Paschal Fire, symbolizing the light of Christ that warms and illumines but doesn’t destroy. The Paschal Fire is an actual fire about the size of a small bonfire. The congregation proceeded out of the church and into the parking lot where a miniature wooden tower (for lack of a better word) was built. Our pastor began to read prayers and prepared the Easter candle to be kindled from the fire. Suddenly, a fiery arrow whizzed down a string from the roof of the church and the Fire ignited. I’m not sure if the flaming arrow is customary in other places/parishes but it is a mesmerizing and stirring sight to behold. I looked at the faces of the children in the crowd when all this was taking place. Wonderment was painted there. I felt it, too.
The church’s Easter candle was then lit from the fire and from that candle the small candles that all of us in the crowd were holding were enkindled. The light was passed from one person to another, never diminishing but growing as it was shared, reminding us that the light of Christ does not dim but only expands as we bring it to others.
We started out in a cold, dark parking lot but as soon as the fire and those candles were set ablaze the atmosphere suddenly was a bit warmer. It was a little easier to see. Just like sin and hardship can darken our lives and make things seem cold until we allow ourselves to stand in the warmth and light of God’s love and mercy.
Holding our tiny flames, the parishioners then returned to the church, which was in darkness. We listened to the sonorous intoning of the Easter Exsultet by one of the many priests con-celebrating the Mass as well as to various Scripture readings from the Old Testament. Prior to a reading from the New Testament and the proclamation of the Gospel, the Gloria was sung jubilantly to the accompaniment of music and the ringing of bells. This was the first time that singing had had musical accompaniment since the Gloria during Holy Thursday Mass two nights before. (This moment has even more of a build-up since the the only time the Gloria is sung at Mass between the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday and the Easter Vigil is on Holy Thursday and on a Solemnity like the feast day of St. Joseph.) As the Gloria progressed, the lights began to be turned on until the whole church was illuminated. It was an impressive and joyful moment!!
The priest who delivered the homily incorporated an Easter analogy from one of my favorite book series, The Lord of the Rings. For those of you unfamiliar with J.R.R. Tolkien’s magnificent trilogy, I highly recommend it to you. Father spoke about the light of Galadriel (an Elven queen), and how she presented this phial of light to the hobbit Frodo as he was journeying to destroy the evil One Ring. It contained the light of a very special star, and when she gave this gift, she said, “May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.” So Father encouraged all of us to be that type of light to the world.
The Easter Vigil is also when new converts are welcomed formally into the Church and receive the Sacraments of Initiation. It is extremely moving to witness adults being baptized and confirmed! When this part of the vigil was completed and they turned to face the congregation, we applauded to welcome them home to the Faith. My cheeks hurt from smiling so hard. Later on in the Mass, many of them would receive the Holy Eucharist for the first time!!
From beginning to end, the Easter Vigil was a feast for the both the soul and the bodily senses!
It was such a hopeful moment to witness those adults choose Christ and His Church, choose to set themselves on the path of light and life, especially nowadays when it is so easy to succumb to discouragement amidst the corruption and sorrow we recognize in ourselves, others, and society at large on a daily basis.
The challenge is to hold onto the message and promise of Easter joy and hope even when the Easter season has concluded. Christ has conquered sin and the devil. He has defeated sorrow and anxiety. He has vanquished darkness and death. We still must face adversity and trials in this life. We still must work daily to convert and to turn away from sin. But Jesus has won the ultimate victory and His grace and mercy are always there when we truly seek it!
He died and rose for everyone, every person who has ever lived or will live.
I wish all people could experience and believe in the message of Easter! Whether you are a believer or not, know that Jesus loves you. He died for you. And He desires you to know Him and His love.
“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.'” -John 11:25-26.
Happy Easter, friends! 😊
This past Sunday was the first day of the liturgical season of Advent, a special time in which we prepare to remember and celebrate Christ’s birth at Christmas as well as to welcome Him anew into our lives and hearts. It also serves as a reminder that we will meet Him one day face-to-face and that He will judge the world at the end of time.
