Le blog de la Bergerie
Un blog catholique et bilingue, franco-américain, sur la foi, la religion, le monde et la culture, avec des articles, des prières, des recettes de cuisine et des photos de nature.
A Catholic French-American worldview based on faith, reason and gratitude, with articles, comments and prayers, cooking recipes and nature pictures.
For the last couple of months, I have had this recurring personal statement going through my head and it has to do with enjoying life, appreciating every little thing that comes my way. It goes like this “Ma vie est magnifique!” which I would rather translate as “my life is terrific” than my life is magnificent because “terrific” sounds less pompous to me. This private sentence was first born during daily walks in nature. It is an affirmation wrapped in gratitude and I am addressing it to myself (for positive feedback) and I’m addressing it to God because beauty in nature always stirs up gratefulness in me for the creation. Those wonderful moments occurred on my daily walk up and down the forest and the fields above my chalet, where the scenery is absolutely gorgeous (I am in the French Alps!). I am very thankful that I can walk fast for an hour every day as the doctor has asked me to do for my diabetes. In my routine walk, I can see the sunlight through the trees, the sheep or the cows grazing, sometimes foxes or deer on the way back. This statement on my terrific life opens up in my heart a grand open path filled with an appreciative sense of the beauty I see and the freedom I experience. But I did meet stumbling blocks on this grand open path and they had to do with pain and suffering, illness or death. What worked as a cold shower on my enthusiasm is the idea of suffering, especially the suffering of others. So I often would get quiet and ponder it.
PONDERING SUFFERING: A few years ago, in Northern California,
with my group of wonderful filled-with-faith friends, we discussed this
very subject and I had come to the conclusion that suffering can be divided
in two groups: our own suffering and the suffering of others and that
the response is quite different depending on which type of suffering we
are talking about:
- For our own suffering, we SHOULD BEAR IT GRACEFULLY, enduring it as much as possible and offering it to Christ, trusting and loving Him through it. I know this is the right answer. I am not saying I can always do it, for that matter, I am surprised how easily I lose sight of that goal and get confused and discouraged by difficulties, ready to resent the situation and turn to bitterness… Where is the graceful attitude in that?
- For the suffering of others, the answer is very clear: we are supposed TO DO ANYTHING WE CAN TO RELIEVE THEIR SUFFERING, anything to help them out, to soften the blow, surrounding them with love and support. Even if sometimes the only thing we can do is to hold their hand so they don’t go through suffering alone. Do I know people who are suffering? Yes, and I am not talking about the avalanche of bad news that the media throw daily at us. No, I am referring to friends or family going through aggressive cancers, or terrible stress, deep depression, or the very common isolation and feebleness brought by aging.
BACK TO "MA VIE EST MAGNIFIQUE!" Within the last couple
of weeks, I had two very interesting moments who confirmed the value of
the awareness of “Ma vie est magnifique!”:
The first one happened during a lovely afternoon. It was a good moment, a simple one, little stuff, but all good. I was sitting at a table with my friend, an elderly friend of my family, we were in their lounge room, having fruit juice and cake, or in my case a glass of cold water, and another lady with hair as white as snow and with a big smile on her face, joined us. She said that my friend and I “were so nice”, we looked like such nice people it was heartwarming to her. Of course, it made us smile. Actually, it made us laugh out loud. The lady with a big smile herself went on, saying we looked like sisters, which made us laugh even more. My friend (96 years old) tried to explain that we were not of the same generation, that her and her husband (now deceased) were friends with my parents (now deceased) and that I am of the generation of her daughter. All this took a while to explain because my friend has had a stroke a while back and her speech is not perfect. But it is good, you just need to be patient.
My friend is always very graceful, with an inborn elegance, ready to talk and laugh and she has such a gusto for life that it amazes me every time I see her. Oh Yes, she is getting more frail. But she has had a very full and fascinating life, which I hope her daughter will write about one day… In the meantime, our own convoluted conversation, infused with laughs and smiles, was quite a laidback moment. I sat there, calm and contented, thinking that there was no way this was going to bother me, I liked it, I enjoyed it. You have to recognize peace when you see it and this was a pleasant and peaceful moment. And funny too! On my way back home, while driving through the mountain pass, I was thinking about it and how much more patient I strive to be since my own mother’s illness and how much I still need to expend it. In the very beginning, it shocked me that she could repeat things without seeming to be aware of it. But I slowly got used to it. And by the way, the two ladies I sat with earlier displayed just regular aging forgetfulness, nothing more, and they certainly showed kindness and a certain playfulness. Nowadays, especially in the West, I think we invest too much in efficiency and control. Fatigue and stress can definitively affect each one of us, any accident or illness can impact our minds. A good working memory is so useful. A good working brain is such a gift! But why not be more accepting of the little connections up there getting messed up? Plus, if you made a list of all the terrible stuff going on in the world right now, it seems to me that repeating a casual statement in a conversation should not be at the top, right?
