While I put effort into staying focused on the Mass, the effort escapes into a menagerie of thoughts: solving problems, outlining my day, and smiling at the baby in the next pew, Realizing I have no attention on the Mystery before me, I focus again only to become distracted the next second. Etty Hillesum claims that a quiet hour isn’t simple: “A lot of unimportant inner littler and bits and pieces have to be swept out first. Even a small head can be piled high inside with irrelevant distractions.” As Hillesum writes about her desire for “a vast empty plain, with none of that treacherous undergrowth to impede the view so that something of ‘God’ can enter you, and something of ‘love,’ too,” it seems appropriate that the title of her autobiography is An Interrupted Life.
Imagine driving between two walls of fire, almost impenetrable smoke hiding the road whose destination is far from certain. Engulfed in fear and impending disaster, how does one function? Watching the California fires and hearing of their ferocity, I think of these persons whose terror is beyond my imagining. Henri Nouwen writes, “As we feel the pain of our own losses, our grieving hearts open our inner eye to a world in which losses are suffered far beyond our own little world of family, friends, and colleagues.” In the face of others’ greater suffering, how can we bemoan a flat tire, a lost contest, a failed exam, a burnt dinner? Perhaps we should feel blessed to have such small things to bear.
Parker J. Palmer wrote: “The marvelous thing about learning from a story is that a story never ends, so our learning from it need not end either.” Whether the story’s last line is “And they lived happily ever after” or the main character rides off into the sunset, stories live on inside me. No day is complete without my reading America magazine or a historical novel or a spiritual book. The next day I wonder how the historical characters are doing, as if they’re still churning butter or outsmarting the Gestapo. The features in America become conversation starters at dinner. A spiritual book may create an openness in me for the next day’s lectionary readings. Like yeast in dough the lessons ferment in me.
Having just finished The Promise of Dawn by Lauraine Snelling, I have learned about sticking up for myself as Signe did, about growing in affection and respect as her husband Rune did, about the ability to soften hardened hearts as two families, one kind and dependent, the other demanding and cruel, shared one roof.
As Macrina Wiederkehr suggests, “Read with a vulnerable heart. Expect to be blessed in the reading,” and the learning will not end.