Because in the school of the Spirit,
man learns wisdom through humility,
knowledge by forgetting,
how to speak by silence,
how to live by dying.
-Johannes Tauler

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Parting Words...

While my contributions to this blog have been minimal, I do feel compelled to leave some parting thoughts as someday I may revisit this blog to see how I felt about the year, or find some words to make it through another year of getting rid of material clutter and making more room for the Lord.

Many times throughout the year I felt a sense that I was not living up to the spirit of poverty. I think both Missy and I agreed we could have done better; however, for a first attempt I came to understand better that less is more. I just took my last bag of clothes and "stuff" out of the hallway. After several iterations of thorough cleaning, I wondered how I had let things get to such a mess! But living month or so without these, I realized that I did not miss one single thing, or wish I had it back. This was a huge breakthrough, as I have always been a pack rat - every ticket stub, every knick nack someone had given me, kept away for the day I might need it. Now that I've finished, not only is my room clean, but I need less time to think about all the cleaning I need to keep doing and have more time to focus on other things.

Maybe this year I will pledge to keep a life of simplicity, free of clutter, and spend more time in prayer and reflection. They say it takes 40 days to break a habit, but I might argue it takes an entire year. People have many new year's resolutions, but why are they never kept? I think it is because, for some, we try to do everything on our own. This past year's resolution was not one of surface change, but of a radical transformation that was rooted in God - and only because of His grace were we able to continue and transform our lives and have faith that we can continue on a path of true poverty of spirit.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Ultimate End

So does it end here? 
Julie and I have come to the conclusion of our "experiment" in taking on a spirit of poverty. 
What do we do now? 

I can only speak for myself, but I believe the year has taught many lessons. Like other educational experiences, some lessons stick while others do not, but with time I will continue to learn more and more because of the seed that has been planted in the soil of poverty I have prepared. Irregardless of the details of our endeavor and all it entailed, whether we have ultimately succeeded or failed or done something in between, the greatest impact I hope to find as I move forward is the gift of pause. I have found immense wealth in taking a moment to ponder what is before me - not operating on auto pilot but asking questions and seeking answers below the surface. 

Truly, it is not only in regard to material possessions that one can be rich or poor - I believe we have thoroughly established that throughout the year - and so it is not strictly in not buying anything that one fully takes on a spirit of poverty. There is something so much greater involved, and it is something we can only discover if we are looking and listening with our hearts. 

I do not claim to have come anywhere near mastering what this means, but as I carry this blessed time in my heart, with all the riches I have gained and all the poverty I have faced, I will continue to seek an understanding of how the Lord is asking me to use this "experiment" for His glory. My search could lead anywhere: perhaps to choosing a life of poverty, or serving those in poverty who have no choice. 

Ultimately, seeking a deeper union with Our Lord is the end, and if a spirit of poverty, however radically lived, is the greatest means, than please may I, and all of us, receive the grace to drop our nets and follow Him. +

Thank you for your prayers and support. God bless you. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"dirty" laundry

Was anyone else raised this way? We used our towels once growing up...and then put them in the dirty clothes pile. I think my family still does this, but I long ago dropped this habit out of necessity (a girl can only have so many towels in her dorm room, and can only do so much laundry!) However recently, I've noticed that I often do this with my clothes: I wear them and take them off and put them in the hamper and don't usually give a second thought to whether they're clean or dirty or smelly or disheveled or in perfectly good shape - into the washer they will go, anyway! 

The beautiful thing about getting older is that we become wise enough, or at least speculative enough, to question all that we have been taught from a young age and make a choice. Sometimes that choice includes a change for ourselves, but just because I have now begun to do things differently in my own life does not mean I need to subject anyone in my family to making a change as well.

So I'm trying to wash my laundry less, and trying to realize that things aren't as dirty or as bad as they seem. A freshly washed wardrobe is not going to get me closer to heaven, and just as clothes do not need to be perfectly pressed, neither do people. In many things, there is a poverty (and sanctifying grace!) in accepting how things even when we know how they could be, and shifting our focus to the really important questions of our pilgrimage on earth: "Am I striving for holiness?" and "Am I helping those around me do the same?" Poverty is detaching from the pursuit of worldly perfection, yet always reaching for that perfection to which our Heavenly Father calls us (Mt. 5:48) and bringing others with us. St. Augustine says, "Do not allow yourselves to be offended by the imperfect while you strive for the perfect." This strikes right at my heart because it is something I struggle with so often. I do need to do a little laundry: soul laundry. I should be focused on washing my soul more often than washing my clothes...if it isn't actually dirty or smelly or disheveled then I don't need to wash it. What I do need to do is start looking at the things that do stink in my life - my sins - and in the poverty of humility, confess them. The laundry detergent of reconciliation is free, as the Lord of mercy and compassion gives it freely through Jesus Christ, and it smells sweeter than all the fragrances of the world. + 

