On Faith, God, and the New Year Abyss

Have you ever heard of Brother Lawrence of the barefooted Carmelites? At the sight of a wintry tree, he began to contemplate the presence of God, whose hand he could see in the tree’s spring transformation. He believed in God at that moment, in that winter, early in the 17th C. Later, in the year 1666, he joined the Carmelite order and, in the same year, carried on a series of conversations with M. Beaufort about the practice of the presence of God.* By the way, 1666 was also an important year for scientific thought and discoveries; Newton was supposedly beamed by the apple that year and, in his own words, was at his prime for mathematical and philosophical thinking (see this link). I have no beef with Newton, but I am concerned sometimes that we have sold our souls to science and substituted a love of God for what we perceive as knowledge (does that sound familiar? Eve may have been tempted to eat its fruit, while Newton was merely knocked on the head by it). Fortunately, no amount of science education has altered my belief in God. Like Brother Lawrence, I see God’s hand in the processes of nature.

However, sometimes I wake up in the morning, and it’s as if I’ve fallen into an abyss. This happens to me throughout the winter holiday season often, although I can’t actually blame the abyss on outward events or occasions. Certainly, the New Year celebrations drive me to despair when I feel that I’ve accomplished nothing in the past year, that nothing has materialized for all of my hard work–and I’m not simply talking about the writing life, but of many of my endeavors. My life, sometimes, feels like the apple tree outside my kitchen window. It flowers in spring, just as I would expect–just as Brother Lawrence expected over 300 years ago; it brings on new leaves and a few very small apples. Then, the little fruit the tree’s produced is cast off by the wind or eaten by birds before it’s fully ripened.

Does anybody else suffer this kind of despair? I had wanted to ask my readers about their faith–how they believe in God in the midst of a world that looks to science for answers. Instead, I’m going to ask you how you keep welcoming in new years with happy expectations when life has been so difficult. Has this past year been difficult for you? It has for me. But it hasn’t been void. I’ve finally written a book that I feel is publishable. I continue to pray and place my faith in God, and, today, I talked out my frustrations with my husband. Also, as a purely outward diversion, I must soothe my soul with good music. ¡La música mexicana es mi droga, por cierto!

*See The Practice of the Presence of God, and The Spiritual Maxims by Brother Lawrence (Cosimo Classics, 2006)

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