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“. . .to the great God, nothing is little. . .”

By September 2, 2016 11 Comments

black swallowtail

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

But then, maybe I think it’s true just because I’m getting old.

Why do retired people like me get such a kick out of gardening?  Why, for pity sake, does the appearance of that gorgeous oriole just outside our window 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 little I know of heaven.  What’s that about anyway?

The world simply shrinks as you get older, I guess.  That’s what I’m thinking anyway.

Yesterday, I got a card from a man I don’t know.  He says he’s been reading a book of my meditations over and over again, and they’re good, he says, words I set down in marching order right here in this basement.  It was that kind of sweet note. Just a card.  That’s it.  A little homemade card is all.  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 cooling wind on a scorching summer afternoon.  The faintest yellow tinge in the soybeans out back, the whole forty acres nodding to a change of seasons.  An raucous orchestra of birds tuning up in the early morning sun, or the long glowing promise of dawn through late summer haze. Just yesterday that black swallow-tail up at the top of the page wouldn’t let our flowers alone.

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 a totally transformed aesthetic. Instead of looking past life’s seeming givens, its otherwise incidentals, you take joy in ’em–a plain old bowl of granola tastes 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 sentence.  Okay, maybe it’s a silly line, 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 a wonderful thought?  “Because he makes them,” she’d say, “they are very great. He cannot make anything small; they are infinite.”

Rain on parched soil. Pumpkins emerging from endless vines.  A hymn so old you thought it long ago forgotten.

At the funeral of a man I never knew, one snapshot photograph of him and his wife just after the war, the two of them totally in love–I remember that darling shot, so full of life, far better than the shape of his face as he lay in the open coffin.  I still see that snapshot of love.  If I had it, I’d show you. It’d make your day.

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 that aging makes that task somehow easier?

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

Besides, the orange is gone.

Then maybe that cardinal will show up.  I should be so blessed.

The word is, on this Sunday morning at the Vatican, Mother Teresa will officially be recognized as a saint. My Roman Catholic friends will feel blessed.

Doesn’t strike me as news really, but it does strike me as wonderful. But then, to the great God nothing is little.

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.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    I know this is true, and it needed to be written, it needs reminding, his eye and the sparrow and all that. The way the crow shook down on me the dust of snow from a hemlock tree, etc. If I think of the magnitude of the universe, and then of the minuteness of a cell, generating life, of the first mitochondria who knows how many billion years ago, then the vastness and the smallness reflect each other, don’t they?

  • Thank you. Simply beautiful. That same black swallowtail (or perhaps his cousin) visited my deck a couple of days ago, and his visit was such a luminous moment.

    • Hello Friend – had such a neat conversation with grandson Trevor who stopped in after school the other day – and was trying to tell me about a word that his English teacher had mentioned that day but he just couldn’t come up with it….. He used words like ‘common place, ordinary and I suggested ‘quotidian’ – Yes! that’s it grandma…..wherein ensueed a very delightful conversation on finding the holy in the ordinary….as grandma is wont to go on about – but a fun discussion!

  • James Hart Brumm says:

    Amen. Just . . . Amen.

  • Judy Hardy says:

    And again, amen.

  • Daniel Bos says:

    Twenty-one thousand years ago that would have counted as a Psalm of praise–maybe Psalm 71.5.

  • Debra Rienstra says:

    Beautiful, Jim. I’m just beginning to understand what you mean. It’s such a relief, honestly, to be a little older and wiser.

  • Ron calsbeek says:

    I wish I knew you the way you seem to know me. Thanks for putting into words what I would never be able to say.

  • Susan Hulst DeYoung says:

    Thanks, Jim. This made my day!

  • Jan says:

    Thanks for that Psalm of Praise. I am grateful for your good morning. It made my afternoon.

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