Written by Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna
A young woman discerning her life said, “I remember adults asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up?” She recalled a moment when her mom suggested a vocation based on her interests. This exchange set a path for her from an early age that she worked religiously toward. She had the aptitude, the success to back the endeavor, and it was not until nearly a decade later she realized she was missing a key ingredient to her pursuit; joy.
We are so concerned as a society with what we do as a means for defining who we are that we forget to be. Perhaps this concern bordering on obsession stems from the Puritan roots of Plymouth Rock that implored good deeds would earn us our grace and redemption. A modern day translation of this thought, that our actions speak louder than words. That we need to earn not only God’s grace and benevolence, but others as well can lead to what Thomas Merton poetically refers to as a “violence of the self.”
Other cultures, other places, outside of the United States view the question, “What do you do?” with disdain, bordering on rudeness. “Be who you are and be that perfectly well,” implores St. Francis de Sales–that perfection and humanness go hand in hand is inviting, even daring us to let go of our Martha-ness and bask in our Mary vibe. Or at the very least to balance the two inclinations: doing with the grace of being.
Yet is discernment a luxury? Are all invited into the conversation on equal footing based on our Baptismal calls? Or even before baptism based on being human? Are those children that grow up in poverty asked enough to dream about what they might want to become? While this question posed at an early age can be restrictive for some, could it implore others? Dare I ask, does socio-economic class matter when the question is posed?
Fr. Michael O’Connell gave another zinger of a homily this week in reference to Prophet Amos. He started his homily recounting yet another murder of a young person on the north side, this time outside of Ascension’s Church doors. He proclaimed from the pulpit that most of the violence that occurs in north Minnepolis stems from kids under 18 who have dropped out of school. He went on to say, “That as adults guiding our young it is up to us to make sure they get an education.” He invited the congregation present to think about Ascension School, which if needed can be fully subsidized. “A place where 60 more chairs sit empty. A place where 90 percent of the graduating class goes on to pursue college. 90% people!” He was emphatic that as parents it is up to us to guide our children, and to make sure they are being guided by other trustworthy adults.
Rumblings in my soul rose up as I reflected on our move two years ago from Santa Fe back to St. Paul largely because of education. Were we shortsighted? Had we overreacted? We gave up more organic outdoor access for a more formal education…was it really this important? According to Fr. O’Connell it was. It is.
While some relish summer, others abhor it. Long windows of unstructured time for youth with a lack of outlets in north Minneapolis leads to an increase in violence. Children are therefore at risk for being hurt, killed or being the one to hurt or kill. Is too much being and not enough doing part of the culprit? Could tightening the tension between being and doing lead to safer summers for children in north Minneapolis? One friend commented, “Money is good for education and travel, after that it only creates distance between people.” The distance right now is too grave not to respond. Education done well, at its best leads a learner toward joy. Deep joy. Let us, adults, be modern day Amos’ and rise up so that quality education invites the children of north Minnepolis to begin to dream about what they want to be, and also relax in the hammock of grace that who they are is already “perfectly well.”
Title “Surprised by Joy” borrowed from C.S. Lewis’ autobiography entitled Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life