Then just a few days ago, I had another good moment helping me to articulate even more abundantly “Ma vie est magnifique”! I went to a one day retreat in a Carmelite Monastery, Le Reposoir. Nestled in between large mountains, it is a very impressive and peaceful place. The conference was led by a young Indian priest and it was very well attended. The theme was “Seeking happiness” by living out the Beatitudes… What an appropriate subject! Fr. Scaria was a very good speaker. Because he came from such a different culture (born and raised in India but having lived in Africa) he kept surprising me. The talk was in French but he gave us examples in Sanskrit or in English and translated them, he mentioned the Buddha a few times. He said Jesus was very clear about the way to happiness. I found the day extremely encouraging and stimulating and I will share here two of his many stories:
The first one has to do with one bee from a beehive. After the owner has taken all the honey away, someone asks this little bee if it is not sad that the honey is all gone and the bee answers”: “Oh No, I am not sad. What has NOT been taken away from me is my capacity to make honey”… Indian bees are very wise, if you ask me.
The second story is about an elderly French priest who used to greet him by saying “Alors, malgré tout, ça va”? Which means: “After all (despite it all) how is it going”? And he said he liked this greeting. And it makes sense, if the person saying Hello to you is truly ready to listen to you, to empathize with your life, it will make a better encounter for both of you. Fr. Scaria spoke to great length about this unusual “malgré tout” greeting. Later on, in the afternoon, the lady on my left said a couple of times “We can’t hear, please repeat” and I turned to her and said “But, after all, we are happy, right?”… and we both smiled. Since that day, I just need to think of “Malgré tout, ça va?” and it brings a smile to my face just to evoke it!
LEARNING A BETTER APPROACH: My first interesting moment was about a happy moment with my elderly friend (and was not related to faith directly except in the Loving-your-neighbor-way) and the second one was a good lesson in life and faith on what is happiness exactly, how do we cultivate it and make it blossom wherever we are planted. Both moments helped me refine my own ponderings of this summer and confirmed “ma vie est magnifique!”:
- True happiness, a deep interior joy, is in our capacity to “be” joyful. Whether it is associated with laughter or not the real treasure is the awareness that we can practice it and go on, more serenely than before. Especially when challenges and sufferings come our way, He gave us a road map, He gave us lots of food for thoughts besides the one true food to sustain us for the road. We have access to His Word, the sacraments, prayers, the liturgy, the communion of saints and loving God in our neighbor.
- A very old Christian tradition is related to intercession. Sometimes in between my two interesting moments, I started saying intercessory prayers as I walked, naming the ones I know who are suffering, because if they could, they would be right here walking with me. Holding them up to God is the least I can do when I am not next to them.
- And this brings me to using our own life moments as “offerings”, any of them can be food for prayers, our trials as well as our good times. It creates a “shift” within ourselves, we go from “us” being the center of our life to “God” being the center of the universe. This shift allows us to take a certain distance. When we are in pain or in trouble, to be able to establish a distance, even the smallest one, will help us. Anguish and fear will get us stuck in a tiny cramped space every time and shifting it all to God allows us to make an opening, to experience a sense of relief (it is not all in our own hands anymore), a sense of hope (no matter how bad it may look now, it can change); a sense of freedom (in my heart and soul, I can rise above this dismal reality because I believe in the reality of the invisible world, the communion of saints, the Risen Christ!). God performs mini-miracles all the times and this shift I am talking about is a gift, it is opening the door to His grace.
Growing older, I am convinced how essential it is to be aware of goodness, beauty and truth and it is just as indispensable to say it and to share it. It is a good practice to help us withstand the daily onslaught of bad news. So I was right to enjoy so much my afternoon of laughing and chatting with my old friend and I am right to affirm how good it is all, after all! And I hope that I can do it as long as possible, and for this I ask your prayers, dear reader.
Copyright ©2017 Michele Szekely
First published on Catholic365.com, on August 22 2017
here with one photo of my favorite trail in the forest.
First posted here on September 8 2017 with many more photos and notes and references.
I did come up with short prayers of praise which I said at the beginning of the walk, usually once only; then during the walks, I did sing (aloud if I were alone, in my heart if not...:) and my favorite three songs of this summer of 2017 were "Laudate Dominum", "Voici la nuit" and "Ecoute la voix du Seigneur":