Tag Archive | St. Catherine of Siena

Dot-to-Dot Life

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Dot-to-Dot books were my absolute favorite activity books when I was a little girl – even better than coloring books – well, maybe my Red Ryder cowboy coloring book was the best of all – but other than that, dot-to-dot pages were my favorites. I could spend hours drawing lines from number to number to reveal a picture from what started out as just a mass of numbers.

mediumSunday morning I read a short paragraph from FIRSTLIGHT: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd.

During those times when I wonder what I’m going to do with my life and I’m unable to envision it, I recall a dot-to-dot picture of a giraffe – a gift from a four-year-old. The child had created the picture by moving his pencil from dot to dot, one at a time. It comforts me to know that when I can’t see the whole picture, all I really need is to see the next dot. [p. 175]

A couple weeks ago Mim and I went to my 50th high school class reunion. It was fun to talk with former classmates, to find out who is retired and who is still working, and to discover some surprises in what all of us have been doing with our lives.

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I’m in the front row, right in the middle, wearing glasses.

When we left high school, many of us had dreams of specific careers where we would spend our lives. In my case, I was going to be a chemist. Really! I changed my mind after my freshman year in college. I switched my major from chemistry to English and prepared myself to become an English teacher.

After college, I taught English for two years, and then I became an editorial researcher for The World Book Encyclopedia. The publishing business was interesting for a couple years, but then I switched again and began a new career path in business. I spent ten years working in the financial systems department of a large corporation in downtown Chicago and went to grad school evenings to get an MBA. Then I left big business and became a small business consultant, creating my own business. Then my partner Mim and I became owners of a bed and breakfast. Then I became a real estate agent. Then Mim and I turned our B&B into an assisted living business. Next we turned our farmhouse into a spiritual retreat center. Oh, and simultaneously with these “career changes” I became a church organist and a writer, publishing a weekly blog and a couple books.

So much for the idea of devoting my life to a one-track career. I really appreciate what Sue Monk Kidd said,  “It comforts me to know that when I can’t see the whole picture, all I really need is to see the next dot.” When I drew that first line from dot 1 to dot 2, I had no idea what the total picture of my life would end up looking like. In retrospect, that really didn’t matter. I just needed to live my life one dot at a time.

SKMBT_C28016070409180Joan Chittister focused on a related theme in the June issue of The Monastic Way. The 30 daily readings reflected on a quote by St. Catherine of Siena, “Be who God meant you to be and you’ll set the world on fire.”

The reflection on the first day of June boldly stated, “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” [Chittister was quoting David Viscott, a psychiatrist.]

One of the things I learned from my own life experience, and had confirmed by the life experiences of some of my classmates at our reunion, is that God has given us many different gifts. Discovering what these gifts are is a lifelong adventure.

One of my classmates has written a book about his life story, That First Step. In the Foreword, Lee states, “There is nothing earth shattering or noble here, just a straightforward tale of a Navy Parachute Rigger who became an Air Force Master Sergeant.”

SKMBT_C28016070409240As I read the book, I learned a lot about day-to-day life in the military, about the job of a parachute rigger, and about the importance of packing a parachute just right so it definitely will open properly when the ripcord is pulled. I also learned about how Lee discovered his natural talents, his deep interests, and his amazing love for free-fall parachute jumping. Through the narrative of his story, I learned how he gradually discovered that his life was meant to be spent in the military – first in the Navy, then the Air Force. That was his life calling. Or, as he writes at the end of the book, “As I look back to those childhood days of playing soldier, maybe, just maybe, having this career was the fulfillment of my destiny.”

Lee has learned the truth of what St. Catherine of Siena said seven centuries ago, “Be who God meant you to be and you’ll set the world on fire.” Lee’s book makes it clear that he has had a very inspiring and rewarding career in the military. He has discovered his life purpose.

In The Monastic Way Joan Chittister defined “vocation” as “the call within us that tells us that we will never be really alive until we become what we are called to be… It is, Merton says, ‘the original selfhood given me at birth by God.’”

The next day Chittister added, “What we are given to work with in life is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to God.”

dot-icecream-1-coloring-pageOn the surface, my own career progression might look like I’m scribbling an abstract design on my dot-to-dot page rather than following the dots correctly. Fortunately, Sue Monk Kidd assured me that even if I can’t make out the complete picture of my life yet, all I need to see is where the next dot is. Sometimes I think I might be drawing lines with more than one pencil, but that’s okay. As long as there are more dots on my page, I’m still working on my gift to God.

