Frozen in Time
January: that time of year when you realize it’s almost February and you haven’t done anything you said you were going to do since December… like this blog post.
When I think of January back home in the Upper Peninsula, I think of snow drifts, ice caves, and wind chills so cold that your snot instantly crystallizes when you inhale through your nasal passages. Perhaps my favorite part of January is those frigid nights when it’s “too cold to snow” and the atmosphere is perfectly transparent, revealing more stars in the sky than snowflakes on the ground. It’s those nights when it’s so icy that even the wind won’t blow, deafening the woods with utter silence. It’s those nights when all you can hear is the ringing of your ears, and even time seems to freeze.
I sometimes wish the illusion of those January nights would become a reality and freeze the hands of time. As I enter my second half of postulancy, however, it seems that things are just beginning to heat up. Recently, a group of young men discerning the potential of a Capuchin vocation spent some time at our friary in Milwaukee. One young man told me, “I thought you guys spent most of the day meditating… like monks. But you’re busier than me most of the time!”
I know many people who’d like to think Capuchins line-up single file in a dark chapel in the small hours of the morning, chanting psalms and sitting in quiet contemplation. It’s a charming thought, but not exactly the truth. Yes, we begin our mornings with silent communal meditation, followed by Morning Prayer, and finishing with Eucharist. But when the priest says, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” it’s like the starting gun at the Kentucky Derby. One friar might have mass at the convent, another has an archdiocesan council meeting, another might be giving a retreat, and at least one brother is M.I.A. For us postulants, the day is jam packed with morning classes, afternoon ministries, and evening commitments. Of course, there are small windows of time in between that are too short to accomplish anything significant, yet long enough to feel guilty for not actually accomplishing anything at all. Nevertheless, somewhere in those awkward pockets of time between evening meditations, prayer, dinner, and “fraternal recreation,” I find time to hammer out some homework and house chores.
The daily grind can become repetitious after a while, so I also have choir practice at the sisters’ motherhouse, woodworking at St. Lawrence Seminary, and appointments with my spiritual director. Just to add some more fuel to the fire, I’ve also taken a personal interest in a movement to protect the waters of northern Wisconsin from dangerous mining techniques. So when I’m not singing with the nuns or marching in a non-violent protest downtown, I’m driving up to the U.P. to recharge my soul and see my adorable niece and nephews.
In the midst of this whirlwind of schedules, commitments, passions and hobbies, it can be very easy to lose focus on what I ought to be busy about: building the Kingdom. When I get caught up in protecting God’s creation, or reading 65 pages of a USCCB document for class, I can sometimes forget that all of it is merely a snowflake in the wind if it doesn’t build the reign of God in my heart and the hearts of those around me. I could read all the most important theologians in history cover to cover; but if I don’t take the time to allow God himself to work in my heart, it is nothing but ink on paper. I could march on Madison, Wisconsin, next weekend under the banner of justice; but if I’m too busy ranting about the beauty of Lake Superior that I forget to admire the beauty of the Spirit in all of it, than I am but a droplet of water in her infinite abyss. It’s like the tourist who is so focused on snapping that perfect picture that they never actually witness the majesty they traveled so far to see.
The point I am getting at is that we get so tripped up by the endless tasks along the path that we completely lose sight of where we’re even going. We become so engulfed by the all the steps we have to take that we forget the destination. It’s no wonder that we become sidetracked and find ourselves lost in the woods. Even though our ultimate destination is never actually reached during our time on Earth, we must always remember to keep our eyes on heaven so that everything we do directs our lives toward that eternal salvation.
Even if the chill of January could freeze time, it would be vain unless I, too, froze in my tracks and looked up to the starry heavens to see my destination. I consider myself blessed to be part of the Capuchin brotherhood, where fraternal meditation and prayer are built into our daily lives, regardless of how busy our lives may be. Our morning and evening meditations give me just enough time in my day to recall that all my steps are lost unless I remember where I’m going. I have the companionship of the brothers, who remind me to keep my eyes open and my compass pointed to Jesus Christ. It doesn’t make me any less busy, nor does it get my homework done or clean the kitchen. But it does remind me why I’m here, who I serve, and where I’m going.
As the wind-chill plummets and the cold creeps in, perhaps we all could benefit from a little “freeze” in our day to remind ourselves of what’s important. It won’t shovel the sidewalk. It won’t scrape the ice off your windshield. It won’t fix the furnace. But it will remind us, “Why are we here? Who do we serve? Where are we going?”