One of the primary points of the homily during Mass this past Sunday was the obligation we have to use our gifts and talents for the glory of God and as a means of preparation for His coming. The priest said that God has given us these gifts for the specific day and age in which we live. And we must use our talents to build up the Church and the world.
Later that day the thought occurred to me that the Christmas song “The Little Drummer Boy” exemplifies this message.
The impoverished Little Drummer Boy wants desperately to give a gift to the newborn Christ Child but has nothing of material value to offer, so he plays his drum, that is, he uses his talent for the baby Jesus. His simple offering of music in love pleases the Baby Who smiles at him in return. His offering of the intangible talent is his gift.
I think we can learn something of extraordinary value from this gentle Christmas carol. A lesson succinctly summed up in the following quote:
“Our talents are the gift that God gives to us. …What we make of our talents is our gift back to God.”
The Bible says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” -Colossians 3:17
I think it’s easy to downplay or discredit our skills and gifts as unimportant or to disassociate them from our spiritual and religious lives. Or we can wrongfully use our talents primarily as a means of self-gratification and aggrandizement.
The truth is God wants us to discover, to nurture, and to build up the talents He has bestowed on us to bring His light and joy to others. When we do this, we glorify Him. How we do this likely will change as we journey through the different stages and phases of our lives, but as the parable of the talents in the Gospels illustrates, we will be called to account for how we made use of what we were given (Matthew 25:14-30).
The cultivation and sharing of our talents can truly be a means to our own growth in sanctity and joy.
And “talents” can encompass an array of gifts. Certainly, things like artistic skills or athletic ability or eloquent writing or an aptitude for science and medicine or even impressive culinary skills. All of these things, undoubtedly, can be a conduit for the uplifting of others.
But less obvious qualities can also be a talent. The knack for making people laugh. A gift of being a good listener or being able to diffuse a tense situation and be a peacemaker. A compassion for others’ hardships and the willingness to offer quiet encouragement. The list could go on and on.
We all have multiple talents and characteristics, and they are meant to build up those around us, for we all bear God’s image.
In his Advent homily, Father also spoke about how each person’s talents are a different reflection of God.
That is a really cool idea to ponder.
Just think about it: artists, musicians, dancers can be a reflection of God’s beauty. Athletes can reflect His strength. A scientific or mathematical proclivity, His orderliness. That ready, listening ear, His love and gentleness. Of course, God is not just beautiful and strong. He is beauty. He is might and love. But His creation can and does mirror Who He is.
As a professional ballerina, I feel so grateful that it is built into my job to have the opportunity to touch people’s hearts and raise their spirits in both ticketed productions as well as outreach shows at elementary schools and assisted living facilities.
It makes what I do so much more meaningful and gratifying. Especially at this holiday and family-oriented time of year, it is a good reminder for me that I am a part of helping create special memories for children and adults alike, even as the weeks-long run of Nutcracker performances can sometimes be wearying.
As we prepare for Christmas during this season of Advent and as we plot and scheme about tangible holiday presents, I hope I can remember the Little Drummer Boy and the surpassing value of those intangible gifts we all have to share, not only at this time of year but throughout our lives.
In the Catholic Church, September 8th is celebrated as the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary. In other words, it’s Mama Mary’s birthday! And that is reason to celebrate!🎂
This Marian feast is one of my favorites. Perhaps because celebrating a birthday is something so very normal and homey. After all, Mary was a humble Jewish maiden.
It also is fitting to celebrate her birth because Mary’s “yes” to God, her fiat, enabled the Incarnation. It was through her that the world received its Redeemer. She was the first to welcome and to love Him. And when He suffered, she suffered, too (Luke 2:35).
“At the beginning of the New Covenant, which is to be eternal and irrevocable, there is a woman: the Virgin of Nazareth.”
-Pope St. John Paul II, MulierisDignitatem (On the Dignity and Vocation of Women) –> I highly recommend reading this Apostolic Letter.
Mary is our mother as well, praying for and loving us with maternal care. She is not a goddess. We do not worship her. But we do honor, venerate, and ask for her prayerful intercession and protection.
We all have much reason to exult on this happy day!
But what can we give to Mary?