Monday, November 1, 2010

a means to an end

Every morning I open my inbox to at least two new emails, one being a meditation of the day (Just a little quote from some Catholic book...usually ones I've never heard of) and the other being an email about the Saint of the Day. 

Last week, I received the story of St. Peter of Alcantara, a spiritual director to St. Teresa of Avila. He was an amazing man, and his work was responsible in part of forming the Order of Friars Minor, the Franciscans as we know them today. 

Of particular interest to me in the short email about this man were the two segments I've copied below on St. Peter and poverty. 

"Poverty was a means and not an end for Peter. The goal was following Christ in ever greater purity of heart. Whatever obstructed that path could be eliminated with no real loss.
The philosophy of our consumer age—you are worth what you own—may find Peter of Alcantara's approach severe. Ultimately his approach is life-giving while consumerism is deadly."

"I do not praise poverty for poverty's sake; I praise only that poverty which we patiently endure for the love of our crucified Redeemer and I consider this far more desirable than the poverty we undertake for the sake of poverty itself; for if I thought or believed otherwise, I would not seem to be firmly grounded in faith" (Letter of Peter to Teresa of Avila).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

the neat freak

Julie and I have found many differences between us as we've lived together this year, and one of the most obvious is in our housekeeping styles. When I first moved in, I would see Julie's friends here and there, and they would say, "How is it living with Julie?" And I would honestly say to anyone, even now, she is a great roommate. But then they would make a comment like, "She says you're really clean!" That always struck me, because I didn't just hear it from one or two people, but from a few! I wondered what Julie was thinking in making that comment to so many people - if maybe she found this to be annoying or a problem or something. 

We laugh about it sometimes, because if you were to observe each of us walking into a room, you might note that by time I've left, it looks like a vacuum has gone through. By the time Julie has left, it looks like a tornado has gone through. I think I'm exaggerating for both of us, but it does paint the right kind of picture: I'm really neat, and she is, well, let's say more free in her placement of objects. 

One explanation I offered is that it has to do with the composition of our minds. Julie is quite level-headed and sensible, organized when it comes to projects and committees, and generally knows what's going on and how she feels about it. My theory is that because her brain is so organized, her room doesn't have to be. She's got it all in order in her head, so why waste the time ordering all the paperwork and whatever else that goes with it? 

I, on the other hand, am not quite as even-tempered. I recently heard it said that if a man's brain operates like a waffle (everything in boxes), a woman's is like a plate of spaghetti (I'm sure you understand this analogy). Well, I am a plate of spaghetti with red and white sauce, meatballs, mushrooms, onions, garlic pepper, and parmesan cheese. Ew. What a mess. 
So, because I feel like a crazy person more often than I'd like to admit, a clean room (a place for everything and everything in its place), organized email inbox, a boxed and neatly labeled calendar, and generally, an organized style of living is crucial for my sanity. I can't cook if the kitchen is messy. I can't write a paper if there's stuff all over my desk. I can't sleep if I have clothes on the floor or books out of place on the shelf or stuff on my bathroom counter that should be in a cabinet or drawer. 

Hi, my name's Missy and I may or may not be borderline OCD. 

It's a blessing and a curse, as you might imagine, but I've been wondering if maybe this is why this idea of poverty and striving to live that out has become so attractive to me. The less 'stuff' one has, the less one has to clean up or keep track of. And of course, this does not just apply to material possessions. A life that is rightly ordered and balanced will bring with it peace and calm. That means not having more than is needed, taking the right amount of time to sleep, to work, to eat, to exercise, to recreate, and most importantly to PRAY, and within each of those things balancing routines, diets, exercises, activities, devotions: living life to the full. Certainly how that plays out looks somewhat different for everyone, but our bodies, our souls, and our minds were created with definite, non-negotiable necessities: you must sleep, you must eat, you must pray (this could be the lone subject of an entire post), you must do some sort of physical activity, you need down time... 

