When you think about it, the whole concept of sleep is kind of weird. If I were God, I would never have come up with that one. All of our communication with God and each other, all the salvation drama of each person’s life, plays out only in his conscious hours. So what’s the point of sleep? From the divine perspective, why bother adding that feature to the human person? Yeah, there’s the evolutionary argument that sleep kept our cave man ancestors from injuring themselves by wandering around at night, and that may have been part of God’s thinking, but God didn’t have to create night. He could have set up our planet and the solar system in some way that there weren’t periods of darkness and therefore we didn’t need cycles of rest.
In other words, God could have created a world without the “day,” where constant consciousness would render the concept meaningless. Why didn’t he?
I think a whole series of posts could be written exploring this one word, pondering the question of why God gives us day and night, wakefulness and sleep. But the answer that seems most clear to me is simply this: It keeps us intimately close to the concept of death and resurrection.
Give us this day…
Day refers to a finite period of time, one cycle of wakefulness. At the end of this period I have to stop what I’m doing and let myself fall into unconsciousness. It marks the end of my ability to control the world around me, the death of whatever plans I was in the middle of enacting. And I have no choice: It doesn’t matter if I want to sleep or not, if I am certain that it would be best if I went ahead and stayed awake for the next couple of weeks. When the time comes, I must sleep. The day has ended.
Sometimes it’s frustrating: The need for sleep often keeps us from accomplishing as much as we’d like to accomplish. It’s a constant reminder of our human limits. Like the mini-death that it is, it can be an annoying interruption to our plans. And yet this mini-death is the only way for us to experience, at a visceral level, the power of a mini-resurrection.
The end of the day is the only time we ever really hit the “reset” button in life. There are other, artificial milestones like the end of a month or the beginning of a new year, but that important sense of one block of time ending and another beginning is never more powerful than when we wake from unconsciousness and begin a new day. We open our eyes to a resurrection, a new chance, a fresh start. What better way to set the stage for us to understand the work that God’s Son came here to do?
In a 1908 book called The Secret of a Happy Life, Fr. Francis Xavier Lasance wrote:
One secret of a sweet and happy Christian life is learning to live by the day…Life does not come to us all at one time; it comes only a day at a time. Even tomorrow is never ours until it becomes today, and we have nothing whatever to do with it but to pass down to it a fair and good inheritance in today’s work well done, and today’s life well lived.
It is a blessed secret this, of living by the day. Any one can carry his burden, however heavy, till nightfall. Anyone can do his work, however heavy, till nightfall. Anyone can do his work, however hard, for one day. Anyone can live sweetly, patiently, lovingly, purely, until the sun goes down. And this is all life ever means to us — just one little day. “Do today’s duty; fight today’s temptations, and do not weaken or distract yourself by looking forward to things you cannot see and could not understand if you saw them.” God gives us nights to shut down upon our little days. We cannot see beyond. Short horizons make life easier and give us one of the blessed secrets of brave, true, holy living.
There is so much wisdom contained in those few sentences; it’s one of my favorite quotes of all time. And I think it’s the perfect explanation for why God gave us the day.
Thanks to Starry Sky Ranch for the Fr. Lasance excerpt
— 1 —
Can anyone recommend a good book light? This is a more important question than it might seem at first glance, since book light issues have started to take over my evenings. I have this little ritual where I turn on my main book light, act surprised when it goes out, get up and curse at the cord while digging around behind my bedside table to try to fix it, give up and resort to my backup light, and spend my reading time grumbling about how the hue of this one hurts my eyes. I think my husband is probably ready for me to find a book light that I’m really happy with.
My main one is an Itty Bitty Book Light that plugs into the wall. I really love the quality of light: It’s bright and has the homey color of a living room lamp. The problem is that I often have issues with the power going out. My backup one is a battery-powered Mighty Bright. It has great brightness and is much more portable than my plugin one; the only downside is that it has that harsh hue of fluorescent lights.
Anyone know of a better book light than these two?
— 2 —
I keep wanting to participate in Ann Voskamp‘s lovely 1,000 Gifts meme that she hosts on Twitter, but I think I should wait until I get some new reading material. I’ve been into adventure/survival books like Skeletons in the Zahara and Over the Edge of the World lately, which has impacted what I feel grateful for. I thought it might be startling to the online gratitude community if I started posting updates like:
Thankful that I’m not drinking camel urine. #1000gifts
Feeling blessed not to be enslaved by a violent nomadic desert tribe. #1000gifts
Joyful that my snack today was not a raw skinned rat. #1000gifts
Umm, yeah. I’m going to read a biography of John Adams next. Maybe I should wait until I’m on to that one.