As the priest at Mass this morning reminded the congregation, the best “birthday gifts” that we can offer Mary are repentance of our sins, prayer, and loving service to others. He mentioned specifically the devotion of Five First Saturdays, which you can learn about here.
The following is a simple little poem that I wrote last year for Mary’s Birthday. I thought I’d share with you all today. (Don’t judge. I’m not a poet, haha).
“The sky a gentle blue like Mary’s mantle
The light of the sun glowing bright like a candle
A quiet, laughing breeze fills the air
Signs of God’s glory are everywhere
It is the memorial of our Queen and Mother’s birth
She whose fiat brought our Savior down to earth
The courts of heaven sing God’s praise
The world joins in on this day of days
Immaculate with grace from the first moment of life
Throughout her years, she knew both joy and strife
Her love and aid are ever near
Patiently drawing us to her Son so dear
Mary, sweet Mother, we lift our voice,
‘Keep us close to you til in heaven we rejoice!'”
Happy Birthday, Mama Mary! 🌸🌷🌻
You know those seemingly random encounters that just really leave an impression? Conversations with strangers waiting in line somewhere or sitting next to you on a plane? Meeting someone at a party or other event?
You’re with these people for a minuscule amount of time–minutes or hours–yet there seems to be a genuine connection … and then you part ways.
Have you ever wondered about these meetings of happenstance? What was the reason? Why this person at this time?
Do you ever think that if life circumstances were different a real friendship could have developed? That if this were the movies a real friendship would have developed?
What are we supposed to make of these meetings?
I wish I had an answer, but the truth is that we may never know the why or wherefore in this life.
However, if the encounter seemed more than coincidental, it probably was more, and we should first just be grateful to God because “all good giving and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17).
If the experience made such a mark on your heart and mind, who’s to say that it didn’t resonate with the other person as well? Maybe there’s a lesson that can be learned from the other person or maybe it was simply supposed to be an experience of pleasure and cheer conversing with a fellow human being.
“If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”
-Fred Rogers a.k.a. Mister Rogers
Or have you ever wondered why some friendships last a lifetime and other friendships, so important for a period of time, seem to fade? Again, there doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason.
Sometimes, the years lend perspective, and we can look back and see how God allowed those friends to be in our lives for a reason — for mutual need or help. “Some people come into your life for a reason; others only for a season.”
I also believe that if the friendship was true, you can pick up where you left off should your paths cross again.
Yet all of these meetings and partings with strangers, acquaintances, friends — they have the capability of leaving behind a yearning ache in your heart. Humans are by nature social and relational. We are made for fellowship and for communion with God and with one another.
Sadly, in a sinful, broken world, “good-byes” and “what ifs” can leave their painful, wistful imprint. Because we can’t see the future and we don’t know when or if we will be re-united.
But we must hold on to hope and to trust in God’s goodness.
Though only in my twenties, I have lived long enough to know that sometimes those people who you thought you’d never see again re-emerge in unexpected times and places. So say “see ya later” instead of “good-bye.”
Pray for your friends, acquaintances, and those “could-of-been” friends you randomly meet. If someone is on your heart, reach out in a tangible way — call or write that person. Heed the old saying, “If you want a friend, be a friend.”
If the circumstances surrounding that incidental encounter are such that it would be appropriate to try and strike up a true friendship, be courageous enough to do so. You never know until you try.
Finally, I strive to hold on to the consoling hope of heaven. If we cooperate with God’s grace and mercy, we can hope to be re-united with those for whom we’ve cared and those we’ve loved, however briefly, on earth. In heaven, we will have an eternity to love God and love one another.
“Friendships begun in this world will be taken up again, never to be broken off.”
-attributed to St. Francis de Sales
In the words of Porky Pig, “That’s all, folks!”
The final curtain has fallen on the 2016-2017 ballet season in my neck of the woods. As I think back over the past months, one of the outstanding take-aways for me is gratitude for the opportunity that ballet affords me to encounter other people and, hopefully, to have a positive impact on them. This interaction happens primarily through the performances themselves.
After one show, an audience member told one of the company’s directors that watching one of the pieces was the first time she had felt joy in two weeks! What a blessing that we as dancers and artists have a platform to upliftothers!
