“What is he?” murmurs one gray shadow of my forefathers to another. “A writer of storybooks! What kind of a business in life, – what mode of glorifying God, or being serviceable to mankind in his day and generation, – may that be? Why, the degenerate fellow might as well have been a fiddler!”
-The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Ironically, I was introduced to the show “Call the Midwife” while in the convent. Now that I have some time on my hands I’ve watching some more of the episodes. I’ve noticed that some of the characters struggle with something that I do as well (and I suspect most of you): wanting to be useful. Through aging or illness, they are afraid of not being able to do what they used to, and therefore being of less value.
Over the past few years this desire has been purified but it is still a nagging thought: am I doing something worthwhile? Will I live up to these ridiculous expectations I have set for myself?
I came face to face with this need to be “useful” in religious life – which was perhaps the Lord’s plan all along. What good could it do the world to do laundry, sell Altar Bread and pray – oh prayer is what always seems like the most useless thing. What good does prayer do?
But religious are not the first and are certainly far from being the last to be accused of wasting their lives.
Remember this story?
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me.”
When I was in college I switched my major from English to Social Work, because I thought I should do something more “practical” to help people. Partially through physical illness, I was stripped of my desire to be “useful” in the convent and as the Lord uncovered my eyes to see my own beauty, the desire to write re-awoke in me like a living fire. Poverty fosters creativity and I’ve done my best writing in the past four years, showing me what I am capable of.
So now God is calling me to waste my life in a different way and I have a feeling I won’t be leaving poverty behind!