After the Gas and Dust Settle

Cone Nebula: Star-forming pillar of gas and dust

This is a photo of a “cone nebula: star-forming pillar of gas and dust” found on the official Hubble website.  As I sat and talked with a friend today, I was overcome with sadness as she told me a story of betrayal and hurt. As we spoke, I needed something to focus on so that I could remain “the strong one”. This something was a series of beautiful photos of space taken by the Hubble space telescope. The photos calmed me and I was able to be strong for her.  From where she is, it seems her world has been reduced to gas and dust. It will be up to her to rebuild it into something even more beautiful.

On the news this morning, I learned of a high school principal who killed himself today. He had organized a trip for his high school students on a ferry which capsized. As I write this, there may yet be survivors. He was overcome with guilt and despair over their deaths and took his own life.  I feel sorry for this guy who must have been tortured for those few hours between being rescued and taking his own life. I also feel sorry for the many who loved him who will now have to grieve him as well as their drowned friends. It must have seemed to him that his world had been reduced to gas and dust.

To relate these to the life of St. Francis (the focal point of this blog), I have to call to mind that Francis had his own moments of feeling his world had been reduced to ashes-to gas and dust.  He disowned his father in front of everybody in town, he spent three years rebuilding crumbling buildings, thinking that was his life’s calling, he lived a vacuous life of drinking and using people before his conversion, he had visions and heard God’ s voice and saw doors open and shut for him where he least expected them. I can’t say something cute like that we will all rise like the phoenix, but I can recommend a book I just read called The Other Side of Chaos by Margaret Silf. In it, she helps the reader remember that there is, on the other side of this gas and dust, something to look forward to. There is life after the chaos.  I never had an astronomy or cosmology class (although I did get my hair cut this week at a cosmetology school), but I like to look at the photos of stuff way out there in space. I guess this photo is what a star looks like before it becomes a star. I guess that, as Silf mentions in her book, even the very act of creation is described in our Christian sacred texts as order coming from chaos, gas and dust becoming elements and grains of sand and dinosaur cornea (I wonder if any of them were nearsighted as I am and what that meant for their survival rates).  I don’t have anything cutesy to say here, except to echo Margaret Slif and the image in this photo: after the gas and dust settle or dissipate, we can expect to find some order, although things will never look the way they once looked.

Real Life Humility

In Colorado Springs last week, I was surrounded by brilliant, kind Franciscan men and women from around the country. We were gathered for the very cool sounding “Franciscan Forum X” (as in “10”) at a retreat center. There, we heard from three brilliant thinkers who collaborated on a newly published book called Response to God’ s Love: Franciscan Moral Vision.  It was a rich conference and one which I will be pondering for a long time.  I’ll be putting together a new blog over at the Franciscan Intellectual Tradition website which features reflections on the 11 Characteristics of the Franciscan Moral Vision with contributions from some of the attendees.

Something which stood out to me above everything else that weekend is the deep abiding humility of so many Franciscan men and women I’ve met over the years. Let me give you some examples: I have known a Franciscan woman who went from Hospital CEO to studious graduate student in a matter of weeks, who studied hard, enjoyed time with fellow students and never had any sense of entitlement based on her past prestige. I’ve known Franciscans who went from University administration to serving at a homeless shelter, treating PhDs and homeless men with the same respect and dignity. I’ve known Franciscans who gave great homilies then quietly swept and cleaned the buildings after everyone went home. There’s something very inspiring about that groundedness. I hope I can live that as well-whether I am stapling and taping things for the DRE at my parish or standing before a crowd of  enthused  listeners who come to hear me give a talk, I want to do so with integrity and humility, the way I’ve seen vowed Franciscans do it again and again.

What about you? Can you think of someone who showed this kind of humility even when their life transitioned from one role to another, less exalted role?