Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...


Ordinary Saint

I sat on a porch swing last week and read these lines: Grandfather was very good at saying his prayers. He could become so absorbed in them that he would forget all about what there was for dinner, his income tax, his rheumatics, slugs and moles making havoc in the garden, and all the things that continue to occupy the minds of most people even while their lips are moving. He could go on for a long time and not know until afterwards that he was tired... -from The Blue Hills, by Elizabeth Goudge

Each word struck a pang of hunger in me. I pictured that portly, humble-hearted little man and it seemed to me that he was the picture of an ordinary mystic, a workaday saint as he prayed for "the devil himself to be turned back from his evil." The picture of it made me ache. I want to be that sort of soul.

I have long been drawn to the writing of the Christian mystics. I finished Evelyn Underhill's definitive tome on the movement about a year ago, but I'm raring to start it afresh because it chronicles the way some people cast heart, soul, mind, and body into a single-willed determination to know their God. And they succeeded. The theme of their words, however disparate their experience, is simply this: God yearns to be known, and if we will love him with a single will, all Love, all Holiness, all Beauty is ready for our friendship.

The picture of "Grandfather," wakened me back up yet again to that possibility. I came spluttering to life with frustration though. I have yearned to know God so many times in my life, promised stricter prayer times, or vowed that I would not sin for a day. Hah. I want God, the real, living breath of Him present in a tangible way in my life. Of course, I'd love to be smacked with the miraculous, but even more, I'd like the chastening of my heart, the clearing out of sin in my spirit to make God real as sunlight. But what does this look like for me? How should it shape my days when I am a young woman, with no choice but to work and earn, no escape from the maze of ordinary existence? I won't be running off to a convent any time soon, but I still yearn to love God with the same will as St. Teresa of Avila herself.

I think there's an answer in that bit about the Grandfather. Ordinary mystic. Single-hearted even in the clatter of normal life. He shut out all the chattering thoughts because God was the one thought he must think or die. I am woefully inept at shutting out distractions. The minute I kneel to pray, I swanee and swear a beehive gets loose in my brain. But that picture of the little old man, with a hundred worries he could consider but didn't, and the long practice of that choice, is a comfort to me. It was the middle of the day when I read that, but it made me want to go get on my knees straight way, and start the minute-by-minute work of what Thomas Dubay calls "heroic virtue." It's one little prayer at a time that makes a saint. And I'm determined to try. Workaday saint. Grandfather wrapped up in his prayers instead of the income tax. That's my goal.