St. Claude de la Colombière, 17th-century priest and confessor, observed:
There is no one who does not experience a hundred small annoyances every day, caused either by our own carelessness or inattention, or by the inconsideration or spite of other people, or by pure accident. Our whole lives are made up on incidents of this kind, occurring ceaselessly from one minute to another, and producing a host of involuntary feelings of dislike and aversion, envy, fear, and impatience to trouble the serenity of our minds…If we were careful to offer all these petty annoyances to God and accept them as being ordered by his providence, we would soon be in a position to support the greatest misfortunes that can happen to us, besides at the same time insensibly drawing close to intimate union with God.
Isn’t that the truth? The other day, driving around L.A. on a series of pesky errands, I started thinking about Thomas Merton’s famous “moment” on a street corner in Louisville when, overcome by love, he realized “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
I thought, Yeah, I’d think people were shining like the sun as well, if I didn’t have to wade through annoying throngs of them every day. I see the monks “shining like the sun” when I visit a monastery, too–mainly because I don’t have to live with them…
That’s not to detract from Merton’s epiphany; it’s only to observe that the feat for me would be to see Christ in the people who are in my way 24/7, as I jostle for a parking spot, angle for a place in line, or jam in my earplugs at night to block out the sound of the neighbors’ obnoxiously yipping dogs….
Recently I heard a guy tell of a spiritual practice he’s discovered. He says thank you to God not only for the things that make life easier, but for the things that make it harder, scarier, more painful.
He lost his wallet at the movie theater: he got home, gritted his teeth, thanked God—and the theater called the next day and said the wallet had been found!. He lost the wallet again, this time at a bowling alley–again, he thanked God; again, the wallet miraculously turned up. A third time he lost the wallet, on a visit to his aunt in Arizona. Again, he said, “Thank you, God;” a third time the wallet was returned.
I thought, My God man, put the wallet in a different pocket!
Still, I think the guy’s onto something. Because the upshot of a hundred small annoyances a day is that I, for one, can start going around with a low-grade hostility. I can begin moving through the world in a state of subconscious self-defense and self-justification. I can start scheming and planning in an effort to impose a kind of pre-emptive damage control.
Would I rather be right or would I rather be happy?
Thanking God when your mother’s just gone up in a Nazi crematorium, or when you’ve been called into the torture chamber, or when you’re watching through the glass as your kid is executed might be a bit much to ask, but maybe I, who have never known such trauma, can give thanks to be alive, even in a world where God has given man free will and we so often use it to hurt each other.
Again and again during the course of my day, I have to return to: How important is it? Would I rather be right or would I rather be happy?
Again and again, I have to pray, Let me come from a place of love. Then, with a whole lot of luck and a whole lot of grace, I can get back to Oh God bless her, with her three dogs; I’m just jealous because she’s young and beautiful.
I can think, How amazing that a city of ten million works at all, never mind as well as it does.
I can think, Look! A new ramen joint on Sunset and Echo Park. There has to be a God!