Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!
I am writing an honest, cool Thursday morning. The sky is blue and the sun gleams down on my keyboard to cast shadows on my computer. It's neat.
Today, I start posting bits of a long narrative I wrote about an experience I had while in France this summer. I hope you enjoy Part One of "The Tender Moments."
THE TENDER MOMENTS: How to Let Struggles Soften Our Heart
A reflection by Bob Spoerl
It seems that our hearts are so easily hardened by so many of the moments we find ourselves a part of. And it seems that, more often than not, our society finds itself bogged down by what makes our hearts most hard. When we don’t try to find the beauty in every thing we see, we tend to notice the unattractive mole on an otherwise pretty face. It’s a challenge to soften our hearts–––a challenge that lasts a lifetime. We hope and we pray that as our days go by, the softening will become a less assiduous task. However, as we all know, the softening goes much more easily than it comes–––just think of a person or group in your life who you found yourself growing close to and, after one hurtful comment or one missed meeting, the two of you or the group became worlds apart.
Attachment, the right kind of attachment, is a process. It is a painstakingly long process that needs to constantly be nurtured. To clarify what I mean when I say the “right kind of attachment,” I’m referring to that attachment that allows the soul to expand. This expansion of the soul can come through friendship, marriage and lifelong union with a person, or commitment to a worthwhile ideal. The first two expansions are indeed worthwhile ideals, but they are ideals that are person to person. The third expansion, the commitment to a worthwhile ideal, is something that can either pair with one of the other expansions or become a lifelong opportunity to expand for people pursuing a particular or especially lofty goal.
Challenges arise every time we put ourselves on the line to try and attain one, or a combination of these expansions. When we succeed in expanding our soul, we find that we have built a life giving attachment. But when our hearts are hardened, we bottle up our soul and temporarily send off an SOS to the world. We beg for a softening, that someone or something may find our message in a bottle and help us to soften our hearts. Ultimately, we must dive into the water to obtain the message for ourselves. It is only once we take that plunge that we truly begin the process of attempting to create attachments, and thereby grow as a lover of life.
More concretely than the metaphor of finding a message in a bottle, how do we begin the task of softening our hearts? Where do we seek the answers that may allow us to be more open, loving people? Ronald Rolheiser, an OMI priest, spiritual author and retreat leader, writes in an essay called “Fear of Tenderness Stifles the Soul,” about how capturing tender moments, or erasing the fear of finding ourselves in tender moments, can soften our hearts and make us more the person we desire to be. It is when we accept and cherish tender moments, claim ownership to intimacy, positive, life giving intimacy, that we can soften our hearts. In his essay, Rolheiser gives us some direction as to where to find these tender moments.
What constitutes the tender moment? Anything in life that helps make us aware of our deep connectedness with each other, of our common struggle, our common wound, our common sin, and our common need for help: the suffering face of another which mirrors our own pain, the sense of our physical mortality, the acceptance of our own sin, the beauty of nature, the eagerness and innocence of children, the fragility of the aged, and, of course, not least, moments of intimacy, of friendship, of celebration, of every kind of shared joy, pain or vulnerability.
(Rolheiser, Forgotten Among the Lilies, pg. 122).
Reading through Rolheiser’s words, I find my mind sifting through numerous images of people and places in my life that may have helped me to tender my heart. Interestingly, I found myself reading this particular Rolheiser essay during a time I found myself incredibly busy in service and prayer in the Pyrenees region of southern France. I’d like to try and relate Rolheiser’s processing of the “tender moments” of our lives to my own sifting through the events that occurred to me and to others while on pilgrimage in France. Along with nearly 200 pilgrims from the Chicago Archdiocese, including Cardinal Francis George, head of the U.S. Catholic Congress of Bishops, I walked a journey towards faith, hope and charity in the famous place where a fourteen year old girl named Bernadette witnessed eighteen apparitions that came to be considered by the Catholic Church actual appearances of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, under the name “Immaculate Conception.” Catholics, especially those who grew up during the reign of Catholicism in the United States in the 1950’s and 1960’s probably recognize the story of Bernadette and her visions in a small French town called Lourdes. For those unfamiliar with Our Lady of Lourdes, I’ll try and give a brief synopsis. Realize I am no expert in church history or official church teaching.
Shortly after Bernadette described the appearances, a church was built near the grotto where Bernadette had her visions to comply with the vision’s request that a chapel be built there. It is said that after Bernadette got down on her hands and knees to dig through and eat mud and grass, a spring burst forth from the place that had otherwise been dry. After word spread of Bernadette’s visions, people came from all around to visit the grotto and church to pay homage to Mary and to also pray for their own intentions. The grotto became a place where the sick come to be healed in the water the vision of Mary had told Bernadette to drink from. The Catholic Church confirms 66 official miracles in Lourdes. In addition to those 66 cures the Catholic Church officially recognizes, countless other persons claim to have been cured of their ailments while in Lourdes. They attest that it was through the power of prayer through Mary that they were freed from sickness. Many more Christians, and even some non-Christians, have found Lourdes to be an environment conducive for spiritual healing.
The pilgrimage became a time in my life in which I realized the overwhelming capacity of what becomes a “moment tender,” to borrow an idea from Rolheiser. In Lourdes, I wrestled with personal struggles and witnessed enough of the crushing struggles of others to begin to process the depth and character of moments that pull at our hearts. Struggle as we may with these moments at the time they come into our being, we hope that they exercise our interior enough to tone the outside we display to all who come in our midst–––to make our being more natural and loving. We hope that, in the words of Rolheiser, these moments make us ever the more aware of “our deep connectedness with each other.”
your friend bob.