Running Without Arriving

“If one could run without getting tired, I don’t think one would often want to do anything else.” (C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle)

The weather gods have been good to little Omaha, Nebraska this week. We began with classes called off for two “ice-days” in a row and have closed up the weekend with three days that reached the high 40s. Spring broke the rules to speak to our sun-deprived faces. Do you ever sit back and wonder at the weather? Truly miraculous, I tell you.

So, there I was on my jog today, carried away in the game where I imagine where each person is going, and what they are going to do with the rest of their lives. Perhaps you’ve played it before as well. The sun began to set, and my exuberant thoughts turned to where I was inevitably going, formulating a vague gameplan for the evening. I didn’t get very far though, because as I explored the mental catalogue of potential delightful activities, I began to wonder at why I enjoy my hobbies so much. (And now you know why I’m so absentminded 90% of the time.)

What is it about running? What is it about writing? Why music? Why painting? Why reading?

Five strides later, the answer came to me as clear as day: at the end of it all, I never truly arrive anywhere. Whenever I lose myself in my hobbies (a welcome loss indeed), there is a lingering sense of “almost, but not yet.” That’s precisely why I always reach for more– one more beautiful jog, one more enlightening book. Prolonging the runner’s high is like begging that gloriously orange sun not to set, trying to escape the inevitable swallowing-up.  “For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinth. 7:31). All races, essays, songs, artworks, books, hours, years, and even lifetimes must come to an end.

Ernest Hemingway has said it thus: “For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment.”

That is how I found myself bumping into yet another paradox of our humanity. Though I cannot (yet?) enjoy the perfect jog or write the perfect essay (and goodness knows every five-year-old is closer to the perfect painting than I am), the fire inside still urges me to pursue these things.  My hobbies cannot teach me perfection, but that can teach me about beauty and goodness. The higher builds upon the lower. As nearly always, St. John Paul II fulfills my reflection by guiding me to the things I knew that I was missing, but couldn’t see clearly enough to name:

“Saint Bonaventure, who in introducing his Itinerarium Mentis in Deum invites the reader to recognize the inadequacy of ‘reading without repentance, knowledge without devotion, research without the impulse of wonder, prudence without the ability to surrender to joy, action divorced from religion, learning sundered from love, intelligence without humility, study unsustained by divine grace, thought without the wisdom inspired by God‘ ” (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio)

In other words, I’m not running for nothing. I’m doing it so I can be a better gift.

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Only a Stronger Love

There are three poems completely committed to my memory.

The first was academically imposed upon our grumbling class of Catholic middle schoolers, as we were not yet experienced enough to grasp the worth of an inner poetry treasure chest. I’m transported back to that tiny classroom every time the declaration, “Sonnet 116, by William Shakespeare,” passes my lips. The second, “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, made its entrance into my life as required reading, but I surprised myself by wishing I could utter it while under the stars one night. A sucker for poetic moments, I worked to memorize the short piece and it has not left since (though nature’s beauty is hard to come by these days… oh frozen tundra of Omaha).

I met this final poem through a friend at Creighton (those eloquent Jesuits!), and it was pure love that led me to commit it to memory. It is a prayer written by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ:

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

This is something I’ve been thinking about lately. As my activities become increasingly concrete and materially productive, the wisdom that was instilled as a child has crystallized as well. Love is power, literally. It is the sole force that completely flips our world up-side down (or right-side up as Chesterton would say) as that which was once counted as a cost becomes a benefit. Some folksy prophets (who I happen to know are spectacular in concert) once sang it like this: “Where you invest your love, you invest your life.”

I’m not very wise, but the fact is, I don’t want my eulogy to be about how much I loved buying dresses or how much I loved to lay in bed and read all day. Those are purposely lighthearted examples, but in the face of inner darkness the truth glows even brighter: only a stronger love, a passion more fierce, can pull me from the things that I love out of proportion. We do not empty ourselves of attachments to remain empty, but to make room for the better wine. To paraphrase Peter Kreeft, who perhaps said it best, the only true cure for an alcoholic is to fall in love with the beauty of a sober saint, and the way to conquer lust is to behold the bloody love of Christ crucified. There is high truth in that.

