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…).

Walt Whitman on Miracles

Oh God beyond all praising, we worship you today!

As I sleepily sit in a white rental minivan with my dad at the helm, zooming through the streets of Paradise Valley back to the airport, nothing seems short of a miracle. A mere three days of family Easter vacation in this desert oasis have reminded me that first things come first, and a first thing is to grab the person closest to you and give them a hug.

For me, the second thing is to share the wonderful things that strike me in the things that I read. I love poetry because it attunes our minds to the melody of the everyday. It sings from the order of leathery airplane seat rows, juxtaposed to the reckless glory of dawn unable to be held back by a thin airplane pane, the extra squeeze in a brother’s hug before we depart to our respective terminals towards our respective homes, and the unexpectedly cheery grin of the flight attendant as he dispenses breakfast cookies, lemon waters, coffees, and the occasional cocktail (oh what a mystery at 6am.) As Alain de Botton declares in The Art of Travel (a jolly brilliant book on which I frequently bubble over with mirth by quoting passages to my poor traveling companions):

Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships, or trains. There is an almost quaint correlation between what is before our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, and new thoughts, new places (pg. 54.)

And believe me, with the mind of an economics major, I mean to grasp and share this point in all its practicality. We know we’ve found the truth when it changes something. It begins to make all things new. So what do these mini-miracles mean for the way we go about our everyday lives? It’s pretty simple: our concrete reactions. Life sweeps us up in a new dance each morning (I’m pretty sure this is the reason that music, rhythms, and poems resonate so soundly with us.) A real gem for your Easter morning:
Miracles
By: Walt Whitman

Why, who makes much of a miracle?

As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,

Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,

Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,

Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,

Or stand under trees in the woods,

Or talk by day with any one I love, or sleep in the bed at night with any one I love,

Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,

Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,

Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,

Or animals feeding in the fields,

Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,

Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,

Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;

These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,

The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.

 

To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,

Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,

Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,

Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.

 

To me the sea is a continual miracle,

The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the ships with men in them,

What stranger miracles are there?

Pope JPII on Economics

It is not wrong to to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life that is presumed to be better when it is directed toward ‘having’ rather than toward ‘being’, and which wants to have more not in order to be more, but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself. It is therefore necessary to create lifestyles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness, and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings, and investments. —Centesimus Annus 

 

C.S. Lewis on Ordinary People

“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. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”

–C.S. Lewis

Cheers to a brand spanking new year! It took me a full 3 seconds to decide that this quote would be the first “Weekly Passage.” If I had the magical power to convince every person in the world to read just one thing, this paragraph would be it. These words reveal the very heart of everything. Clive Staples Lewis (what a name, though!) lends us his eyes in this passage, and through them the world not only makes sense, but we detect the greater story unfolding .

We suddenly see what we have been looking at all along.

The best thing happens with those first two sentences; the questions come bubbling up. Ordinary people. Staring at my laptop, black coffee in hand, boots on my feet and hair in a braid, I feel pretty ordinary (like an ordinary nerd); I don’t know about you. We can interpret this in a few ways, ranging from the things we do every day to our profound human identities. While we all partake in those daily, “ordinary” human tasks that we unknowingly signed up for at our birth (well, except for my mother who I’m quite sure never sleeps and my brother who I’m quite sure never showers), even those mundane things are only the same on the surface. If we pay attention, no doubt we will find that we all sip a cup of coffee literally quite differently, with different idiosyncrasies and in a different spirit. Even here, there are no ordinary people.

Then, we may be tempted to refute his claim by pointing out how the lives of so many people still follow a similar, sluggish pattern, so the little differences don’t seem to have any significance. True, we are sometimes tempted to go about our day-to-day lives as act ordinary, or average, or lukewarm, but I really think that this is more of a cowardly disguise because we are nervous to confront the truth that there is something intrinsically precious and rare in us all. No two are alike, yet all are equal in unfathomable worth. Once you know that, you know that you owe more to yourself and the people around you. It’s scary to think that you are meant to become someone that no one else can become.

Now taken literally, C.S. Lewis was a Christian, and Christians believe that each human soul is eternal. That still sounds very abstract, though, so maybe it is better to emphasize that we believe everyone will live in the presence of our Creator and Father forever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever… How often do we think about this? If this is true, this certainly changes things. I think that Lewis would agree that you are most at peace when your daily activities flow from who you are; that is to say, you make daily decisions knowing that yourself and those around you are headed towards eternity. This world is passing away, and we are all one one big family road trip on our way to “a country we have never visited.”