In addition to regular ticketed shows, I’ve also had the chance to dance in numerous outreach performances at elementary schools and at senior living communities/assisted living facilities.
Let me tell you that these are special audiences, and they make these performances some of the most meaningful.
I could write a whole separate blog post about the exuberance, hilarity, and joy of the shows for kids. They really do say the darndest things!
But dancing for the elderly has been truly moving. Their faces brighten when we simply walk into the room.
Occasionally, we have been able to chat with the residents of the assisted livings and retirement communities after we’ve performed. Invariably, we receive nothing but love and encouragement from these lovely souls. In return, we are able to listen to their stories, such as tales of their own involvement with dance, or we simply offer a friendly smile and a warm hand-shake.
It is such a humbling and beautiful experience to be able to put dance at the service of others in this way. Like other careers, the dance world can sometimes lead a person to be self-absorbed and to focus on self-aggrandizement in a demanding and competitive environment. These outreach shows can be a good check on that attitude and a reminder that dance, like all talents, is meant to be shared and to benefit others.
Often in these facilities, we are dancing on carpet or on parquet or a combination of the two. Sometimes we have to dodge low-hanging chandeliers (a particularly humorous situation for an above-average-height dancer like me). In any case, definitely not ideal surfaces or conditions for a performance.
But that is not the point.
Of course, from a business angle, we are there to promote our company and our upcoming shows. However, from a human and personal angle, I’ve come to realize that the purpose of these shows is not flawless technique or mistake-free dances. Naturally, I want to do my best, but the reason for these shows, especially the ones at retirement homes, is to uplift hearts and to spread joy.
Particularly in some of the facilities caring for lower-income senior citizens, our dancing, and simply our presence, is needed and appreciated. One of the most memorable shows for me was at an organization that cares for children, elderly as well as mentally-challenged adults. Some of the audience actually had tears in their eyes while we danced.
Even in places where the residents are more well-off financially and physically, our shows can be a morale boost. One woman, whose granddaughter happens to be a professional dancer, explained to us that she had decided to wear a skirt that evening because she “was going to the ballet.” She also repeatedly said that she was tired of “only looking at old people!” Clearly, she was excited to see some youthful faces!
These authentic interactions, whether while dancing or in post-performance conversations, are an affirmation of the dignity of every person. They are an opportunity for us as dancers to partake in an act of mercy for a group of people that is all too often disrespected and neglected.
I am so deeply grateful that our visits to these various places put a little more love into the world and, hopefully, a ray of sunshine into others’ lives.
“Whatever you did for these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
These shows are truly a gift for both givers and receivers.
The French language has two words that both signify “to know.” Savoir indicates knowing of or about something or how to do something while connaitre implies more intimate knowledge: to know a person or to be familiar with someone or something. One could say that savoir is a more academic, aloof “knowledge about” while connaitre indicates a relationship. Both words mean “to know” yet the level of knowing is as different as the shallow and deep ends of a swimming pool.
Belief also, I think, is a bit of a sliding scale. There is a vast difference between giving one’s intellectual assent to something –a savoir-type of belief– and a deep-down-in-the-heart-and-soul, connaitre-type of belief.
You might be thinking to yourself: “this parsing of words and meanings is all fine and good, but what is the point of all this?”
Well, this sliding scale of knowledge and belief is, arguably, a good description of faith in God and of spiritual progress.
I am in a season of life when many things are changing in little and big ways both for myself and for my family. Sometimes I wish I could just wave a magic wand and fix some of the challenges with which we are presented. I am recognizing more and more my “control freak” tendencies. Sometimes it is hard to know where one’s responsibility lies or how much responsibility one holds.
When we’re children, if we are blessed with a loving family (which thankfully I was), our world is filled with security and comfort. We are shielded from the nastier sides of life and obviously the big, stressful decisions do not rest on a child’s shoulders. However, as we grow up, the monumental realities of life, both good and bad, become inevitable acquaintances.
Yet, we are still meant to have that child-like peace and security. Christ tells us, ” ‘Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven'” (Matthew 18:3). God is our Father and we are His beloved children. Yet so often we can accurately be called “ye of little faith.”