— 3 —
I have found yet another awesome use for Evernote: Capturing family stories. I’ve created an Evernote notebook called Family Stories, and when the kids do something cute or funny, I create a new note and write it down. (If I don’t happen to have the program open, I can email it to my Evernote account and have it automatically added). Using the tags feature, I tag it with the name of every kid involved in the story (this is where it gets cool).
So now if I want to create, say, a little “Our Stories from 2011″ family booklet, all I have to do is open the notebook and sort by date. Or, let’s say one day I want to create a special booklet for each child containing only stories that involve him or her: I just open the notebook, click on the tag with that child’s name, and — voila! — I see only the notes for that child. It’s astounding to me that such a useful program could be free.
— 4 —
In a flash of parenting genius, I went ahead and told my kids about the most fun game in the world: Mop Skating! Yes, you know the classic game that ALL children LOVE to play (cough-cough), where you take two damp rags with a little soap on them, put them under your feet, and “skate” around the kitchen floor. I came up with this idea the other day when a moment of epic exhaustion coincided with the realization that my kitchen floor was starting to look like a truck stop bathroom. The kids slid around the floor on their rags for about 30 minutes while I put my feet up and watched. By the time they were tired of it, the floor was spotless!
— 5 —
What is P90X, and why is everyone I know doing it? My friends keep getting all thin and buff and raving about this program, but so far all I can tell is that it’s a workout DVD. With as much as everyone freaks out about it and as effective as it seems to be, I guess I thought there was some secret component to it, like the package comes with a bubbling super-potion that gives you the metabolism of a hummingbird or something.
If it’s just another exercise program, I think I might start a competing program called J90X. Here’s the business model: You give me $100, and I send you a sheet of paper telling you to work out really hard for an hour and a half every day. Pretty compelling, right? If it would be a deal killer without a DVD, I guess I could create one. I’d walk into a fancy studio filled with state-of-the-art equipment, get some high-energy music pumping, and then sit down and have a glass of wine while I point to various pieces of workout equipment and tell you to go use them. Stay tuned for the opportunity to pre-order this exciting new program!
— 6 —
Important public service announcement: You can have a right-click mouse with a Mac. I’m still getting emails about that from my post from last Friday, so I wanted to publicly acknowledge my awareness of this fact. Also, if you have a blog and want to get a lot of traffic, comments and emails in response to a post, bring up either Mac computers or Trucknutz.
— 7 —
The weather is so crazy this year! So many cities are getting pummeled by severe weather, while we in central Texas are stuck in a drought — we’ve only received five inches of rainfall total in 2011. It’s better than severe weather (we once had 20 tornadoes hit this area in one day), but we could really use some precipitation. For everyone’s sake, I’m hoping the weather across the U.S. returns to normal soon.
Anyway, I hope everyone has a joyful and safe weekend!
Below is a linky list if you’d like to add a link to your own 7 Quick Takes post. (1) Make sure the link you submit is to the URL of your post and not your main blog URL. (2) Include a link back here.
Yesterday I hit a level of exhaustion like I have only rarely known before. This whole “third trimester” thing just is not working out for me this time around, and after a morning of huffing and puffing around the house to keep up with the kids (including the most spirited two-year-old God has ever created) I was on the brink of some kind of physical collapse. I was just about to toss an open box of granola bars on the kitchen floor, stagger to the couch and count on the kids’ survival instincts to do the rest, when the phone rang with Yaya‘s number on caller ID. Her east Texas accent sounding more glorious than a chorus of angels, she wanted to know if the kids could come play at her house for the afternoon.
She came and rounded them up, and the moment I heard the front door shut I poured myself onto our most comfortable chair and just sat there for a moment. I had a quiet house and free time. What to do? A nap was definitely on the agenda, but I was overcome with the urge to pray. My prayer life has been less than great (read: almost nonexistent) lately, so it felt right to use some of these God-given moments of peace to spend a little time really focusing on the Lord.