The next portion initially baffled me. What do you mean the life of our great American nation is like the life of a gnat? Here we encounter a concept of time that is unfamiliar, but logical. Our invisible souls are eternal; magnificent, rock-solid kingdoms pass away. Even Rome fell. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinth. 4:18).

We are brought up to desire the glory of being a part of something bigger than ourselves, from our dysfunctional families, to our book clubs, to our universities, to our countries. But all the significance of these nations, cultures, arts, etc. derives from their relationship to humanity. Here, it is easy to see that our purest association, family, grants the most human happiness as we share our works, joys and sufferings with those eternal souls who know us the best of all. The remarkable patentors of the Great American Experiment had it right here, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” We must enjoy the vast riches that we can see with our eyes, from wondering at a gentle snowfall, to letting the huge ocean waves knock us off our feet, but we won’t find what we’re looking for until we can see Who they point to.

We must play. I sometimes think this is the best sentence I have ever read. I’m very tempted to set sail at once with my closest friends. You know those moments that you feel exuberant, when the joy bubbles out of you in great guffaws? Better, have you ever caught the mirth in a beloved’s eye, and shared a smile deeper in your heart than has ever spread across your face? It is in our childish play that not only do we find our purest happiness, but we find the feeling of home. When you glimpse the shimmer of another’s soul during such play, you know very well what C.S. Lewis meant.

And now, to bookend this piece properly by sharing with you the glorious passage preceding the above quote:

“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.

If you’re reading this, thanks for hanging until the end (though I cannot fathom how you were able to accomplish it.) As the barista in this cafe just boisterously proclaimed to its humble occupants, “New year, new us!”

Here’s to making all things new.

6: Greatest Love

I had the decency to read Thoreau’s Walden this summer, while stationed in a canvas hammock under a great white oak and a swamp ash. As you might imagine, the literary experience was narrated by the rush of the bending, breezed pondweed and buzzing dragonflies. God, nature, commerce, technology, time, people, conversation, labor, etc. were all fair game, but I must say that I especially loved his eloquent familiarity with solitude. My busy, tired brain was justly reminded of the enrichment in quiet and isolation. Having been familiar with that, it seems fitting that we study his words on the polar opposite (or is it?), the bond of friends:

Friendship

By: Henry David Thoreau

I think awhile of Love, and while I think,
Love is to me a world,
Sole meat and sweetest drink,
And close connecting link
Tween heaven and earth.

I only know it is, not how or why,
My greatest happiness;
However hard I try,
Not if I were to die,
Can I explain.

I fain would ask my friend how it can be,
But when the time arrives,
Then Love is more lovely
Than anything to me,
And so I’m dumb.

For if the truth were known, Love cannot speak,
But only thinks and does;
Though surely out ’twill leak
Without the help of Greek,
Or any tongue.

A man may love the truth and practise it,
Beauty he may admire,
And goodness not omit,
As much as may befit
To reverence.

But only when these three together meet,
As they always incline,
And make one soul the seat,
And favorite retreat,
Of loveliness;

When under kindred shape, like loves and hates
And a kindred nature,
Proclaim us to be mates,
Exposed to equal fates
Eternally;

And each may other help, and service do,
Drawing Love’s bands more tight,
Service he ne’er shall rue
While one and one make two,
And two are one;

In such case only doth man fully prove
Fully as man can do,
What power there is in Love
His inmost soul to move
Resistlessly.

______

Two sturdy oaks I mean, which side by side,
Withstand the winter’s storm,
And spite of wind and tide,
Grow up the meadow’s pride,
For both are strong

Above they barely touch, but undermined
Down to their deepest source,
Admiring you shall find
Their roots are intertwined
Insep’rably.

I would claim that the only thing more magnificent than nature is man himself. Hopefully you enjoyed that gem of a poem, happy Monday!

A Long Time Coming

This blog, let me tell you, has been a long time coming.

I had always imagined that I would launch it in some glorious manner – perhaps during a long, stormy night or in the heat of a summer afternoon beside a sparkling creek – but here I am, on a spontaneous Thursday evening, furiously typing at my desk. It was simply the right time; you know the feeling? Luckily, time has taught me to find the right time, since it won’t find me on its own. It’s not so much about the space that we exist in, but rather how we choose to exist, or expand if you will, in that space.  While my surroundings might not be ripe for the poetic spirit, I will search for the poetry in these streets. While the chaos of my life may not yet be art, I will find clarity, and through that clarity: truth, beauty, wonder, and art.

I will try to do that with this blog- while this bud of a blog blossoms, I challenge you to do the same. Expand your horizons and forget your comfort zone. Home is all around you.

Audaces fortuna iuvat