Last night, sitting in our laundry room, I spoke with Meredith:
How does one change selfishness into love?
How do you live out your call to self-gift, while you are trying to build up a life for yourself?
And I thought of the quote that hangs above my bed:
Find love; and give it all away.
There is a problem with this statement. We are so tempted to think that the semi-colon separate the two actions temporally. They are not separated temporally. It is not a sequential order of events. They happen simultaneously. As we seek to give the love all away, we must continually thirst for and discover the fount of love itself. And as we journey towards finding love, finding where we are supposed to be, we must be continually pouring out the love that we discover.
But you have to build something.
It is easy, however, to get very caught up in one end of the equation and not the other. And, when I am too focused on building up something for myself, I forget that I am called to give it away, freely, as gift.
I find that, in a city where there is little space for yourself, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to grasp whatever you can.
In a city where resources seem to be up for grabs to the person who can grab the fastest, it's easy to become a vulture, trying to get everything you can for yourself, amass treasures here for yourself.
In a Fifth Avenue storehouse of treasures, the Frick Collection, which is the highly enviable art collection of Gilded Age tycoon Henry Frick, housed in his sumptuous mansion, and one of my favorite museums on the planet, I sat in the green, cozy sitting room, and started at Constable's painting of Salisbury Cathedral, hanging majestically on the opposite wall.
I was aghast, for a moment. Because this magnificent piece of art was there, for me to behold, because of the generosity of the maker. This piece was a gift--literally, for Constable's friend, Bishop Fisher of the Salisbury Cathedral--and was a gift to me. The artist had poured not only his time and money and paint into making this landscape, but him self. Although he was no where to be seen in the image--there was not even a human figure in sight--somehow all I could see, staring at the soaring white spire of Salisbury was the infinite goodness of this man, who dedicated himself to capturing a sunlit morning in the meadows of Salisbury.
I stared at all the paintings around me, and this great art was born, it seemed, of great goodness. Perhaps they were prodigal drunkards, or terrible husbands, flamboyant Casa novas, or had gorgon-like tempers, so perhaps they may not have looked good, and quiet, and demure. But they had made something beautiful and good, and true. They dedicated their life's work to capturing the beautiful and true in nature, in the faces of their portrait sitter's, in stories of the past, in the intricacies of the human body.
There is nothing petty about this act. There is no room for meanness or stinginess in art.
Art strives to capture what is great inside of us. What is great grows alongside what is petty and self-interested, unfortunately. I don't know how to completely weed out what is petty. Perhaps paintings help. Paintings help a great deal. And the faces of my students when they ask me to show them where the "Column Break" button is in Microsoft Word. Or the face of a young woman when she has felt the thrill of being vulnerable and honest, and performing a story that comes from deep inside of her.
And the Eucharist.
The Eucharist helps a good deal.
Recently, as I walk in single file up to receive, I feel my own smallness of heart and stinginess of spirit. And I feel the great, pulsing glory of sheer gift that is waiting for me. Absolute, total generosity who is pulling me towards Him. I am so different from You, I think.
You are so good. So generous.
So utterly full of love, that gives and gives unceasingly, without thought to cost.
I am obsessed with counting the cost.
I have tallied the costs carefully and budget accordingly.
You give without budget or tally or spreadsheet.
You pour out every single atom of your Self.
You are Gift.
How can I dare to receive?
How can I not?
How do I dare to stay away?
How else will I ever learn to make myself into gift than by receiving Gift Himself?