But when it came to actual execution, I hit a wall. Ever since reading The Better Part I’ve seen great fruit from praying through the Gospels, but that was out of the question. Nothing short of an impending meteor strike was going to get me off that chair, and I couldn’t have mustered up the mental energy to read even if my Bible had been close by. I tried simply lifting my heart to the Lord, but the effect was the spiritual equivalent of making a sound like “UUUUUNNNNNGH.” I know, I know: God knows what’s in our hearts, there’s no such thing as a “right” or “wrong” prayer, our UUUUUNNNNNGH‘s honor God just as much as eloquent soliloquies, etc. I get that. In fact, normally I would count that kind of simian effort to be a pretty good prayer day for me, but that afternoon I yearned for something more. For my own sake, I craved a deeper understanding of who God is and what he wants from our lives. To break myself out of my fixation on my own discomfort, I needed that reality check you get when you steep yourself in a mystery of the Rosary or in the words of the Gospels and refresh your understanding of divine truths. But it looked like it wasn’t going to happen that day.
And then a thought popped into mind: my icon!
Hanging on the wall directly to my right was a large framed image of the Christ the Teacher icon (this one created by my cousin the monk). My whole body relaxed as soon as I saw it, and I fixed my tired eyes on its precisely-drawn lines. This was the answer to the prayer I hadn’t even thought to say.
I didn’t understand icons until relatively recently. I thought it was just another style of art, and since it wasn’t to my taste, I had no interest in the subject. But then I was reunited with my long-lost cousin who is an iconographer, whom I mentioned above, and I realized that I had completely misunderstood this sacred form of communication. The creation of icons goes back to the very first centuries of Christianity, back when many of the faithful were illiterate. It’s a way of explaining theology through visual symbolism, and iconographers follow ancient prototypes with very detailed specifications when creating an icon (for example, and image search on Christ the Teacher shows how similar all the representations are). This is why iconographers fast when they are working on a project, and why icons are said to be “written” rather than “painted” — each one contains a small book’s worth of information about sacred truths.
As I sat there in a heap on the chair, I got lost in all the messages conveyed in the image on my wall. Christ’s blue cloak symbolizes his divine nature, and the crimson color of the garment underneath is to remind us of the human blood that he shed for us…for me. I looked at the halo that surrounds his head and noticed the Greek letters, which express “I am Who Am,” the name of God in Exodus 3:14. And yet the letters are in the shape of a cross, which hit home the shattering truth that the unfathomable “I Am” allowed himself to be subject to human torture. Jesus’ fingers are bent in a blessing, and form the letters IC XC, a monogram for the name of Jesus Christ in Greek, which prompted me to mediate for a moment on the power of his holy name. My eyes drifted up to meet the eyes of Christ, represented as large and open per the format of this icon, which reminded me that at this very moment I am being seen my God himself. For a long time I let that idea sink in, just silently absorbed that feeling that someone is watching you, and wondered what my life looked like through the eyes of God.
I could go on, but you get the idea. I don’t know how long I sat there soaking up each aspect of the icon, but when I was finished I felt as enriched as if I had read chapters of sacred theology. Something about contemplating the truths of the faith without words, by seeing alone, engaged a whole different part of my brain, and made me consider these truths on a more primal, less intellectual level than I normally do.
I don’t think I really understood icons until I found myself in such an exhausted state yesterday. I suddenly felt a special kinship with all my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages who have not had the educational background or the free time or the resources to be able to sit down and study the Word of God in written form. What a gift icons must have been for all the people who lived before the printing press and thus couldn’t afford a hand-copied Bible, or who were illiterate, or who were just too fatigued to read at the end of a long day of toil. They’d hear the Scriptures read at Mass, and then could go home to their icons and savor those same truths, spelled out in simple visual form that even the most uneducated, tired person could understand.
It makes sense that there’s less of a demand for icons here in this age of literacy and wealth, when everyone can afford to own a Bible, and most people have the energy, free time and educational background to be able to study it. But, as I learned yesterday, even those of us who don’t “have to” pray with icons shouldn’t overlook them, because you can discover a whole new treasure chest of spiritual riches when you learn to pray without words.
by Marc Barnes
I’m happy to say I got the very best word to reflect on. I am of the belief that this was due to my good looks and great humility – for it certainly wasn’t due to my ability to meet a deadline – but I could be wrong, for Brandon Vogt is one stud of a writer, and he didn’t get my marvelous word. Whatever the reason, my word is this: “this”. And the word itself is certainly beautiful; a big, strong, manly affirmative. But in truth, he cannot be separated from his lawfully-wedded object: “day”. This day. Thus, the question we noble dissectors of the Our Father must ask is simple: what does “this” do to “day”?
