Advent and God’s Providence
Conscious of the Christmas music emanating from the students’ party down the hall, I focused upon my work. I knew a student had entered, but I kept my eyes on the paper hoping he’d let me continue. The senior asked, “What are you up to?” I put my red pen down knowing that grading papers would have to wait. He then asked, with a tone of fear in his voice, hypothetically what would happen if someone did “X.” I recognized both the courage that took as well as the foolishness of action “X.”
Today, I am remembering his boyish smile as he stood before me. In our own way, based upon our own poor choices, each of us is akin to that young man in having issues to discuss. Advent allows us time to reflect upon who we have been and who we might be. Christmas Day as we commemorate humankind receiving God’s gift of salvation, within our imperfect being, we need to find the courage to smile and stand humbly before God.
When we examine the clash between who we have been and who we could be, we may despair at where to start or even if change is possible. However, with a loving God as sculptor, the possibilities are endless. As Saint Luke reminds us, “Nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
For most of my life, my perspective was simply to endure difficult situations. A Provident God would pick one up from the dust. Difficulties seemed a painful way God chiseled away then smoothed rough edges.
One thing that moved me to rethink that was a painting where the artist had captured the craftsman’s loving care for his creation. Reflecting upon that image shifted my thoughts away from the pain of difficulties to wondering what the craftsman might hope emerged from the situation. I began to experience challenges in a different light.
Opportunities to transform
Second, I brought my friend Sister Claire Dumont, SSCC, to a retreat entitled “Cracked Pots: A Spirituality of Receptivity.” The essence of that imagery was that those cracks and chips (and the experiences behind them) made each of us a unique vessel ready to help God with specific tasks so as to help transform the world. I have since come to associate the Japanese art of Kintsugi with that philosophy. In Kintsugi, a golden lacquer is used to mend pottery. By its very imperfections, the once cracked pot is transformed to a unique and beautiful piece.
Knowing one is treasured and has been uniquely prepared for and chosen to face that situation encourages creativity. Also, one need not fear one’s action may not be sufficient. In all the passages regarding judgment, only those who refuse to act are called to account. Challenges simply become opportunities to help God transform the world.
Wisdom from a saint
Saint Mother Theodore Guerin came to America in 1840 to form a mission and school in Indiana. Her advice to her fledgling community was, “If you lean with all your weight upon Providence you will find yourself well supported.” Examining the challenges her community survived highlights that Mother Theodore meant a carrying through, not a protection from, difficulties. Today, as together we suffer through the pandemic, her words are a gentle reminder of God’s love and support for each of us. God has a plan. Even if one does not see the way forward, one must simply trust in the guiding hand of God.
Saint Theodore Guerin also said, “We are not called upon to do all the good that is possible, but only that which we can do.” Facing a difficult situation, one can ask oneself — what is it that I might be called to do here?
I said to the student that day that today I was too busy for discussing hypotheticals. I waited. Again, that disarming smile as he admitted he had actually done it. We began our discussion with the question what is the power of the words “I dare you to do it?” Why did they put reason on hold? We went on to discuss one important thing for an adult was to learn from mistakes. A good start was imagining a different answer. For him, what might be an acceptable way to refuse an “I dare you”?
I knew that he would be safe. He knew his decision had been a poor one. He felt scared. I recognized his trust in me. The real issue was to discuss that sometimes one needs to stop to think before acting.
As the student left, I glanced up at the cross. I hoped I had accomplished all that was needed. I walked past the now calm party. Returning to my desk, there was peace in my heart as I picked up my pen to continue my grading.