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

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

making room for joy

Just before I moved at the beginning of the year, I realized I didn't actually have enough hangars for all of my clothes. I was just one or two short - nothing major. So I bought a 12-pack, thinking that would definitely cover me for the year. As happens, I've acquired a few new shirts here or there. However, what astounds me is that somehow I've run out of hangars again! So because I can't buy any more hangars, the logical solution to this "problem" is to get rid of some clothes!

It just so happens that in light of my upcoming trip to Haiti, I was already planning on packing clothes that would not make the return journey with me - we have been advised to leave behind as much as we can. 

I'm ashamed to say that I immediately begin thinking of the most "wretched" clothes I own, the ones I never wear or don't particularly like, and deemed those to be the clothes for the Haitians. But why? Why do they deserve the clothes I don't want, the ones that aren't as quality as the rest?

This reflection brought to mind a point Dubay makes in Happy Are You Poor: we must give out of our necessity. He points out that "Vatican Council II twice admonished the faithful that it is not enough to give from superfluities but that we are to aid the poor even from our need (GS nos. 69, 88)." 

As I stand in my closet, I have begun to consider which of my articles of clothing are practical for the climate of Haiti, and out of those, which ones I like the best. Those will be the clothes I pack for the trip and leave behind. I wouldn't say I truly need the clothes that I am particularly attached to, but in my sense of fashion, perhaps some of them appear to be an article I can't live without. I'm quite grateful for the opportunity to concretely live this call to another level of poverty. 

Without question, I know I'll have at least a little trouble with this. Yet I've been tossing around the idea of poverty being a path to purity. One source (resulting from a google search) defines purity as an adjective that means, "being undiluted or unmixed with extraneous material". Is this not a similar definition of poverty? A closer look has revealed a type of liberation that I don't often consider. Detaching myself from these clothes that I really like will put me one step closer to freeing myself from the materialism of our society. 

And this has prompted another thought: why aren't we, who have so much, happier? Maybe it's because the more we have, the greater our expectations. We place our hope in things that eventually fade away, and we are left disappointed...these things can never fill us. Could this be a root problem of the unhappiness or depression that seems so prevalent when we look around? I can't claim to have any evidence on this subject other than first-hand experience, but I would wager that research might show it to be true. 

It's often heard that people in third-world countries, people living in utter desolation, have a joy that is unparalleled in people with plenty. Doesn't this all fit together?! 
In just two weeks, I look forward to seeing (and experiencing?!) this joy for myself - may I return with enough to fill more space than my favorite clothes ever could. 

1 comment:

  1. "Poverty as a path to purity." Was this not the path taken by many of the Saints?