Entering the fresh year of 2017, renewing our conviction to shake off bad habits, perhaps the best way to go about it is by allowing ourselves to fall recklessly in love with something more good, more true, and more beautiful. The good life is not the boring life. And so we begin searching, and something tells me that none of us will have to go too far.

cs-lewis-quote-we-are-far-too-easily-pleased.jpg

On Friends: Clive Staples vs. Ernest

“Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a fire?” – C.S.Lewis

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates.” – Ernest Hemingway


The above lines reveal tension. Though incomplete, it is palpable enough to bear fruit upon contemplation. For the first author, friendship (particularly that of Christian friends) is an experience worthy of rhetorical awe and thanksgiving. The other argues that even if community can temporarily alleviate our islandhood, the best writer will refuse such pleasure for whole-hearted devotion to his work. There no difference in the object of reflection, and hardly one of context as both are prolific writers, so the true divide must come from the interior orientation of each. The second author sees himself and his work, while the first is most concerned with sharing a marvel. There is a difference of focus.

The question then remains: What is the best thing to focus on? The clearest way to answer this giant question is to put it into perspective– universal and inescapable perspective.  The answer arises from another question, the one that I firmly believe we will hear in the stillness of our last day: How much did you love? If loving is primarily accomplished through one’s writing and work, then very good! However, it is only as good as it is true. Every moment we get closer to the day when we can no longer comfortably deceive ourselves about how efficiently the scarcest resource has been spent.

Lewis has chosen the better part.

This is quite heavy, but I like to remind myself of this very, very often because I’m a natural Hemingway getting caught up in my books, and work, and solitude, and coffee, and melancholy stormy nights. But fortunately, with good friends and twinkly-eyed writers like Lewis, I usually come out on the other side, laughing at myself.

It is good to be small

It is good to be small,
Sparrow declares in his morning hymn;

Dancing lightly on pink-blossomed twig.

It is good to be small,
Baby giggles as his mama

Scoops applesauce into his open mouth.

It is good to be small,
Priest teaches his sheep;

Pointing to the Father’s Love Crucified.

“It is good to be small,”
Wandering woman speaks in her heart,

As 99% of those papers loose
Their meaning
When exposed to
angelic heights.

Our Country ‘Tis of Thee

I have this (crazy) habit of sprinting the last leg of my morning run, which happens to be right in front of Omaha’s Central High. Over time, I’ve forged a sometimes-spoken bond with the certain cluster of students who typically gather around the sidewalk before the first bell rights.  They cheer, wave, and offer high-fives; I wink, offer a big smile, and sometimes flex my arms to make them laugh. There are no words to fully explain how this little ritual fills my heart, and I can only hope that they start their day off with a chuckle as their “Creighton lady who lives across the street” ungracefully and sweatily scampers by.

Friday morning, however, I reached the Dodge hill to find that the my high school friends had staged a full-fledged Trump protest in front of their school. There are just two things I’d like to say on the matter:

  1. To the little girl who was holding the “WE ARE ALL VALID” sign: Yes, yes you absolutely are “valid.” It breaks my heart that there are many legitimate reasons that many groups of people feel afraid, angry, and dismayed right now, and I absolutely believe that my success on this earth will be measured by how well I respect, protect, and love you. Each of us would do well to remember how undeservedly blessed we are just to be here. And lastly… I also remember how high school feels. So, in case you forgot a few important things when you woke up this morning, know that you are beautiful and made for great things. Go live out your beauty in this world– we desperately need it 🙂
  2. To the group of boys with the graffitied, X-ed out Trump sign: I understand and applaud the desire to protect yourself and your loved ones, but my short 21 years on this earth have convinced me that that’s not the answer. We don’t have to respect the person, but we do need to respect the office. Brave men will practice what they preach, and God knows we need more brave men.

To all who are adults–which includes you, college freshman– remember who each other is. Remember that Donald Trump is someone’s son, and Hillary Clinton is someone’s daughter. Remember that Trump supporters, Hillary supporters, and those who abstained from voting are all the little kid of some mom and dad out (or up) there.

But above all, remember your deepest identity:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

 

The GRE Manifesto

A quality that I’ve always admired is purposefulness. Time is something we can never get back (and who knows how much we even have left!), so there’s a real power in being able to confidently answer the question, “Why am I doing this?”

The great majority of my next few days will be consumed with studying for the GRE. (Joy of joys!) I’ve been joking to a few friends that I’ll be cafe-hopping through Omaha over my Fall Break. Except I’m not joking… And I may even hit up Council Bluffs if I’m feeling especially adventurous one day. But though I “just kinda know” this is something I need to do, I looked in the mirror this morning and understood that I needed to articulate my purpose more clearly. My lovely journal began to catch the words, but then I realized that was not nearly honest or humble enough. This was also something that I wanted to own up to publicly.