I do a lot of rambling on here, which means you could have probably guessed my mind looks like that spaghetti plate I described. But through this experiment of poverty, and in continuing to order my life rightly, hopefully I can at least switch to penne pasta. At least then the noodles aren't so tangled. And as we all learn at some point or another, you can't switch up the recipe without the help of the Executive Chef. +

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Saint of 'Darkness'

You can tell me to stop, but I'm really hoping you won't. 
Mother Teresa continues to blow my mind. She is so incredible! I am beginning to love her more and more. I came across this in one of her letters, which was published in Mother Teresa: Come, Be My Light - The Private Writings of the "Saint of Calcutta" edited with commentary by Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., the postulator of her cause for canonization.

"...The Word of God became Man -- Poor. -- Your word to God--became Jesus-Poor and so this terrible emptiness you experience. God cannot fill what is full.--He can fill only emptiness--deep poverty--and your "Yes" is the beginning of being or becoming empty. It is not how much we really "have" to give--but how empty we are--so that we can receive fully in our life and let Him live His life in us....
This is the poverty of Jesus. You and I must let Him live in us & through us in the world."
-Mother Teresa

And I've just been posting things as I come across them and they relate to poverty. There is so much more! With hesitation, I'd like to point you to a website I created for a class project, one that I hope to continue developing and growing over the rest of the semester. It's definitely a work in progress (so don't judge me!), and I'm not sure what I hope it to become or what it even could be with my limited web development skills. More than anything, I wish it to be a tool that points people towards beautiful Mother Teresa so that they too might be touched by her light in their lives. You can find it here.

"If I ever become a Saint-- I will surely be one of 'darkness.' I will continually be absent from Heaven--to light the light of those in darkness on earth." 
 - Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Monday, October 18, 2010

but wait! there's more.

So, to keep carrying on about this whole September business, you know, not eating out, I want to talk about why it was less difficult than I expected. Sure, it took more meal planning than I might normally do and it also took some creativity when it came to getting together with some friends. Instead of meeting someone for breakfast, I invited her to join me in my apartment, which ended up being a lot more fun anyway! I was actually surprised at how very easy it was for me to avoid (for the most part) the restaurant industry. There were times when my parents fed me (thanks Mom!) or I went to a friend's house for dinner. One day a co-worker and I who normally eat lunch out now and then decided to each pack a different dish for lunch and then we shared them. 

Other than the two times I mentioned I ate out (1 breakfast, 1 dinner), I managed to eat some other way, and most of the time I did not even think about it as a sacrifice! I found other ways to be social, and I found myself at the grocery store more often. Both good things! And every now and then, I would think to myself, "Gee, I might like to slack off tonight and eat at that restaurant or that fast food restaurant." But knowing I couldn't, I didn't dwell on those thoughts for long. 

I was healthier in terms of time, energy, and nutrition. Much like this whole year I've saved time by not spending it in the mall or other stores, I saved time by not eating out either - restaurants can be time consuming! As a student and full-time employee, I needed every minute of the time that was spared. Even though it takes more energy to cook for yourself, I saved energy by not being as social - after a long and challenging summer I took a step back and took a breath. Even social butterflies can get tired flying around to all those beautiful flowers we call friends. And I'm not one to count calories much and I hardly ever step on a scale (if I get up the nerve, I might blog about all the poverty that entails some day!), but I do try to eat healthy, just because I enjoy that type of food. Not eating out and doing more grocery shopping and cooking for myself made more room for that! 

The good news is that after the month of not eating out, I did not immediately run out to the nearest restaurant and order the most appetizing thing on the menu. When some co-workers invited me to lunch a few days after the experiment "ended," It was very surreal. I found myself thinking: "O yeah, I'm free to go out now. September is over. I've 'done my time'." But I almost didn't want it to end. There is such a freedom in detachment

I'm sure the difficulty of such an undertaking would increase with the duration, but truthfully, maybe this is what we should have been doing all year! There were never really any guidelines for our poverty as it relates to food, and as I sit here typing this, I'm a little dumbfounded as to why not. One of the most basic human needs and one thing that can really set apart the truly impoverished from the rest of the population is access to edible and nutritionally-adequate food. So why hasn't this been incorporated into our experiment? 

Truly, I have learned a lot - that I do not doubt. But as the year has gone on, I have realized more and more, that we are barely skimming the surface. +