Well, last week, when I vowed to take control of the clutter in our house and free my mind from the visual chaos that bogs me down, I did not think it was possible to end up with more clutter. But, alas, that’s where we are today. Work deadlines, kids’ activities and Dennis’ recent back injury joined forces to defeat my best laid plans. Instead of throwing out reams of paper, the kids just brought home more. Yesterday, as I searched for a square inch of empty counter space in order to sign yet another permission slip from school, I realized that things are reaching epic proportions here.
At the same time, I’m battling writing demons that keep taunting me with the possibility? reality? that I’m really just writing for myself, and, if that’s the case, should I be writing at all? (I have to go back to the clutter and chaos and convince myself that all of these negative vibes are tied together somehow.) So I spent my “free” time yesterday, which basically means the five minutes it takes me to drive to Chiara’s preschool, pondering this thought, wondering if perhaps my writing days are nearing an end, and, if so, then what? Meanwhile, I picked up a book I had on hold at the library, opened it up, and was given the exact quote I needed to read. It was a collection of famed Trappist monk Thomas Merton’s journals called Entering the Silence, and this is what it said:
“Let me keep silence in this world, except in so far as God wills and in the way He wills it. Let me at least disappear into the writing I do. It should mean nothing special to me, nor harm my recollection. The work could be a prayer; its results should not concern me.” — December 14, 1946
Imagine that. Not worrying about the results of my writing? Not thinking about the fact that my first book from almost seven years ago never has and never will result in a royalty and cannot be found on any bookstore shelves anywhere? Not thinking about the fact that other than a few dedicated readers — I’m talking to YOU — this blog is really just a private journal put up for the world to see? Not wondering if there’s any point to what I do here day after day? That’s a big leap for me. So much of myself is wrapped up in what I do and how well I do it, which I guess is the case for a lot of us.
And then I found another quote that really did tie up all these loose ends I’m dropping all over this blog. The feeling of chaos in the clutter, the feeling of uselessness in my work, the inability to make progress in contemplation. Just as I suspected, it’s all connected.
In his book “The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering the Felt Presence of God,” Father Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, writes: “When self-worth depends upon achievement then very few persons are going to spend much time in prayer or contemplation since these are by definition nonutilitarian, pragmatically useless, a waste of time, a time when nothing is accomplished. One of the major reasons why we are not more contemplative, why we do not pray more, and why we do not take time to smell the flowers, is that these activities do not accomplish anything, produce anything, or practically add anything to life…In pragmatism, contemplation dies, not through badness but through busyness.”
Bingo. Contemplation and prayer, the things I need most in my life in order to conquer the chaos and make peace with myself and the busyness around me, are left by the wayside because they don’t have any earning power — at least not that we can see. Contemplation and prayer don’t bring in a paycheck, they don’t help the kids score As on their tests, they don’t help us drop pounds and shed inches like working out at the YMCA. In short, time spent in contemplation and prayer feels like goofing off, although both are much harder than typical goofing off activities. So, how to get past this monumental hurdle, which shows up again and again and again? To be honest, I have no idea. I guess the starting point is to make a real prayer schedule that doesn’t get changed just because we’re tired or busy or stayed up late to watch the post-debate chatter. I have a feeling that this hurdle is going to be harder to jump than that big pile of clutter I’ve been whining about all week. But I’ll carry on and see what happens…