Aim for the chopping block

setemagali.com

Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block. — Annie Dillard

When I was in Arizona during the summer of 1989, a priest gave a homily at a daily Mass I attended that was just mind-altering. Daily Mass homilies are not usually known for that. I wrote it up later in my journal, with a slew of personal comments added. Here’s the part that caught me (edited to improve my grammar):

Human beings are meaning-makers, and what is unique about our quest for meaning is it’s largely future-oriented. We universally seek ends, goals. And all of us seek, whether we are aware or not, a final end, an overarching ultimate goal beyond the proximate pragmatism of the useful. In Christianity, we name this goal, the very substance of our faith, as ‘love.’ And Christians say that the premier sign we have laid hold of love as our ultimate goal is hope. Belief in love yields hope. This love, for a disciple of Christ, is first of all the love of God; for he loved us first. Then it is the double-sided coin of love for God and love for neighbor. This means love for God is not competitive but inclusive of every other genuine love, because God is the source of all good things and so in loving them we love their Origin. Our end is not God alone, but God and neighbor. Together these constitute our ultimate end, Jesus Christ.

A single mother I know holds two jobs to support her children. She gets up every day at 3:30 a.m. so she can be home in time for the children returning from school at 3:30 p.m. She gets exhausted, discouraged, feels lonely, frustrated. But, she says, because of her faith in God and her love for her children, she never regrets a single moment of her sacrifices. They are all enfolded in her single ultimate end. She knows God wants her to provide the best for her children, she trusts God provides and supplies for her lack. When she prays, she says, everything returns into focus and she is able to press on. Yes without these twin goals — what Jesus calls the greatest of the commandments — she would lose all meaning and hope in her life of hardship. Her sacrifices would lose their motive force and discouragement would overwhelm her.

In philosophy, they say that among the ways of causing things to happen, the ‘final cause’ — which is the final purposeful goal toward which something tends if it is to achieve fulfillment — in a sense pulls us toward itself with a powerful force awakened within us: desire. That woman’s children ‘pulled’ from her the resolve to renounce sleep and ease for their benefit. Every day, as you begin in prayer, reconnect your desires with their proper ends. All for Jesus, all for God and man in love. Remember as you pray why as a person of faith you do what you do, in the ultimate sense. Again and again do this, and it will get internalized by repetition rolling in grace. And ask God to fill all your thoughts, words and deeds with the love which knows no end, so that all things in your life might be consecrated to the God who is love. Then you will be a convincing witness to others that love alone gives lasting meaning, brings hope and makes all things new.

So today, right now, what is your ultimate goal that drives you on? What is your life’s motive force? If any of us are truly honest we will say: a mixed bag. Pleasure, approval, guilt, obligation, fear, money can displace love. In themselves, they are not necessarily bad. But when made ultimate they are dangerous, terribly fragile. Idols. The goal of the spiritual life, and the power of prayer and Sacrament, is to purify our motive desires and refine our goals so that more and more they become that of love. Love for God that is wrapped in love for our fellow human being and the good creation he has given us for our joy and his glory. Let us this day make our intention to do all things for love’s sake. For God’s sake. Amen.

That homily exposed in me for the first time an awareness of what drove me inside, and how far I had to travel before love would become my final cause.

When I first heard the song Light by the group, Sleeping At Last, I thought of that single mother singing to her child. This is the fodder of greatness for those who spend their lives on others in selfless love and see light — or bring light — where others might only see darkness. Lyrics below.

[Verse 1]
May these words be the first to find your ears
The world is brighter than the sun now that you’re here
Though your eyes will need some time to adjust
To the overwhelming light surrounding us

[Chorus]
I’ll give you everything I have
I’ll teach you everything I know
I promise I’ll do better
I will always hold you close
But I will learn to let you go
I promise I’ll do better
I will soften every edge
I’ll hold the world to its best
And I’ll do better
With every heartbeat I have left
I will defend your every breath
And I’ll do better

[Bridge]
Cause you are loved
You are loved more than you know
I hereby pledge all of my days
To prove it so
Though your heart is far too young to realize
The unimaginable light you hold inside

[Chorus]
I’ll give you everything I have
I’ll teach you everything I know
I promise I’ll do better
I will always hold you close
But I will learn to let you go
I promise I’ll do better
I will rearrange the stars
Pull ’em down to where you are
I promise I’ll do better
With every heartbeat I have left
I’ll defend your every breath
I promise I’ll do better
I will soften ever edge
Hold the world to its best
I promise I’ll do better
With every heartbeat I have left
I’ll defend your every breath
I’ll do better

5 comments on “Aim for the chopping block

  1. Evie says:

    As always, appropriately timed, and just what I needed. Thank you!!

  2. jill dean says:

    awesome Tom! beautiful liturgy and one of my favorite groups! thank u for the inspiration!❤️❤️❤️

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s