“It seems to me that nothing can distract one from God when one acts only for God, always in God’s holy presence, under that divine glance that penetrates to the depths of the soul. Even in the midst of the world it is possible to listen to God in the silence of a heart that wants to be God’s alone.”–Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity
Élizabeth Catez was born in France in 1880. She taught religion to children who worked in factories. In 1901 she joined the Discalced Carmelite monastic community of Catholic nuns. She died five years later of Addison’s disease. Read more about her here.
My summer reading includes Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs novels set in England during and after World War I. Maisie is an intriguing character is an age when much is changing for women–as suffragettes they are taking to the Parliament their fight for the right to vote; at the same time, the war with Germany is bringing many women to a very different “front line.”
Winspear’s novels prompted me to re-read some of the WWI “war poets,” whose description of war’s realities make them anything but jingoistic. Below is a poem by Vera Brittain who served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse and requested to be sent to France in 1917. She was stationed at 24 General Hospital at Étaples, where she nursed German prisoners of war. The poem below reflects her experience:
THE GERMAN WARD by VERA BRITTAIN
When the years of strife are over and my
Of the wards wherein I worked the weeks
I shall still see, as a visions rising ‘mid the War-
The ward in France where German wounded
I shall see the pallid faces and the half-sus-
I shall hear the bitter groans and laboured
And recall the loud complaining and the weary
And the sights and smells of blood and wounds
I shall see the convoy cases, blanket-covered
on the floor,
And watch the heavy stretcher-work begin,
And the gleam of knives and bottles through
the open theatre door,
And the operation patients carried in.
I shall see the Sister standing, with her form
of youthful grace,
And the humour and the wisdom of her
And the tale of three years’ warfare on her thin
The weariness of many a toil-filled while.
I shall think of how I worked for her with
nerve and heart and mind,
And marvelled at her courage and her skill,
And how the dying enemy her tenderness
Beneath her scornful energy of will.
And I learnt that human mercy turns alike to
friend or foe
When the darkest hour of all is creeping
And those who slew our dearest, when their
lamps were burning low,
Found help and pity ere they came to die.
So, though much will be forgotton when the
sound of War’s alarms
And the days of death and strife have passed
I shall always see the vision of Love working
In the ward wherein the wounded prisoners
The Anglican Bishop of Shrewsbury, UK, has warned against growing workaholism, and has commended relaxation and hospitality instead. In his regular diocesan update, Bishop Mark Ryland lays out the necessity for sabbath, rest, and renewal.
By way of information: The U.S. does not have “national holidays” like they do in the European Union – in the sense of days on which all employees in receive a day free from work and all business is halted. The U.S. federal holidays are technically apply only to federal employees. States and local jurisdictions decide how they will follow them. And private businesses don’t have to follow them at all. Ryland writes:
I wonder if we British don’t really value rest and relaxation? We seem to make a virtue out of unceasing work; we boast about how busy we are, as if the hectic pace of our lives is proof that we are important and significant. We feel guilty when we’re not working and we’re suspicious of anyone who lifts their nose from the grindstone for too long. In France, the whole country basically shuts down for the month of August and everyone heads for the beach or the mountains. While the number of public holidays in Britain is eight; on the continent it’s ten or eleven. Despite working more hours, it is debatable whether our country is any more productive. Indeed, Britain has one of the highest records for workdays lost due to sickness in Europe.
In our fast paced world, tales of emotional exhaustion and spiritual bankruptcy are not uncommon and stress is a recognised illness. People feel stretched and overloaded – indeed it is expected of them! I noticed a recent advert on TV that promised to keep you looking fresh, even after sixteen hours. It seemed to be applauding those ‘tough people’ who worked sixteen hour days. Crazy!
We were not, however, designed to be forever on the go. Fast paced lifestyles and little sleep rob us not only of energy but also of relationships. This seems to be a particular danger in the Church where it is all too easy for work and ministry to become the other woman or man in a marriage. We rob ourselves, however, when we desire autonomy or when we imagine we are indispensable, declaring that we can manage alone, that we don’t need anyone or anything else to help us. As Charles de Gaulle once said: ‘the graveyards are full of indispensable men’.
Jesus may have worked long hours teaching and healing but he knew that he needed to draw aside, to step out of the rush and away from the demands laid upon him. He knew of his need to find peace and to reconnect with his Father, gaining spiritual energy and sustenance in solitude. Exhaustion is a fact of life. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that even young people grow tired and become weary. He tells us that the remedy for weariness is rest, waiting on God, waiting to be filled with his strength. So if the prophets recognised the need for spiritual refuelling and Jesus prioritised time alone with his father, how much more do we need it?
We need to relearn this… I need to relearn this! More than that the world needs us God’s people – his Church – to model a healthy rhythm of work and rest for we live in a world that is a long way out of balance. In our society, young and old seek oblivion in alcohol; anti-depressants are amongst the most prescribed medications. People are yearning for real rest as the lie of consumerisms’ ability to satisfy in any meaningful way is being exposed. This deep recession gives us an opportunity and a choice. It could mean that we go on blindly working harder and harder to obtain the things we have grown used to possessing; or it could mean a time to take stock and count our blessings for what we enjoy – what Archbishop David Hope called an opportunity to model a lifestyle of ‘enoughness’.
If you’re like me, it will be an evening fishing on the river; if you’re like the Archdeacon of Salop, it will be playing with your model railway in the attic: a walk in the park; reading a good book; playing games with your children and grand-children, listening to the radio, visiting neighbours and friends – there are so many simple and inexpensive ways to discover re-creation.
As a creator of community, the church is called to model the true worth of human beings as men and women made in the image of God. Making room for the marginalised and the newcomer, providing opportunities for people to meet, relax, play together and strengthen friendships, is a wonderful way to help people belong and feel cherished. In these simple acts we proclaim good news to our neighbours: ‘you have great worth, regardless of how much or how little you accomplish. You have value because God is your Father and, in Christ, you are loved as his very own.’ –Bishop Mark Ryland
I have been in high spirits since Obama’s win. Watching the returns I cried, yelled, laughed, and went a bit nuts. Hope is such an amazing thing. I was at the March on Washington in 1963. I had come over from France during the summer and was staying with my grandmother in Lansdowne, PA. Took a bus to Washington and slept in a hostel with a ton of other folks. It was amazing. I was also 19 and weighed about 120 pounds.
I’ve asked a few folks to write up their reflections about election night. So send me a comment: Where were you on election night? What feeling or image stands out the most?.