[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on May 2, 2015.]
We mothers had come to the youth retreat facility in Minnesota to serve our students from Shanley High School so they could be freed to do the important work of soul-searching.
The annual getaway each spring provides students lurching toward their final year time to pause and reflect—on their history together and their lives to come.
The students leave in the morning one day as juniors and, in a sense, come back the next afternoon as seniors. Though perhaps visibly unchanged, most students hopefully undergo beneficial interior transformation.
The morning we arrived, blue skies and a still, shining lake beckoned us forward, and soon, we moms were rolling up our sleeves readying for the grunt work ahead.
We dubbed ourselves The Dish Divas and set about our task with a spirit of comradeship, ’80s music and show tunes serenading us as we swept and swiped.
Before, during and after meal times we moved with intention, emitting plenty of sweat beads and smiles as we discovered that serving our children within the framework of community could be both fun and freeing.
It was after our first lunch, while collecting stray bread crumbs into my rag, that I became aware that, like the unseen soul-shifts going on in our kids, we moms were undergoing holy transformation, too.
A book I’ve been reading may well have influenced my thoughts. The story details a nine-year span in the life of the Rev. Walter J. Ciszek, an American Jesuit priest who worked in the dire conditions of a Russian labor camp during World War II.
In “He Leadeth Me,” Ciszek tells how he came to approach seeing the will of God within the atmosphere of oppression.
In earlier years, he said, he’d believed God’s will to be more abstract. But under conditions in the camp, Ciszek began to see something else; how each moment of our lives provides us an opportunity to carry out God’s will by showing grace even in difficult circumstances.
According to Ciszek, the priest prisoners learned to look at everything that crossed their daily paths through God’s eyes, recognizing God’s intentions in circumstances and especially people, and striving to “work with God” in a sense in the situations in which God had placed them.
At times, I, too, have felt God’s will too big and irrelevant to grasp. And yet through Ciszek, I am coming to understand it’s closer than we realize and often most evident in the smallest things.
“The kingdom of God will not be brought to fulfillment on earth by one great, sword-swinging battle against the powers of darkness,” Ciszek writes, “but only by each of us laboring and suffering day after day as Christ labored and suffered, until all things at last have been transformed.”
Ciszek isn’t saying we need to embrace oppressive environments or delight in unjust treatment, but that if we do find ourselves in disagreeable situations—which many of us do frequently—we can see those times as opportunities to reflect God’s face to others, thus cooperating in his ultimate will to redeem the world.
While I still may find God’s will fuzzy at times, Ciszek has, at least, shown me it’s possible to move through seemingly impossible situations and bear the load of life with much more grace, and that in doing so, we can find joy.
Camp Castaway has nothing on a Siberian labor camp during World War II, but through our work there, and in reflecting on my circumstances, I could see God’s will everywhere.
I noticed it vividly in the bright-green buds bursting on tree limbs, the haunting call of the loons and in witnessing a divine dusk dance in the sky above the lake after dinner.
I sensed it while watching, in the black of night, a line of dancing light-specks, which turned out to be our kids fresh from prayer and sharing time, jarred candles in hand, making their way to the evening bonfire.
But just as much, I met God’s will with friends in the wiping of sticky syrup from breakfast tables, our mother hands swirling in a motion of love as we offered it all back to the God who gives life, and draws us to him anew each moment of every day.