Essay

Take it from Mother Teresa

By February 24, 2012 2 Comments
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“. . .to the great God, nothing is little. . .”


You know?–I really ought to imprint that line on a t-shirt: “to the great God, nothing is little.” It’s hers–Mother Teresa’s–and it’s just plain beautiful, isn’t it?

But then maybe I think so just because I’m getting old.

How is it that retired people get such a kick out of gardening? Why, for pity sake, does the appearance of that gorgeous cardinal or her lovely husband just outside our window just light up our day? Last night, my wife and I had a quiet supper together alone for the first time in a week, and it felt something like what I little I know of heaven. What’s that about anyway?

The world simply shrinks the older you get. That’s what I’m thinking. This isn’t scientific, and I haven’t spent the last several weeks at the Home grilling residents. I just know what I know–and that is that life’s little things mean more somehow when you put on some years. Seriously.  You don’t stop seeing forests–not at all.  You just start seeing trees. 

Yesterday, I got a card from a man I don’t know. He lives in Michigan. He says he’s been reading a book of my meditations over and over again, and it’s good. Words I ground up down here in this basement. You know?–that kind of letter. Just a card. That’s it. Just a little homemade card. Made my day. Shoot, made my week. Little things.

A kid says something on his way out the classroom. Maybe it was an okay class that day, and as he’s walking out, he says, “Have a good afternoon, Professor.” I feel like I’m somebody. Little things.

A sunset. A windless, warm February afternoon. The faint whisper of spring. An raucuous orchestra of birds in the morning sun once again, or the long glowing promise of an orange dawn.

Bad knees, leaky plumbing, sore feet, a testy stomach–there’s no end to the tribulations of aging. And yet, sometimes it just seems that I find myself, these days, a joyful victim of an transformed aesthetic. Instead of looking past life’s seeming givens, its otherwise incidentals, you take joy in a ’em–a plain old bowl of cereal starts to taste like a feast, I swear it.

Maybe that’s what theologians mean by sanctification. Maybe the death of the old, young man begets the quickening of the new, old one. Count the paradox in that line. Okay, maybe it’s silly, but, dang it!–it’s cute.

Mother Theresa used to tell her sisters that to God everything is small, and therefore everything is beautiful because everything is divine. Isn’t that wonderful? “Because he makes them,” she’d say, “they are very great. He cannot make anything small; they are infinite.”

Rain on parched soil. Those newbie buds on the maples. An old hymn you thought you’d forgotten completely.

At the funeral of a man I never knew, one little photograph of he and his wife just after the war, totally in love–I remember that darling snapshot, so full of life, far better than the shape of his face as he lay in the open coffin. I still see it. I wish I could show you.

Or how about this? Just beside me now, the last three segments of an orange I’ve been eating slowly ever since I sat down at this computer. I pull ’em apart, one at a time because of the juicy blessing I get with each little tart explosion of lovely taste.

Now there are two.

“Be faithful in little practices of love, of little sacrifices,” Mother Teresa used to say. Such things make you Christ-like.

Could it be possible–at least for a while maybe–just maybe–that aging makes that easier?

Don’t ask me tomorrow. This may just be a good morning.

Besides, the orange is gone.

But then maybe that cardinal’l show up. I should be so blessed.

James C. Schaap

James Calvin Schaap is a retired English prof who has been something of a writer for most of the last 40 years. His latest work, a novel, Looking for Dawn, set in reservation country, is the story of two young women joined by their parents' mutual brokenness and, finally, a machine-shed sacrament of reconciliation. He writes and narrates a weekly essay on regional history for KWIT, public radio, Sioux City, Iowa. He and his wife Barbara live on the northern edge of Alton, Iowa, the Sgt. Floyd River a hundred yards or so from their back door. They have a cat--rather, he has them.

2 Comments

  • Eric says:

    This is a really lovely post James – Very much enjoyed reading it. Might one enquire how old you are?? šŸ™‚

    I thought of lots of things as I read it – firstly the Sacramental nature of reality, that in participating in our everyday lives we may well find we are participating in heaven. Hans Boersma's book, Heavenly Participation I found enormously helpful in this regard.

    But then what cam to me was Christ's call to become as little children – in our middle years we are so obsessed with out power and capability, but the child has none of this and 'Childlike Wonder' is THE Most perfect combination of words.

    Perhaps as we get older, and over our Idea that somehow We are the change the world needs, we may with Grace grow once more childlike and experience that same wonder?? That life is truly Grace and Gift?

    PS Love the Cardinal!! None of those here in NZ, but many many manifestations of Glory – perhaps even in the aching knees??? šŸ™‚

    Grace and peace to you

  • James C. Schaap says:

    Thanks for the warm regards, and for the record, just a couple of weeks ago, I turned 64, old enough to appreciate a cardinal outside my window!

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