The Intern Finds Purpose
An Intern's search for purpose
Falling in Love during the Quarantine
It happened quite a few years ago – I remember it well. The second year of my Philosophy degree was completed. The electives I was taking in Religious Studies were quickly turning into a second major. I was working a decent enough job stocking shelves at a grocery store and I wanted to get some alone time. A friend and his family owned some land out of town and I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity for a private camping experience. I jumped at the opportunity.
I arrived in the early afternoon when the air was warm and the lake was inviting. After a quick survey for an appropriate place for the tent and going through a setup process that involved some words that only squirrels heard, my sanctuary was set and my solitude was upon me. I sat down and soaked in the quiet.
There was a lot of quiet. After a year of intense (and at times last minute) study and meetings and work, I was immersed in silence: refreshing at first, but quickly unsettling. Perhaps this sounds familiar to you in your circumstance right now. Perhaps not.
The way I prepared to pass the time was with reading. In my journeys, I was introduced to a priest named Fr. Henri Nouwen, and so I opened up a book by him and began to read. It wasn’t long until my eyes read these words:
“As soon as we are alone, inner chaos opens up in us…. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distraction manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.”
Great. Thanks, Henri. Just what I needed. It was a good week, in the end.
Fast-forward to the present. Governments are telling us to distance from each other. Stores are closed, and the thought of drinks and meals spent with friends seems like a distant memory. We hear talk of many weeks and perhaps months passing before restrictions lift, and even when some normalcy enters our lives and workplaces, there will be a lingering caution of anyone with a cough. This was the first Easter I was not in a church with my candle lit, hearing the scriptures and watching the candidates and catechumens being welcomed into the ecclesial family. The darkness at the start of the vigil was from the darkness of my living room, the flame of the Paschal Candle being sent through a television: a very different experience.
Nouwen has practical advice on how to navigate these next few weeks.
We are not the product of our productivity. In this North American context, much emphasis is placed on numbers and figures as a marker of personal success. How was your quota? Did you see the numbers from last quarter? How can we make/do/produce/reduce….the list goes on. I worked in sales for a time, and every time I hit my targets, the bar would be higher for the next period. A daunting task to keep up, at times. Perhaps you have experienced this in some form. It might not be targets you are chasing, but perhaps it’s the new position, the new car, new clothes, new relationship, new book, new podcast –the hope that this next thing will fill that space we are trying to fill in our interior lives. In “Out of Solitude", Nouwen cautions us in this approach of making our lives a big scoreboard:
“Before we are fully aware of it, we have sold our soul to the many grade-givers. That means we are not only in the world, but also of the world. Then we become what the world makes us. We are intelligent because someone gives us a high grade. We are helpful because someone says thanks. We are likable because someone likes us. And we are important because someone considers us indispensable. In short, we are worthwhile because we have successes. And the more we allow our accomplishments-the results of our actions-to become the criteria of our self-esteem, the more we are going to walk on our mental and spiritual toes, never sure if we will be able to live up to the expectations which we created by our last successes. In many people's lives, there is a nearly diabolic chain in which their anxieties grow according to their successes.”
Reflection: What are my markers of success as a person? Is it production or personal?
We are sons and daughters of God. When we hear the talk of being children of God, our minds might tell us to imply weakness or littleness or naivety of the ‘real world’, but for Nouwen as well as, it cannot be further from the truth. “People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal each other’s wounds, forgive each other’s offenses, share their possessions, foster the spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received, and live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God’s glory.” (“Return of the Prodigal Son”)
Reflection: Where do I see those little or large bits of light in my life? If I struggle to see those lights, what can I do to create situations where that light can be seen?
It might seem repetitive to keep hearing that you are loved, you are not abandoned, and you are a child of God, but increasingly our society has been devaluing authentic love. Authentic love can be seen in the life of Christ who showed a love that faithful, fruitful, total, and free: a type of love that we all want. With my time out at the lake years ago, and now all of our time in this socially distant reality, we can reflect on what love we want for ourselves and others in our new normal.
“Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.”
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
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