Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Never Better

Hand on foggy mirrorYou never know when a strange thought is going to hit you.  Attempting to shave in front of a fogged mirror this morning, I had this flash of myself living in a backwoods cabin with only a worn out, clouded mirror for shaving, thinking,"I am never going to have a better image than what this lousy mirror is giving me right now."  I felt a momentary pang of imagined sadness thinking that this unsatisfactory reflection was the best I could ever hope for, which left me thinking of the very real, paralyzing sadness of believing that one's present circumstances would never, ever be better.

Life has not always delivered on my wish lists, but I have never for any prolonged period doubted that there would be better times.  Often I have been able to describe my circumstances as "never better!"  Yet I know there are people for whom that phrase represents a forecast rather than a review.

This is a (yet another) great time in my life.  My children are healthy and successful, we have just moved into a lovely home in a great city, and my new job is a great opportunity.  Outside of me losing a few pounds and the Cubs winning a few more games, my wish list is pretty short these days.  I am very aware that the main reason I am so optimistic about the future is that, generally speaking, the past has treated me pretty well.  Optimism is easier to maintain when it has a good track record.

Those of us for whom hope is a regular feature of life need to find ways of spreading hope.  I know I take my own hope and the reasons for it for granted.  This is one area where I have never been better, but I want to be.

"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. 
Nothing can be done without hope and confidence."
-- Helen Keller

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

What If?

Fr Jean-Pierre Medaille
This week I came across an article about leading effective meetings that encouraged beginning sentences with the phrase, "What if ...?", to promote creativity.  Rather than begin with what we know, or think we know, the writer said, we should speculate and imagine more freely.

I am all for creativity and new ideas, but this past week I also was reminded of some really good old ideas that require just as much imagination if we want to put them into practice.  At a conference of colleges and universities sponsored by the Sisters of St. Joseph I picked up a copy of the Maxims of Perfection penned by Jean-Pierre Medaille, SJ, founder of the Sisters of St. Joseph.  Father Medaille offered 100 maxims to guide the personal and communal lives of the sisters.  As I read them, I find myself wondering, "What if we I behaved toward others and thought in these ways?"

For example, I keep coming back to Maxim 52: Interpret all things from the best possible point of view.  What if my habit of mind was to assume the best of people, their motives, and situations, at least until those assumptions were contradicted?  Or, more radically, what if I continued to see others "from the best possible point of view" even when that seemed overly generous?

What if I ...

... never complained about anyone but myself? (Maxim 38)
... gave all the happiness I could to those who gave me a great deal of unhappiness, and gave it willingly? (Maxim 51)
... considered as suspect any desire that was overeager and capable of distracting me from more necessary and obligatory occupations? (Maxim 68)
... or, desired little in this world, and what I did desire, desired very little? (Maxim 17)

These ideas were not new when Father Medaille introduced them to the Sisters of St. Joseph, but he offered them as a way of learning to live in community and in service to the world.  It was his way of saying, "What if you tried things this way?  Let's see what might happen."