What Rules You?

Last Sunday (not yesterday), we celebrated Christ the King. It is one of those great feasts that gets lost on the calendar. As much as we would like to pay attention to it, the world around us has moved from Thanksgiving to Christmas and wants desperately for us to do the same. Let’s face it, shortly after the Labor Day sales are over, people are talking about Black Friday and in one store, I actually saw lit Christmas trees before I saw Halloween candy. But I digress…

The feast of Christ the King always reminds me of a homily I heard years ago. “What rules you?” the priest asked. My mind wondered then, as it does every year on that feast day, and I begin to think back over recent days. There is so much going on at work. At home, too. This week will see us juggling the science fair, the biennial adult ministry conference that Maureen coordinates with her team and at which the bishop and I will present, a new babysitter, projects, homework, and getting dinner on the table.

The day before Christ the King, we cleaned the house. From top to bottom, basement to bathrooms, wood floors to the grass outside, we cleaned. For the most part, the children were willing participants. Sure, the promise of pizza for dinner and getting to stay up late to cheer the Irish to victory helped, but so did the “divide and conquer” methodology we employed to get small children to accomplish small tasks and then move on to another job.

As I thought back over the day, it occurred to me that what ruled us was a checklist: the list of chores was created by us, but we were controlled by it. Like so many days and nights, we fly from lists at home to tasks at work and from commitments with family to promises made to friends. We let the work around us consume us, change us, and push us into an amnesic state where the “why” we do what we do gets lost.

We clean because it is important to take care of the place where we live. We straighten and dust and vacuum to be healthy in mind and soul so, later on when the pizza is consumed, and the Irish are up by six, we can sit on the sofa and hold our children as they fall asleep. We go to work, I hope, because we love what we do and, yes, because it pays tuition and the mortgage and the food bill. We keep track of what we do, perhaps, for a sense of accomplishment and to know when our work is complete.

Still, it is nice to be reminded once in a while and just to pause and ask ourselves that tough, embarrassing question: What rules you? From where is your motivation derived? Why do you serve in the way you do at the place you do and with the people you do?

Maybe, just maybe, answering the questions now will make for a more clear-headed Advent and enjoyable Christmas season, surrounded by family and friends.

Of course, by then, the house will be a mess…

~pjd

Tending the Garden

Antonio Machado was a Spanish poet who lived from 1875 to 1939. I discovered his work when a friend of mine – a retired bishop who taught me at Notre Dame – read one of his poems in class. It was 1996 and the instructor encouraged us all to memorize a poem that spoke to us. I had chosen David Wagoner’s Lost, which is a powerful metaphor for all that was going on in my life at the time. I can still recite the work by heart and I think about it every now and then, especially the first few lines: Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here…

The poet still speaks to me through those words.

But recently, I have rediscovered Machado’s work – especially, his powerful poetic challenge, The Wind One Brilliant Day. The poem, quite simply, is a clarion call to each of us in these troubled times.

The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.
‘In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odor of your roses.’
‘I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.’
‘Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.’
The wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
‘What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?’

We are given so much and often we do not take the care we should – with the environment, the people we meet, the trust that is placed upon us, our children, our friends, the reputation of our coworkers, our faith. The fragility of so many things can be overwhelming and we can fee strangled by the violence of busyness. We forget that everything is gift. It is all unmerited grace. Indeed, what are we doing with the gifts entrusted to us? What am I doing to make sure the garden grows to fullness and life and beauty?

What will our answer be when the wind asks for that which we cannot give? Will we have anything to offer at all?

Or will we weep in sadness having tended the garden so carelessly?

-pjd