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.

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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…).

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.

Russell Kirk on Perfect Government

“We are not made for perfect things, and if ever we found ourselves under the domination of the perfect government, we would make mincemeat of it, from pure boredom”

–Russell Kirk, The Best Form of Government

What a funny thing to say. What could be undesirable about perfect things? Just ask anyone a week after they aced that test, about 3 days after they bought their new favorite outfit, or a month after they moved in to their dream house. It’s upside-down– things do not perfect us. Things, systems, routines…they all get boring. We perfect us. “You are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” does not mean that God has instituted the perfect system of representation and taxation amongst His angelic hosts. It means that God is love. Therefore, we are made to be perfected in love. The best form of government (of culture too) then, is one that enables us to love, to freely choose the good of the other.

This puts a whole new spin on things, no?

As mentioned before in my last post, I’m beginning to realize the deep social wisdom of the common prayer that begs for the grace for “taking this sinful world as it is…not as I would have it.” Perfect is boring; love alone is infinitely interesting.

To properly conclude, one of the most incredible passages I’ve yet encountered:

At the back of every discussion of the good society lies this question, What is the object of human life? The enlightened conservative does not believe that the end or aim of life is competition; or success; or enjoyment; or longevity; or power; or possessions. He believes, instead, that the object of life is Love. He knows that the just and ordered society is that in which Love governs us, so far as Love ever can reign in this world of sorrows; and he knows that the anarchical or the tyrannical society is that in which Love lies corrupt. He has learnt that Love is the source of all being, and that Hell itself is ordained by Love. He understands that Death, when we have finished the part that was assigned to us, is the reward of Love. And he apprehends the truth that the greatest happiness ever granted to a man is the privilege of being happy in the hour of his death. (Prospects for Conservatives, 21).

Time Well Wasted

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

There’s nothing quite like the flustered culmination of another school year to give a student (and probably their parents!) both the thrilling and frightening sensations from the passing of time. All good things must come to an end, but it’s especially tragic when that good thing was service & studying abroad in the Dominican Republic. On the other hand, when I lift my eyes to the future, I feel like my gleeful 10-year-old self trying to sit still and be patient the minutes before a birthday party– a nearly impossible feat when there is such an exceptional summer beckoning on the sunny horizon. How wonderful it is to have so many things to look forward to! Playing with this theme of time, last night I quickly jotted down some good habits of time “well wasted” that I’ve collected over the years and especially this past semester. They’re the sort of things that I usually have to push myself to do but that I have never regretted. At it’s core, growing up is mastering, through trial and error, the art of spending this precious currency, our funny gift called time.

The note-to-self:

