Busted Halo

Paulist seminarian Tom Gibbons reflects on his formation experience and his life as a seminarian right now. Along the way, some questions will be will be answered, and a lot more will come up.

 
facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail
November 22nd, 2011
What Works: The Gratitude List
A helpful tool to encourage a more grateful attitude towards life

This is the last column to run before Thanksgiving, so I want to talk to you about gratitude. I could write a dozen columns about gratitude in various forms; for this column, I’m going to focus on one simple tool: the gratitude list.

When you find yourself feeling particularly ungrateful about your life — or your spiritual director or friend points out to you that you are — you can stop and remind yourself of all the things for which you can be grateful.

There are some obvious things. You often hear people say, “at least I’ve got my health.” That might sound trite, but if you have ever experienced a serious loss of your own good health and then gotten it back, or if you or to someone close to you is deprived permanently of good health, you will know that good health is a great blessing. Another common item is family — partners, parents, children: whoever loves you unconditionally and gives you sustenance and support.

Not half full or half empty — just half full

Gratitude list items can also be seemingly trivial things — or at least things that might seem so to someone else. And many things can be seen as blessings or negatives. For example, I do not live with anyone else. I could focus on and feed feelings of loneliness. But I can also be grateful for the control I have over my environment and how easy it is to meditate and have silence when I want it. (Ask anyone with a big family about how precious that is!)

It’s important, even though this is a list, to not fall into thinking of it as a two-sided ledger. It’s not “I’m alone but at least I have peace and quiet.”  It’s, “I can have peace and quiet whenever I want in my home.”

It’s not about seeing our world’s cup as half full rather than half empty. Because the truth is everyone, and I mean everyone, has things they can be grateful for and things they can be ungrateful for. It’s about paying attention to the part that’s full. Who cares about what you don’t have? Seriously. Think about that for a moment.

Focusing on what we don’t have, on expectations of things that have not materialized for us, only leads to anxiety and self-pity. I’m not saying there is no place for wanting to create a more abundant life, but that’s not the way. Paradoxically — as are most great spiritual principles — it is by being content with what we have that we are open to seeing clearly what is around us, and seeing new opportunities.

October 28th, 2011
Spooky Saints No More
Learning to love, not fear, the people in the stained glass windows

Lately, I’ve been considering teaching my son Matthew about the saints. At the big-boy age of 5, he’s surely old enough to become captivated by their stories. But then I realized that when you talk about the lives of the saints, you also have to talk about their deaths.

Therein lies the problem.

Not every saint had a gruesome death, of course, but quite a few of them did. And for a kid whose imaginative diet consists of nothing more sinister than the dragon that Harold draws with his magic purple crayon, I can hardly fathom telling him about St. Agnes, whose head was cut off, or St. Lawrence, who was literally grilled alive. My child already has an innate fear of the dark; I don’t need to tell him stories that will encourage it.

October 20th, 2011
The Way: A Pilgrimage Worth Taking
Now available on DVD

The Way, written and directed by Emilio Estevez (Bobby) and starring his father, Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now, The West Wing, The Departed), is rather obviously about the spiritual journey. The Camino de Santiago, called “The Way,” is a literal spiritual journey, a 1,000-year-old 500-mile pilgrimage route across the Pyrenees. The lead character Tom (Sheen) takes a physical journey to Spain and eventually on the Camino while also taking a spiritual journey starting with word that his son (Estevez) has died. Many of the other characters Tom meets along the way are on their own spiritual journeys, whether they are Camino pilgrims or not. 

Despite being built around a religious pilgrimage, however, The Way is not a “faith-based” film; rather, it is a movie about a human story, and the human story. There is no preaching; there are no soppy scenes meant to tug at the spiritual heartstrings. Estevez’s writing reveals a sophisticated understanding of the beautiful brokenness of people, the glorious absurdity of it all. One of the overarching themes is how Tom gets thrown together with other pilgrims. Not only was it his intent to travel alone, but if he were to travel with others, these are definitely not the others he would choose. But it is precisely through struggling with each other’s imperfections that we are challenged, pushed outside our comfort zone, and, sometimes, forced to grow spiritually whether we like it or not.

powered by the Paulists