Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Monday, August 31, 2015

Back to School with St. Teresa of Avila

The beginning of the academic year has always felt more of a ‘fresh start’ than New Year’s Day.  I’m not alone in thinking this.  Even friends whose children have grown, or friends who are retired, share that September still feels like a time of new beginnings for them.  All “You’ve Got Mail” fans identify with the “fall in New York makes me what to buy school supplies” quote.

As an inveterate planner and list maker, I relish having TO DO lists at the start of the school year.  I confess to starting these planning lists well before the end of the previous academic year.  Making the lists and checking them off brings me a geeky-organizer pleasure.  Oddly, this summer has been different.  I’ve been tending towards feeling a bit overwhelmed at the gap between what I would like to accomplish and what life circumstances will actually allow.

I’ve discovered, over the last few weeks, that I’m not alone.  I keep happening upon wise words from professional writers and amateur bloggers alike, imploring people to find freedom in letting go, in easing up a bit on pressures.   This easing up can take many forms, depending upon each person’s personal struggles: learning to say no, letting go of perfectionism, remembering to live in the moment. The younger me would have scoffed at this as ‘lowering the bar.’  The more experienced me sees this as a humble acceptance of both one’s gifts and one’s limitations.

Teasing at the back of my mind has been St. Teresa of Avila’s “The Book of Her Foundations.”  It’s a book I overlooked the first time I read it, because it seemed to contain mostly dry information about her tasks, duties, obligations, and trying to find time to do them.  A few years later, another reading, and I changed my mind about the book when I found so many spiritual gems in her writing.  So, I think the book “called to me” this summer precisely because I can identify with striving to balance the things I want to get done with the duties foisted upon me by exterior, beyond-my-control circumstances, at the same time trying to discover God’s will in it all.  I knew I didn’t have time to re-read the book before beginning the school year, but I knew I’d be able to find the inspiration I needed from the things I’d highlight during my earlier readings.  An abbreviated version of the quotes that made my top three (full version here): 
“The soul’s progress lies not in thinking much but in loving much.”

 “The Lord walks among the pots and pans.”

 “For people who are always recollected in solitude, however holy in their own opinion they may be, don’t know whether they are patient or humble, nor do they have the means of knowing this.”
My crankiness during the day arises from three things: being interrupted in whatever task at hand occupies me at the moment; despairing that the small, mundane things cannot make a difference to anyone in the world; being forced to engage with the world when I just need some quiet time to myself.  (Gosh, those idiosyncrasies don’t make me seem like a very loving or patient mother, since motherhood so very often consists of those three things.)

St. Teresa of Avila shows that nothing is too small, especially when done with love, and it is my attitude in carrying out these duties that proves my mettle.  Don’t worry so much, just love.  If God is in the kitchen, He’s there when cleaning toilets.  Importantly, I can read inspirational things all day long, but if I shy away from putting them into practice, am I not just that resounding gong or clashing cymbal that St. Paul warns about?

These are the quotes, then, that I’m printing out and placing in the front of my homeschool binder.  (Again, here’s the link to the quotes in their entirety.)  These are the gentle reminders that the small, mundane interruptions of life are life, not deviations from life.  God exists in every moment, in the TO DO lists and the distractions just the same.

Happy back-to-school wishes to everyone.  Whether you homeschool, send the kids off to school, don’t have kids, or have already raised your kids, I send you virtual bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils.


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