“Discover the secrets to growing holier through the simple things in life work, play, and rest. Learn to avoid the distractions that trouble and weary your soul and you’ll soon be able to focus your energy simply on loving God!”[i]
I encountered this little book in two visits to an adoration chapel spanning the last two weeks. The pursuit of God’s presence is really human folly. He is present, here, now and always. We have to actively work to run from this presence – and have been doing so, both individually and collectively since Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden.[ii]
From that moment on we have spent our time seeking and desiring things of this world that could recreate the joy and peace of being one with the father. Nothing made by man has come close. Not to say that we have not destroyed ourselves and others trying to achieve something akin to being Godlike or obtaining the feeling of worthiness of being in God’s presence. Great wealth, waging war, addictions, personal achievement, devastating failures, adrenaline seeking, and many other human desires and experiences serve as cheap, transitory substitutes for the real presence of God.
That is not to say all of these desires are evil or bad in and of themselves. Some are admirable, some are necessary for self-defense, and others are testaments to the human imagination and great gifts we possess as God’s creation in areas like vocational life, arts, sports, music and literature. And others are perhaps just evil and bad (think seven deadly sins – last post).
There is a great mediator for this if we can learn to be still. In stillness we can listen to and be guided by the Holy Spirit. With willingness, commitment, humility and healthy desire we can learn to listen and are open to the presence of God while we are performing every action worthy of being God’s work. God’s work is any work that is done sincerely and genuinely in his name, his true name, as driven by prayer and proper discernment, as by Providence. This work we can do if we are careful with how we treat and love each other as we are in the presence of God — for somewhere, sometimes deeply hidden, the presence of God is written deep inside everyone you encounter. To encounter another Human being is to encounter God.
When you achieve living in this manner, no matter the turbulence and suffering around you, the interior of your being remains calm and steadfast in the storm. Tremendous success, miserable failure, or just plain old mediocre cannot bring you down. You know intuitively all of these things are temporal and none of them are yours – you live for one thing and one thing only and everything else is but a means to that end.
Olympic champions like the 1936 – 9 man row American Row boat champion’s new what surrender was in action when they gave all they had and then some to each other –in blind trust and being – to transcend the sport and become legendary to this day. Prayer and the spiritual life can be like that sometimes. It can take great effort and provide seemingly little return for many a day. Life can impose serious obstacles to one’s faith. The boys in the boat faced many as well to just get to Germany – and then many more before they crossed the finish line to win the gold. By the time they won – most of them knew they had won something far more dearly than a man-made medal and the spectacle of the 1936 Olympics.
I cannot tell you what that one thing is you can live for after reading St. Francis de Sales work or what the boy’s in the boat found in pursuit of excellence. You have to read for yourself. The Boys in the Boat Book is by Daniel James Brown. One read in prayer and the other in leisure – I can say these books can inspire and change you. The world will look and feel a little different.
Among other things, St. Francis de Sales spends sometime in this book on modesty of bearing, interior modesty, and modesty of speech. One does not become Olympic rowing champions without excessive practice. One does not approach a holy life without effort either. There is a chapter on patience as you seek perfection and also a subtle tricky piece on suffering and surrendering. The latter can potentially upend your understanding to see both suffering and surrendering being gifts we cannot afford to give away.
This little book makes things that seem very complicated very simple. All the greats make it look that way! It is simple if you are willing – greatness will come – though you may become to modest to show it to anyone else!