First, it makes it immediate, present. It is not “give us on Sunday”, or “give us later” or “give us soon” our daily bread, it is give us this day our daily bread, and hurry please. Because God cannot not meet us soon, or later, or on Sunday, only when it is. “This” makes C.S Lewis’ statement, that “the Present is the point at which time touches eternity”, something we make sense of every day. Our prayer confesses that God loves us immediately, in the present moment and as our prayer goes, our lives must follow.
It is true that the two most important times in the life of a Christian are the present moment and his hour of death, for all else is speculation and reflection. So when we go through life, let us take this day, seize it, kill it, experience it to the fullest, not only because it’s fulfilling, and holy, and the only way towards immense joy, but because we cannot experience anything else! So often we ask ourselves, faces fixed in some I-have-big-important-plans-and-lots-of-potential grimaces, “What are we to be when we grow up?” And sure, it’s a responsible question. But the truth all Ivy-league life-planners have to wake to and face is this: You are always only who and when you are. (Feel free to read that twice). You will never grow up, only continue to be. And if you must ask that horribly responsible question, I demand it be followed up by the infinitely more important and reckless question, “who am I this day?” For when you die and stand before the throne of judgement, God will not ask for your future plans, He will ask “Who are you?” He will not endeavor to find out whether you planned on getting to know Him, he will ask whether or not you know Him. So know Him.
All this reiterates the fact of conversion and reconciliation, that it is crap to say, “I will start living my faith as soon as I get a handle on this sin, these addictions, this pain, this distrust.” No, God calls us this sinful, broken day. Too often we think we have to be perfect to practice this whole religion thing, that our sins and mistakes are the present moment and God is the future. How can we nourish ourselves with the scriptures if we’re also feeding on pornography? How can we engage in our daily prayer if we happen to be selfish jerks? But the strength of “this” bids us — immediately — to push through our own sin and into God’s marvelous light. There is no disclaimer on the Our Father, no “give us this day, unless we suck, our daily bread.” No, we call on God this day, in the very midst of all gone wrong.
Then, “this” makes us arrogant, presumptuous punks. If our Protestant, evangelical culture has done anything for prayer, it has made it polite. So in tune are we with the will of God that our prayer flows beautifully, gemstones from our tongues, “God if it be your will, please conform my heart to your plan for me, I invite your grace into my life, to have you speak a word into my heart” and so on and thus forth, until the angels weep at the sheer beauty and correctness of our petitions. And there is a place for this prayer. But if there is anything I have against Protestantism, it’s not the church signs, it’s that it has taken all the protest out of religion. My Calvinist friend told me, “the problem with you Catholics is that you make God too human,” and sure, it may be wrong for the Irish to rant and rave at God like he is a judge, to barter with him like he is a merchant, and it may be theologically foolish for me to demand healing for a friend like I am owed it, but surely, surely it is equally wrong to pray like Our Lord is inhuman. Surely, we are made in the image and likeness of God, surely there is a place to — as the psalmist says — cry from the guts. Surely God meant what he said when he told us to be persistent, to knock on the door until the judge gets up, to see Him as our father, to see Christ as our brother, to scream our frustrations to him, to say “give us this day!” like we mean it, like we demand it, like we will absolutely not leave until we are satisfied.
For “this” does just that. It gives the phrase the impolite air of demand. Give us, right now, your sustenance. There is no please. There is a “this”, an urgency to our request, as if we were a crowd of hungry peasants chanting outside Versailles, “We want bread and we want it now!” All this boldness towards God would be blasphemy, were it not requested by Him. So what does “this” say about God? It says that he absolutely refuses to be limited. He refuses to become sort of fate, an obscure spirit-being that predestines us from the beginning of time to heaven or hell, and sits while we try to “conform our hearts”. Rather, he is our lover, our savior. We are to speak with him, remind ourselves of his promises, yell “where are you?”, touch him in the Eucharist, taste him on our tongues, let him inform our decisions, guide our ways, invade our dreams. He reaches out from the infinite and batters our hearts in the present moment, in the “This”. He is, after all, Our Father.
Marc Barnes is the author of one of my favorite new-to-me blogs, Bad Catholic. If you’re not reading it, you should be. And you’ll fall off your chair when you find out how young he is.