Sue Monk Kidd includes the following story in her book FIRSTLIGHT:

Rabbi Joseph Liebermann told how he fell asleep one night and had a dream. In the dream he dies and goes to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waits for God to speak, he fears that the Lord will ask him, “Why weren’t you a Moses … or a David … or a Solomon? But God surprises him. He simply asks, “Why weren’t you Rabbi Lieberman?”

When my life is over, I doubt God will ask me why I wasn’t a Mother Teresa. The question I fear most is, “Why weren’t you Sue Monk Kidd?”

The most gracious and courageous gift we can offer the world is our authenticity, our uniqueness, the expression of our true selves. [p. 176]

When my life is over, I doubt God will ask me why I wasn’t Joan Chittister or Sue Monk Kidd or J. S. Bach. I just hope God doesn’t ask me the question, “Why weren’t you Marian Korth?”

Marian w curls and cowboy hat

My earliest career aspiration was to be either a cowboy or an Indian.

For Crying Out Loud

According to the idioms section of TheFreeDictionary.com, “for crying out loud” is “An exclamation of anger or exasperation, as in For crying out loud, can’t you do anything right? This term is a euphemism for for Christ’s sake.

For crying out loud, I’ve been reading Joan Chittister’s monthly pamphlet for more than four years now. The pamphlet for last month (May 2015) is the first one that I really haven’t liked. This year, instead of reflecting on beautiful paintings each month, she’s reflecting on one particular quotation for a whole month. Brother Mickey McGrath creates a new illustration of the quotation for the front flap of each month’s pamphlet.

The quotation for the month of May was by St. Catherine of Siena:

Cry out with a thousand tongues. I see the world is rotten because of silence.

Cry Out Pamphlet CoverThe quote is an order to do something – to cry out – because of a terrible observation – that the world is rotten because people don’t cry out. Unfortunately, the quote is more depressing to me than uplifting. That’s not the way I want to begin each day – being depressed.

Chittister’s reflection for Thursday, May 21, was probably my least favorite of all.

Silence is a virtue only when it prepares us to act well later. Otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming nothing more than a symptom of spiritual narcissism.

I took a little offense at that comment. Most people who know me would describe me as a quiet person. I rarely speak unless I think I have something worthwhile to say. If I have to make small talk, I will, but I don’t like it. It’s far from my favorite thing to do.

In contrast to making small talk, I see silence as something good. Silence is an opportunity to think, to learn, and to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. For crying out loud, I certainly don’t see silence as a “symptom of spiritual narcissism.” (Or is it? Maybe I need to think about that a little more – but not this week.)

Silence ripplesBut perhaps, I’m taking Chittister’s comments too personally. Toward the end of May I decided to re-read all the daily reflections in one sitting. I understand that her point for the month wasn’t to criticize the golden moments of silence that I treasure, but rather to criticize the silence that is the opposite of standing up for what is right – the  silence that is the opposite of working for justice.

In her introduction to the month’s reflections, Chittister quoted Pastor Martin Niemoller who wrote during World War II:

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Martin Niemoller

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

For 31 days I read a paragraph each day about the need to cry out for justice. On May first Chittister talked about all the injustices worldwide and ended with another quote – this time one by Helen Keller.

Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.

The next day she pounded the same point. “Evil can only remain evil as long as the rest of the world continues to be silent about it.”

One day she brought Anne Frank into the discussion, who had written,

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.

Finally. A ray of hope. Something uplifting. We can start improving the world any time we want.

snowflake-avalancheAnother day Chittister asked the question, “What did I do today to minimize the evil in the world, in my neighborhood, in my family?” Just in case we feel that we are too little and insignificant to have any real impact by what we personally say and do, Chittister reminded us of what Stanislaw Jerzy Lec said:

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.

Chittister summarized the month’s reflections with, “It is your voice and mine, alone as well as together, that are meant to raise the alarms. If we don’t point out the breakdowns in human community and make clear the unseen millions in need, they go on being unseen by the many.”

Okay. So this wasn’t my favorite month of “The Monastic Way” pamphlet. But, by the end of the month, I was maybe a little inspired by the message. For crying out loud, “the world is rotten because of silence.” For Christ’s sake, I guess I can join with others and “Cry out with a thousand tongues” to try to make the world a better place, especially for people who are treated unjustly. Now I just need to decide where to begin…

Cry Out