Therefore, let it be asked, “Why am I doing this”?

Starting with the least important reason, I’m doing this for myself. I’m doing this for the part of Clara that wants to know she can persistently pour herself out into a goal and reap the fruits of her hard labor. Theres’s definitely a dose of the stuff those cheesy motivational quotes are made of running through my veins. It’s invigorating, actually.

Secondly, I’m doing it for my friends, at home and abroad. The amount of support and encouragement I’ve received from my dear friends lately has taken my breath away. If you’re reading this, please know that I cherish those hugs and kind words when the going gets tough. I cannot wait to be there for you when you need the same strength! On a deeper level, I’m doing it for my friends abroad– especially holding in mind my little brothers and sisters whom I taught during Encuentro. I know there are multitudes who do not have as many doors open as I do; I’ve danced bachata with them and been humbled to live amongst them. That is why I embrace whatever small things I’ll have to give up these next few days. What an honor to be in these shoes!  May I never forget the joyful charge: to whom much is given, much is expected.

Thirdly, I’m doing this for my family, my rock. There’s something sublime in knowing you are prayed for. There’s something empowering in knowing you are loved no matter what. (There’s also something really appealing about not living on your couch next year, mom and dad!)

And finally, I’m doing it for Him. I’m doing it because it was His Hands that set me in this place, and His Love that placed these burning desires within my heart. We each have a mission, or as I like to think of it, a heavenly, beautiful story that He writes through us as we journey home. So, even should this next chapter not quite work out according to my plans, I know I’m not the one who knows best (thank goodness!) and I truly believe that there is a peace that surpasses all understanding.

It’s pretty simple, really, this is just me answering Your call with “yes.”

 

(Confession: I had to google “manifesto” before publishing this to make sure using the word wouldn’t make me a comrade…).

Kristin Collins on Genuine Love

Be forewarned that this is going to be a sentimental read 🙂

Sometimes we discover deep wisdom in the great books by great men and women; such are the blessings of tried-and-true tradition, or the “democracy of the dead” as Chesterton called it. But certain other times, we are lucky enough (and listen well enough) to find it over coffee and berry pancakes with our best friend. Kristin Collins is my best friend, and a few mornings ago, she (unknowingly) reminded me what genuine love means.

And because I wouldn’t be her BFF4EVER if I didn’t try to publicly embarrass her: when you fail at baking but taste sweet success in a food fight

I had to put the “genuine” in front of “love” because there is so much muddiness amidst the conflicting narratives we’re told these days. Genuine love does last forever, but only because it is a binding, daily decision (ah did someone say covenant?). Genuine love does inspire you to do great things (I mean look at this), but only because doing great things is a side-effect of wanting to make another person happy. Genuine love does mean becoming thoroughly vulnerable, but only because at the end of the day, you are two friends that see the same truth.

So in everyday life, genuine love looks a lot like being patient. Like holding yourself and those you love to the highest standard, but having mercy 70×7 times because no one is perfect.

It is relentless, when you ask your best friend (almost every night she’s home) if she wants to have a sleepover, even when she has rarely been able to the past seven years. It is embracing a sinner while denouncing a sin. It is sharing our small moments, because the present is the fullest gift we can give.

The bottom line is this: you are loved not because of what you do but because of who you are. Only then can we finally understand mercy– the over-abundant and unconditional form of love. The opposite delusion arises with the help of our falsely individualistic culture that removes us from the one place where we can best know ourselves– within our families. When the circumstances leave us with no answer for who we are, we are left to assign our worth to what we do. Unable to understand our personhood within the context of our family– think about how little brothers may always bring out our adventurous side and mothers, a passionate desire to be more hospitable– we are left jumping from place to place, dizzy since there is so much to  do and become distracted by.

This is why is is crucially important not to get caught up on a branch while trying to climb the tree. Work, business, and productivity are important things, but they are not the main thing (boy did I learn that the hard way this past semester). My dear Kristin reminded me that the real question I should be trying to answer is did you love?

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.


Additional reading: The Lesson that Took Me 20 Years to Learn

Ode to Lake Zorinsky

Seven Miles of Trail Poetry  

The first meadow-thought surprises me: I wish they made perfume sweet as the warm, honeyed grass.

