November was a tough month to find inspiration for writing. I actually took a formal step back from my weekly 'Monday Musings and Motivation' emails that I craft for my team because writing was feeling like a chore. And yet, I reread one this week from late summer and was reminded how much language holds. Power, emotion, inspiration, release, growth, knowledge, curiosity, uncertainty, conviction. Words are sustenance, sometimes created or consumed in little snack-sized bites, and sometimes building blocks of a veritable feast. So I sit back down to write, knowing that I can't simply wait for inspiration to strike, knowing that this is a practice more necessary when it is not easy.
When I am short on inspiration, the Church never fails to shine a light into dark corners, but also often feels too heavy for a blog post. Last week had me hunting for sound bites from the Saints, and that feels a little more digestible.
This gem from St. Thomas More: Occupy your minds with good thoughts, or the enemy will fill them with bad ones. Unoccupied, they cannot be.
If there were ever a prompt for starting your day with prayer, this would be at the top of my list. I find that setting aside ten minutes in the morning for the daily readings with my coffee doesn't stick well, in part because by the time I hit the office door, those thoughts are long gone. But that's ten minutes that my mind is occupied with good thoughts and unavailable for hijacking by the enemy. Maybe if I was more consistent with the practice, the thoughts wouldn't vacate so quickly. It's frighteningly apparent that the bad thoughts are waiting at every turn to assault our unoccupied minds with lies dressed in glitter and charm. This concept, the cousin of entropy, applies to holiness, virtue, relationships, learning, health (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual). If you aren't moving towards the good, you are moving away, however slowly it might appear to cast the illusion of stagnation. I have felt the conviction in the last few weeks to live the present more intentionally, and I think it starts with good thoughts. St. Paul adds his eloquence: 'Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.' Phil 4:8
A very Chestertonian pearl from St. Augustine: Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.
The few nonfiction books sprinkled into my reading the last several weeks continue to hammer home the message that God is bigger than our finite human minds. His ways are not our own. If we are not expecting great things from Him, how can we possibly receive them? The tiny sliver of the picture that we grasp pales in comparison to His omniscience. I imagine God as a parent, just waiting for His child to ask for something that allows Him to show off His love. I have prayed for miracles and seen them granted, and yet I so quickly forget that I can ask. I've always expected big things of myself, but I've never expected big things for myself. Maybe it's time to start praying big again.
And another because Augustine was the man: If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself
This year in particular seems to have highlighted so many iterations of self-aggrandizement, self-justification, egocentrism, whatever flavor of the day falls far enough from Orthodoxy to be culturally appropriated. We are urged to 'get with the times' and chastised for defending the Truth, a practice so easily misinterpreted as passing judgment. Moral relativism seems to be an assumed universality, and worse, a prerequisite for willing dialogue with many. Yet I was comforted by the words of Archbishop Chaput (which should come as no surprise), reflecting on those who view the Sacramental life as a right regardless of their moral character and obedience, when he said "the believing community has a priority right to the integrity of its belief and practice." This captured what I could not put to words- the sense of injustice I feel when people pick and choose teachings of the faith as if they were not beautifully, perfectly and necessarily intertwined to form the whole. Catholicism is a privilege, one we should be joyfully and desperately sharing, which is received and not created or modified or arbitrarily defined. I feel a tug when wanting to share my faith, between a desire for others to know the home I've found and the hesitation that it will be distorted and only selectively accepted. I applaud those who stand firm and courageous in their evangelization.
There are so many more snippets of wisdom to choose from. I often wish that I knew the Saints better, knew them well enough to turn to a friend during a difficult moment of the day and seek intercession, and well enough to share them with others who need their example and prayers. Even this brief exercise tonight reveals that they can inspire and challenge and fill my head with the good thoughts that will keep the enemy from sneaking in. That's enough for tonight.