I think the only way to develop that child-like faith, that unwavering trust, which brings peace and lifts burdens, is to have a personal relationship with Jesus. To get to know him through prayer, Scripture, the sacraments, and through the wisdom of others. To not simply know or to believe in a savoir, detached manner, but to believe and to know in a relational, connaitre manner.
To truly believe in His goodness and love, His promises and His providence. To remember His blessings and help in past insistences. To remember that He is our Savior and our Friend, Who always, always has our best interests in mind. And also, to remember that just as God is working in your heart, He is also working on the hearts and minds of those around you, and maybe, just maybe He is asking you to have a little more trust in them as well.
Fr. Jacques Philippe writes in Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart, “In order to resist fear and discouragement, it is necessary that through prayer–through a personal experience of God re-encountered, recognized and loved in prayer–we taste and see how good the Lord is (Psalm 34).”
In A.J. Russell’s daily devotional book, God Calling, one of Christ’s exhortations is to trust Him for everything. That really hit home with me recently. When He says everything, He literally means everything! From the majorly consequential to the little trivia of everyday living. All our hopes, desires, worries, and concerns for ourselves and for others. EVERYTHING.
Another frequent assurance in the book is that “All is well.” A reminder that Jesus is the One with the final say. And He is working all things for our good (Romans 8:28).
My great-Uncle George, for whom this blog is named, certainly must have had a goodly amount of trust in God when he decided to go to Canada and join the Royal Air Force during World War II. That was, undoubtedly, one of the biggest decisions of his life.
If I let it (and I am trying to do so), this season of life can be an opportunity to strive to develop this type of trust in the Lord. But I have a sneaking suspicion that this will also be a life-long lesson. It is hard for us prideful humans to let go of control, but so often when we finally do surrender a person, a situation, a problem to God, the solution readily becomes evident.
I will leave you with some words of encouragement from the Psalms:
“Commit your way to the Lord: trust in him and he will act.” (Psalm 37:5)
“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:11)
NOTE: I wrote these reflections a few summers ago after I had re-read “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” I thought that they would possibly make a decent blog post, so now that I actually have a blog I decided that I would share with y’all. Edits and additions have been made. Hope you enjoy these ramblings/informal book report from a bookworm! 😉
I feel like the older I become the better I can appreciate C.S. Lewis’ genius, his societal commentary, and the very spiritual Christian insights he incorporated into his writings. He is, undoubtedly, one of my favorite authors. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (the third book published in the Chronicles of Narnia series but the fourth in Narnia chronology), like all of the Narnia books, is simple, beautiful, profound, and enjoyable for both children and adults.
During the first chapter, it struck me how much pointed humor his series contains. When I was younger, I could not appreciate it as much, but now some comments stand out to me that were previously less conspicuous. An example is Lewis’ description of Eustace’s family: “They were very modern and up-to-date people. They were vegetarians, non-smokers, and tee-totalers.” This is not intended as a compliment. Eustace is obnoxious, bratty, and arrogant. He has no imagination, believing solely in science and rational facts. He and his family have abandoned the timeless truths and principles of wonder, respect, and belief in a Higher Power. They are politically correct, but they are insufferable. It’s not that being a vegetarian, a non-smoker, or a tee-totaler was necessarily wrong. The problem is more that they have no permanent foundation of beliefs for their lives. Instead, they go along with the latest trends, whatever is in vogue at the moment.
Eustace ridicules Lucy and Edmund for their belief in Narnia. Even when Eustace experiences the wonder of Narnia firsthand, having entered this other world through an enchanted picture frame, he seemingly cannot give his assent to the substantiality and rationality of this fantastic realm.
Eustace continually tries to hold Narnia to the limited standards of his legitimate but incomplete world of science-only. A world of chivalry and monarchy where a girl is given deference over men when it comes to living quarters is unfathomable to him. (Lucy was given the use of King Caspian’s room while Caspian, Edmund, and Eustace bunked below the Dawn Treader’s deck.) Eustace tries to tell King Caspian that this is demeans girls, not seeing how this simple distinction does not diminish femininity but actually shows respect for Lucy.