Half a mile down the rolling route, my limbs compromise on a rhythm (and it reminds me of that swing dance that midsummers night, too long ago).

Soft, a lilac flower! Who put you there, my favorite love-symbol? (He makes all things new).

And still the rhythm keeps: mile two.

Oh pale yellow flutter-fly– you mustn’t remind me of family summer suppers. I see now that the familiar pattern of dad with the grill, mom with the garden vegetables, and sister with the silverware is a carefully-ordered (ancient) dance.

There is a big city christened “Capitol” calling my name; quickly I am trying to put these girlish things behind me (opportunity cost is just another word for sacrifice, after all.)

Mile four announces itself en español (pienso en ti, la casa de Olga) and oh are my cheeks flushed– how quickly the pines breathe their cool breath on my forehead.

Sometimes we are given an answer!

Lest I become too elated with this rambunctious round of Nature, it seems the lake has lapped above its banks and almost tricked me into a wetter trip (if that friend was here, we’d splash right through.)

Now squirreling through traffic on the bridge, I chuckle realizing how even Nature herself has shepherded me back to my flock.

“It is not good for man to be alone.”

A little bobbing blonde head appears around the fresh turn, and I smile at the little one (oh, and three more!) before greeting his parents with full eyes.

Look at what you made.

After passing, my gaze rises upwards to offer thanks, just in time to wonder at how silently a storm cloud just passed over us. Never just a fact of nature, my mind and body compose a poem through the seventh mile.

More family.

I am running and laughing, the twin toddlers follow me laughing and running, and our guardian angels bless the Lord.

That peace! My trained mind can’t help considering why precisely a good dose of Nature is a healing salve– ah, wait! It is a child’s story.

The glory of Nature is to call each of us her younglings (what are years or experience to her?)

Grasses tickle us, trees shield us, water tricks us, and father sun nourishes and cleanses everyone under his burning gaze. Come nightfall, mother moon will sooth and watch our rising, dreaming chests.

We are never alone.

We are never far from Home.

Cyprian Norwid on Beauty

Beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up    –Cyprian Norwid (Polish poet)

A girl–even a girl who cares very much about economics and school choice–can only read and summarize working papers for so long until she has to take a break for something beautiful.  Something less useful. I came across this quote in a letter from Pope John Paul II, discovered through my brother’s recent blog post, and it struck a chord. Perhaps because he goes on to discuss a remarkable Greek word, kalokagathía which signifies the incarnation of goodness in the form of beauty, or because my cottage endured a glorious bout of spring cleaning this morning, I am quite sure that beauty is the one thing that we all desperately need more of. Especially in ourselves.

But what does it mean that beauty excites us for work? Beautiful things tend to resonate with us, and when we allow ourselves to be allured, they can draw us from where we are to where we ought to be. The power of beauty is that it resonates, but just not enough. We have to change if we want to feel at peace in the presence of a beautiful artwork, musical composition, or personality.  I felt this just a moment ago during my pre-class morning procession to the coffeeshop, over the well-worn cobblestones, past spring’s sweet-smelling trees, and under the light blue and light coral sky.

Beauty will humble us, then work exalts us. I am drawing completely from my personal experience here– the best feeling that I know arrives when I rest my head on my pillow after a full day of fruitful work. Whether it’s a long, refreshing run, a completed paper, or painted canvas for a birthday gift, we humans love looking over our shoulder and seeing progress. Work was made for us. Sure, it’s terribly frustrating, and the space between where I am and where I want to be seems insurmountable at least once a day (especially during those hours right before lunch), but beauty comes in and reminds us of the reward.

“You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.”

Beauty, truth, and goodness return us back to our right selves. They grant not only practical clarity, but pure excitement as well. It is precisely this reason why we should all care very much about surrounding ourselves with beautiful things and beautiful people, in our home, at work, and at play. It turns out that bare, useful things aren’t quite useful enough to complete the work we seek to complete.

And still the real crux of the matter has yet to be mentioned. At the end of the day, Peter Kreeft had it right in his lecture on the Sea when he spoke that we don’t want to possess beauty, but instead what we find we really want is to be entirely possessed by it. Just as the sea engulfs us as we rush into the waves, so we want to be engulfed by Beauty.


For further reading:

Asceticism: The Alternative to “Hope and Change”