Sunday, June 01, 2014

Labor, Heat and Woe

Today's bit of the Pentecost Sequence:

In  our labor, rest most sweet
Grateful coolness in the heat
Solace in the midst of woe

In labore requies
In aestu temperies
In fletu solatium

This puts me in mind of St. Teresa of Avila's analogy on prayer about the different ways a garden gets watered. Sometimes we need to carry those buckets of water and manually dump it out on each plant. That is when prayer takes mental effort to get cranking. There's also the water-wheel where some effort constructs a system that waters more automatically. But then there are the times when the rain comes directly and no effort is involved at all. This prayer is a gift given by the Holy Spirit. Teresa calls it contemplation.

A more tangible thing this puts me in mind of is something I find happened a lot with my daughter when she was younger. I would always find her at productive peace when I was busy working, doing something she could see, like cleaning or cooking. My quiet presence registered with her quiet presence as peace, security and stability. Quiet people really appreciate this kind of flow! But if I was doing think-work (or wasting my time on the computer), she would start to feel agitated and would get clingy. In those moments, if I got up to clean, it would bring neither of us peace. I couldn't drag her into a place of peace by flipping a switch into "work = peace" mode.

The parallel I'm drawing is that we can't command the graces of the Holy Spirit. We can only discover them active while we are going about what God has given us to do. When we don't feel particularly inspired to pray, we pray out of discipline. Inspiration may or may not come later. Sometimes God leads us through moments of woe on purpose, and we need to walk through them on purpose. Eventually we will see that the Holy Spirit meets us there and brings consolation.

The labor, the heat, the woe are just normal aspects of Christian life. We are not to fear them, be surprised at them or try to avoid them, but rather keep an eye gazing heaven-ward, expecting the Holy Spirit whom we implore to meet us when the moment is right.

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