Radiating Love

“Beloved: See what love the Father has bestowed on us.” That’s the first line of the second reading for the Solemnity of All Saints in the Catholic church this year, from John’s first letter. It’s also what anyone might have said upon meeting Fr. Joseph Boyle, abbot of St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado.

To stand in Joseph’s presence was to receive an outpouring of strong and gentle love. You felt the love he radiated. It warmed you, and your heart opened in response the way a flower unfurls its petals to catch the sun’s rays and so becomes ready to welcome whatever visitors bring it life.

I grew up going on retreat at St. Benedict’s with my mom and a group of women around her age. Joseph entered my life in the way that people sometimes do when you’re a kid—effortlessly with no questions asked. As I got older, my appreciation and gratitude for the gift of this remarkable, kind, and generous human being grew.

I didn’t realize that I thought Joseph would live forever until he was gone. I haven’t seen him for many years, but without knowing it, I held this belief that whenever I returned to St. Benedict’s, his steady and loving presence would be there. I simply couldn’t imagine the world without him.

On my bookshelf waiting to be read is a book titled Humility Matters: Toward Purity of Heart. Joseph had a depth of humility, a pureness of heart that few people do. Perhaps I’m so surprised by the strength of pain and loss I’m experiencing because he manifested and offered God’s love so freely and purely that one received the gift without completely realizing its immensity.

Once after mass, he and I were talking when he saw someone across the room and said, oh I can’t let this person leave without receiving some of my love. It was a revelation to me that one could deeply respect the value of one’s own love and know the importance of sharing it without a trace of self-importance. Joseph always knew that the source of his love was God and didn’t feel it necessary to get in the way of God’s love flowing through him and out to the rest of us.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” reads one of the lines in the Beatitudes, the Gospel reading for All Saints. They will see God, as Joseph did, in their fellow human beings, in all creation, and in themselves. And now that he has passed on from this world to whatever communion awaits, surely he is seeing the fullness of God; surely he is continuing to become the beautiful love he shared with anyone fortunate enough to meet him.

Camping with the Meister

What do leggings and a fourteenth century Dominican have to do with each other? Perhaps not much—unless you go camping with a Meister Eckhart sermon.

Those of you who follow the blog may have noticed I’m becoming an Eckhart fan. That’s because he says things like, “The everlasting and paternal wisdom saith, ‘Whoso heareth Me is not ashamed.’” Meaning, for me, that if you really hear the word of God—who may or may not be paternal for you—any sense of shame you have will evaporate because you hear your own divine nature.

It’s always fun when the universe gives you an immediate opportunity to practice what you think you learned. And by fun I mean deeply humiliating.

Later in the day, I went hiking and discovered I had not gotten the new deep woods fashion memo. With two or three exceptions, every other woman on the trail was wearing leggings. I was wearing bulky hiking pants that had sap on the butt to boot. So, yeah, instant shame.

But shame isn’t always easy to recognize. Especially when it presents itself as “Why are all these idiots wearing these stupid leggings? Don’t they know they’re in a state park not at yoga class?” That’s some pretty impressive and rapid externalization right there.

Luckily I was hiking really slowly, stopping to look at trees and ferns and such, so I heard myself thinking this a lot and realized that these were not happy thoughts. Don’t get me wrong—no instant enlightenment ensued. I internally commented on and hated, at least a little bit, every single pair of leggings, but I saw what I was doing most of the time and tried to let it go.

That recognizing and letting go often seems insufficient to me, but I’m gradually learning that it’s more than it seems. The next morning I woke up and actually saw the exact shape and color of the leaves on the trees in my campsite for the first time, the texture of their bark—what creation heard when God spoke those trees into existence.

Thank You

When I logged on last night, WordPress informed me that on that very date four years ago I started writing these reflections every week-ish. This is the kind of fact I wouldn’t have believed if a computer didn’t say it because four years is a long time.

Or it used to be. College was four years, and college lasted a long time, as I recall. As previously noted, this whole age thing alters either the space-time continuum or our perception of it. I know the latter is more likely, but I’m not ruling out the former.

Another reason it doesn’t feel as if it’s been a long time is you. Every time I wanted to spend the evening streaming an entire season of Arrested Development or scrolling through Facebook, I remembered that, miraculously, there are people on the other end of the ether who find this blog helpful.

Knowing that is humbling, in the truest sense of the word, that is, it reminds me that what happens here doesn’t so much come from me as through me but that I need to keep showing up. It keeps me honest, which means you keep me honest. You move me to look inside, beyond complaint, beyond self criticism (OK, usually) to say something I hope is useful. I have to give up my perfectionist streak and hit publish even on the days when I think, this is really not my best one. Almost every time, those posts receive the most likes and comments.

I saw a quote recently that said, “No one can do it for you, and you can’t get there alone.” That is absolutely true of this blog. Thank you.

Time Flies

I am not an early adopter. When my sister first got a livejournal account, my enlightened reaction was something along the lines of, “Blogs are stupid. Who would do that?” A diary anyone in the world could read had all the appeal of the unidentified, molding substance in the back of my refrigerator. Today, thanks to leap year, Being Finite is exactly one year old.

I didn’t anticipate enjoying blogging. Even though most posts keep me up past my bedtime, I’m always grateful for the writing of them. They keep me honest, and they remind me to look for “things that help when life gets difficult,” to quote the About blurb. I’ve discovered, much to my surprise, that what helps is telling stories about my limitations, quirks, amazing friends and family, lousy days, and moments of gratitude.

It’s remarkably humbling to hear about my posts striking a chord with others or making them laugh. My original plan, quickly abandoned due to complete lack of research, consisted of finding other people and groups doing impressively helpful things. I didn’t expect my life to make interesting material. Readers’ reactions bring home what many have said, that all we really have to offer is our unique existence in this world, and that is enough.

What’s made the last year both enjoyable and humbling is you who read and comment and like, who share and smile about a post on the van, who reference the blog in a conversation, whether spoken or digital. Thank you for sticking with me, for encouraging me, for giving me a reason to write as clearly and thoughtfully as I can at 11 p.m.

Here’s hoping we’re still sharing pixels this time next year.