The more I read and learn the more I find I yearn for times and places other than my own. The breakneck pace of life is at times unbearable, not in the speed of time per say but the speed of events. I travel at thirty miles an hour and think it slow, no sooner have I read a headline and it is obsolete, I go for a morning run and I am already late for a meeting I thought for sure I had plenty of time to make (the last one being entirely my fault). I long for slower days. I miss seeing the lights in the universe at night that we call stars but powerful telescopes are now showing are galaxies. In my current Denver night sky I can only see a handful of stars, which could very well be satellites and that seems very unsatisfying. I wish for silence. Everywhere I go music seems to be blaring, or engines roaring, or people yelling. On top of it all, the world at this time seems to be slowly and irrevocably sliding into chaos. Insanity rather than wisdom is winning it seems on all sides. It makes one, me namely, want to tune everything out and simply long for better days.
Perhaps I am alone in this, but I would guess not, that when I am down often what I am reading serves as a correction for my thoughts or balm for my soul. One such constant companion of grace is the liturgy of the Hours that the Church has had for thousands of years. Specifically the Office of Readings has a way of being what I need when I need it. For this particular malady Saint Augustine had a particular scathing reply. In a sermon reviewing the suffering of the faithful he remarks, “…you find men complaining about the times they live in, saying that the times of our parents were good. What if they could be taken back to the times of their parents, and should they then complain? The past times that you think were good, are good because they are not yours here and now.”[i] What is particularly interesting is that this man died in a turbulent period of history, to say the least. Ingratitude for Saint Augustine springs from a deliberate forgetfulness. A forgetfulness that is strong in me. Perhaps, to turn the phrase, I am far to easily unamused.
Yes, conditions in this day and age are less than perfect. In some ways life is worse now than in former days; but, in others life is so much better and I have so much for which to be thankful. In this day and age in the United States of America the child mortality rate (from disease and such) is considerably lower. On a more personal note if health care were not where it is today my daughter would quite possibly be mentally retarded by this point and for sure would be later in life. With the advances in modern science as they are today she is not only able to avoid the loss of her mental faculties but thrive. For this I am truly grateful.
While the world we live in does seem to be sliding into insanity we are in fact not living in the middle of a nightmare. No matter how bad things may be or will become we can look at times in history that were worse and be thankful. While I have little silence I have many opportunities to hear God speaking in the noise. I am beginning to see how He can use the sounds around me in the same way that He used the silence in other ages. While I cannot see the stars I have an entire western horizon of mountains to see beauty. In the evening they are lit up in a gorgeous light display, which I can choose to see and enjoy or miss. Beauty surrounds me; I must choose to see it. While the pace of life is exhausting at times and annoying the fact of the matter is that because of the speed I can, if need be, see family on the other side of the country in a few hours; I can chat with a friend on a different continent instantaneously; I can be at the grocery store (or fast food establishment) to soothe pregnancy cravings of a wife in minutes. Whatever I need is always close at hand.
I miss the wonder around me constantly because I pine for times, places, and things I cannot have. However, should I get what I want the condition of my soul is such that I would not enjoy it but rather again wish for what I do not have. Fortunately I have people such as Saint Augustine to point out foolishness in my thinking and wise voices to show what a quiet, simple enjoyment of the world looks like. Through them I can relearn how to be fully present and amused with the gifts given to me in life. Perhaps this is one reason why our great, good God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”[ii]
[i] Augustine, Sermon “He who perseveres to the end will be saved”
[ii] Gen 2:18
August 25, 2016
"Saint Augustine in His Cell (copy after Sandro Botticelli)"
Oil on Board - 1964