How often do we behave in a way similar to Eustace? We measure God by our own limited, finite vision, experience and life. Often we are blind to His work in our lives even when it is right in front of our eyes, like Eustace when he first enters Narnia.
We must strive to adopt the attitude of Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, who not only continually pondered and spoke of Narnia, but also always hoped and expected to experience it once more. Their faith was rewarded, and, thankfully, Eustace was pulled along with them for the adventure of a lifetime.
The crucial moment that begins Eustace’s journey of conversion is when he is transformed into a dragon. Having wandered away from his traveling companions during a respite on an island, Eustace stumbles onto a dragon’s lair and falls asleep upon a mound of enchanted treasure. During his sleep, he undergoes a metamorphosis into a dragon: “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” His outside now reflected his interior disposition.
However, Eustace’s time as a dragon is a bit of an epiphany for him. He recognizes how beastly he has been behaving and for the first time experiences true loneliness and a longing for companionship. Once he is able to communicate who he is to the others, he becomes most helpful, bringing them food and a massive tree from which to fashion a new mast for the Dawn Treader. He also offers his services (the fire in his belly) as a source of warmth on cold nights.
Eventually, Eustace is transformed back into a boy, and the process by which this is wrought is filled with Christian symbolism. Aslan, the mighty lion and Christ figure, appears to Eustace and tells him to “Follow me.” Aslan leads him to a well that is filled with water and directs him to bathe in it after undressing first, meaning after removing his dragon skin. Eustace tries three times to scratch away his skin on his own, only to find that there is more underneath. At last, Aslan says that Eustace must be undressed by him. When recounting the encounter to Edmund, Eustace explained that this process hurt, but it was a good pain: “And when he [Aslan] began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.” Aslan then tossed him into the well water, which also smarted and hurt at first but then became “delicious.”
One can easily compare this scene to repentance and Baptism. We must first shed the “dragon-ish” parts of ourselves, namely, our sins and shortcomings through repentance. However, we cannot remove them ourselves. If we try, we are only frustrated by our failure. We must let Jesus and His grace work the transformation in us, a process that can be painful sometimes but that ultimately brings joy and peace. We are ready to accept God’s forgiveness and be made clean in the waters of Baptism, which we will ultimately find “delicious.”
Eustace is frequently described by Lewis as a “beginner.” Baptism is meant for Christians at the beginning of their faith journeys, either as infants or as adult converts. In fact, it is one of the Sacraments of Initiation. Lewis says that Eustace was mostly a completely changed person after his encounter with Aslan, but he still had slip-ups and it would be more accurate to say that he was becoming a better person. When we first make a commitment to Christ and to the faith, we often do have setbacks and slip-ups but we are now striving and improving and have hope rather than remaining in our mess. Indeed throughout our whole lives and faith journeys, we must continuously strive for conversion and re-commit ourselves to Christ through prayer, the sacraments, and acts of charity.
Lastly, Eustace’s conversion was prompted first by being immersed in a world of believers, by being immersed in the world of Narnia. Lewis mentions that the good effects of Narnia began to work on Eustace without him even realizing it; case in point, when he is struggling to climb a mountain, he perseveres to the end instead of giving up like he would have been wont to do before experiencing Narnia. This small event exemplifies both the importance of evangelization as well as the reality that both our chosen companions and environment have an affect on our attitude and ways of thinking. Secondly, his conversion was motivated mainly by an experience of hardship, that is, becoming a dragon. Eustace’s suffering impelled him to make an examination of conscience, so to speak. He realized his nastiness and wanted to be reconciled and be friends with his companions once more. So often in the real world, it is suffering and trials that drive people to conversion or to a re-awakening of faith. We take a hard long look at ourselves and our lives and realize where we have fouled up and who we have wronged, and we desire to make amends.
These musings only cover a small portion of the insights contained in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as well as the whole Narnia series. If you have never read these books or if it’s been a while since you’ve read them, pick them up again and discover the beauty that C.S. Lewis has to offer!
Images taken from the Chronicles of Narnia page on Facebook.