  1. Give more hand-made presents: I can trace back my fondness for giving crafty gifts to watching my Grandma Noesen lovingly sew quilts for my newborn cousins as a little girl. Ever since, I have gradually taught myself to sew, crochet, knit, make jewelry, cards, and create various other items that are ideal for gift-giving occasions. Although the pieces usually emerge embarrassingly divergent from the original concept (still waiting for practice to make perfect), hand-made gifts represent beauty, utility, and a prized investment of time. It seems a little childish to spend hours upon hours making something that I could easily purchase, but I’ve decided that it’s a piece of childhood I want to hold onto. Those grandmotherly skills also hold their own across cultures, as my little sister in the campo and I are currently in the midst of weaving friendship bracelets for each other. 🙂
  2. Carve out time to read poetry: I can’t quite put my finger on the time when I first discovered the way in which words can share an experience through poetry, but I have been drawn in by  time and time again ever since. Even when I try to become swept away with the more comfortable tangibles of the world of business, my little poetry books seem to tap at my shoulder until, yet again, I fall in love with a vivacious poem. I have even acquired the pleasing habit of rising early some blessed mornings to read a few poems aside a steamy coffee. If that is something you have never tried, you absolutely must give it a shot tomorrow morning.
  3. Say yes to late nights turning into early mornings: “You can sleep when you’re dead” has become the guiding star to how much time I am willing to invest in my relationships. You never, ever lose when you invest hours in important conversations (or silly adventures), as late nights often lend themselves to, with another human being. As much as I love to read stories, I love being a part of one infinitely better.
  4. Embrace the dirt: Take off your shoes. I recently had a funny dinnertime chat with a friend bemoaning the fact that we can never seem to keep our feet clean in this country– but afterwards I realized that I’m really a fan of this deep down. It means I have been places, done tangible things and they left their little marks on me.  While I don’t mean to encourage actually embracing the dirt, this point simply is a reminder to revert back to that carefree, messy childish mindset that allows us to revel in the little things. So, go on weekly bike rides to get ice cream with the little kiddos in your life. Life is too important not to spend time with your family. Life is way too beautiful not to adventure into nature and breath in the fresh air. And, life is way too short not to buy that dripping ice cream cone and stimulate the local economy through your devoted patronage.
  5. Keep in touch with old friends: Lord knows that we’re all busy and stressed, but I know that I am always filled with gratitude when I receive a surprise “hey just checking in” kinda message. It’s caring enough to actively care for people that sets the great apart from the rest. Plus, it always feels fulfilling to make someone’s day.
  6. Acquire art and spend more afternoons in museums: As I graduated from the various embarrassing fads and fashions of my girlhood (if you want a chuckle: gauchos, aero shirt, and pigtail buns was the uniform) I have thankfully learned to refine and edify my tastes. I recently read a marvelous passage about such from The Economist’s View of the World, “Economists of the past thought it was part of their task to remind their readers that there are high and low pleasures, that many of the high ones require reason and the sometimes-painful acquisition of knowledge, that we aspire to tastes better than our current ones, and that such aspirations are sometimes hindered by profit-seeking businesses that cater to vices and over-emphasize the importance of what money can buy.” In other terms, it is our duty as consumers to signal the market to produce these “elevating” goods. Surrounding yourself with beauty reminds you to make something beautiful of yourself and your life– which is a very, very good thing.
  7. Eat and converse slowly: Here in La República Dominicana, I have really embraced the more relaxed, people-focused culture and my friends and I are fond of taking our sweet time when we go out to eat. This includes pre-cena walks, then drinks, appetizers, the main course, more drinks, and plenty of rich conversation. There’s always something to celebrate with each other– it’s just our job to seek it out 🙂
  8. Start and end each day with a prayer: I’ve been on and off with this one over the years, but I’ve recently resolved to get better. And that resolution began with a little story: One fine evening on a mall bench in Santiago, an old man with a baguette in one hand and bag of groceries in the other eased himself down next to my girlfriends and I.  We instantly struck up a lively conversation with this funny character. Several pleasantries, travel tips, and Shakespearean soliloquies later— he had been a professor for many years— our sentences began to drift upwards towards the divine, perhaps because it was Semana Santa. This old teacher leaned in towards us and confidently spoke of his unending trust in Him. He confided in us that he recited Psalm 23 each morning. Sometimes all we need is a little nudge in the right direction, and I have taken to reciting Salmo 23 each morning, simultaneously thanking the Almighty while practicing my Spanish pronunciation. Strangers have the funniest ways of teaching us what we need to know— which brings me to my next point…
  9. Always talk to strangers: There is not a single habit that has changed my life more– be open, be open, be open. Whether in the check-out line, on a train, or enjoying an neighborhood stroll, I have never been disappointed every time that I’ve surpassed my nervousness (or pure unawareness) in order to open myself up to a new face and conversation. In fact, that is how the majority of my best friends came to be. “How are you today?” and an engaging grin works wonders on us human beings, without exception.

P.S. The cover photo of this post is the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. If the trade-winds ever blow you to Minnesota during the 4 months that it’s not buried in snow, spend a lazy Sunday roaming around their paths. It’s good for the soul. 😉