Gathered up, focussed lives, intent on one aim – Christ – these are the lives on which God can concentrate blessedness. It is “all for all” by a law as unvarying as any law that governs the material universe. Focussed
Pale yellow butterflies dance about our Lantana bushes, flitting from leaf to bloom, pirouetting in the air – or so it seems – random in intention and direction.
I’m reminded of the “Prayer of the Butterfly” recorded in Prayers from the Ark, a small volume of verse discovered at the Cenacle Convent in London.
Where was I?
Oh yes! This flower, this sun,
thank You! Your world is beautiful!
This scent of roses. . .
Where was I?
A drop of dew
rolls to sparkle in a lily’s heart.
I have to go. . .
Where? I do not know!
The wind has painted fancies
on my wings.
Fancies. . .
Where was I?
Oh yes! Lord,
I had something to tell you:
Often I feel like this distracted butterfly, not only in my prayers – erratic and flighty -but in my unfocussed life. Lilias spoke, over a century ago, to what I consider a symptom of myself and of this generation: “Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen good harmless worlds at once – art, music, social science, games, motoring, the following of some profession, and so on. And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the ‘good’ hiding the ‘best’ even more effectually than it could be hidden by downright frivolity with its smothered heart-ache at its own emptiness.”
I’m only too aware of the malady but what is the antidote? Lilias suggests that we first submit to a diagnosis of the condition of our hearts: “It is easy to find out whether our lives are focussed, and if so, where the focus lies. Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning? Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day. Does this test not give the clue?”
Does this test not give the clue?! Only too well, I fear. It is in the unguarded moments that our thoughts reveal our hearts. It may be the “good” that Lilias refers to, harmless enough in itself, but as the focus of our lives? That is another question. Trips and travels, home and garden, hobbies and projects, work and sports, all good in and of themselves, but have they a proper place or proportion to our lives as a whole?
Sometimes those “first thoughts” aren’t so good: worries about money or the future, fretting about health or the unknowns of what could happen, fears for the people we love. Sometimes it is unresolved anger at someone who has hurt us, unforgiveably, we feel. . . resentment for another who has achieved what we believe to be our rightful place or accomplishment. . . discontent with what seems to be our lot in life. . . hurt for being overlooked or forgotten. . .
What then is the antidote to the ill-health of our souls? Recognizing our malady then redirecting our thoughts from the bad, or even the good, to the best. To enjoy the good, indeed, but to go beyond the creature comforts or self-advancement to focus on the best things God would want for us and ask of us. Lilias appeals to the law of optics noting: “How do we bring things to a focus in the world of optics? Not by looking at the things to be dropped, but by looking at the one point that is to be brought out.”
So many hours in a day. So many days in a year. So many years in a lifetime. What do I want to be the mobilizing focus of my life? For what do I want to be remembered? What will be my legacy?
Most of us will not read our own obituary but one man did, his brother’s death mistaken for his own. Alfred Nobel owned over 300 patents for inventions, most notably dynamite, which led to the invention of cordite, a substance that enabled arms makers to perfect the long-range artillery shell. It was this invention that led to this famous headline in a Paris newspaper on April 24, 1888: “The Merchant of Death Is Dead.” Devastated by what his mistaken obituary revealed of how the world regarded him, he descended into months of deep depression. He then determined to change his legacy, redoing his will, and leaving the vast majority of his enormous wealth to fund five prizes in fields that benefit mankind. It is safe to say that a Nobel Prize is now considered to be among the most prestigious awards in the world – and the legacy for which Alfred Nobel is remembered.
Good, better, best. May we turn full our souls’ vision to Jesus. He will direct us to what is best.
Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Painting: Diary 1907