Once upon a time, about a thousand lifetimes ago it now seems, I dabbled a bit in writing poetry. Most of it was fairly rudimentary – I was simply a beginner in need of more practice. But in one great moment of foreshadowing, I managed to craft a few lines which now seem to me to be prescient of the state in which I currently find myself:
In our expanse and not our lessenings/ In the unprotected margins/ Our industry is joy.
At the time I was not reading any theology. I knew nothing of the concepts of the pusilla anima (small soul) and magna anima (large soul.) Yet something in me understood that there was a significant key to joy in moving beyond my own narrow concerns, beyond guardedness – so much so that I chose these lines as the subtitle for my poetry blog and for my photography logo.
Of course, it is one thing to understand the need to move beyond small-heartedness. It is another thing entirely to do it. For years I have been frustrated by the limited scope of my own vision, by my capacity for pettiness, by the angry and unkind voices which found expression in my thoughts if not in my deeds. How is it possible, I would think, that a heart opened to Christ is still so divided?
In the middle of August I celebrated the second anniversary of my Consecration to Mary. In searching for a way to deepen my Consecration, I came across the Ten Evangelical Virtues of Mary and decided to dedicate each of the next ten months to studying how Mary enfleshes one of those virtues and doing my best to emulate her. (side note: a friend is doing this with me and we are discussing electronically; if you would like to join our conversation please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org)
The first virtue is purity. While the modern world links purity with chastity (and this is certainly a component of it) I believe in the Marian sense the concept of purity is more fully expressed as a singleness of heart. Mary’s entire heart was focused on her great fiat, her yes to God. She willed what God willed. She loved God above all things.
As I prayed about this concept of purity, I realized I had the answer to my question. How is it possible that a heart opened to Christ is still so divided? Because that heart loves other things too.
So I’ve been looking with a hard and critical eye at how I spend my time. And I haven’t liked what I’ve seen. Yes, by the grace of God my schedule allows me to be a daily Mass-goer. And yes, I do ostensibly get up to pray in the morning before Mass. But how often do I get up and fritter away 45 minutes on meaningless internet surfing while I “wake up” with a cup of coffee? How often do I then rush through my prayers because by the time I get around to getting started, the time to complete them is limited? Or, if I don’t rush my prayers, then the rest of my morning prep is crunched and I’m short-tempered and frantic with my family – hardly a loving way to start the day.
And I’ve asked myself questions that almost seem silly, until I look at the answers. For example: do I really love Facebook more than Jesus? Of course not. Then why spend time with Facebook before I spend time with Him? ***crickets chirping***
I don’t know why I’ve made the choices I have made. Laziness? Just bad habits? Hard to say. But what I do know is that as I recognize them, I can choose to change them. And so I now make sure that all the morning prep is done the night before. Ironing is done. Clothes are laid out. Lunches and snacks are packed and in the fridge ready to go. I’ve done everything I can to pare down the amount of time I spend on busywork in the morning.
I’ve also gotten very strict with how I spend my time. The alarm goes off, I feed the cats and pour a cup of coffee. I do grab my phone, but I reorganized my main screen so that the only two icons on it are the LOTH app I use and the daily readings podcast I listen to while I shower. Nothing else is visible to tempt me. I might check weather and email and even Facebook later on in the morning, but that first hour after waking is reserved for God alone.
And the result?
I’m different. This conscious choice to put Christ first in my day is changing me. The well of patience upon which I draw runs deeper. My lens has widened; particularly in relationships, I find myself making decisions with the others long-term well being in mind rather than being swayed by fatigue and expediency. Also, I who have always been extremely private am finding myself sharing not only my joy with the world, but also my sorrow, and as I do so I can feel myself stepping into those margins I have so long desired to inhabit.
Somehow, by the inscrutable economy of grace, the more of me I pour into focusing on Christ, the more of me is available to love others.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)