Little of life is lived in a straight line. Instead we move through it from one circumstance to another, few of them of our own making. But by the time the bulk of life is over, our pristine plans and goals in tatters, the real surprise awaits us. By then, we finally figure out that what we would not have planned in our lives, led us exactly to where we would have wanted to go.
There really is no such thing as a mistake; there is only a route we cannot see to where we hoped to get some day. How does that happen? Who knows? Maybe the answer is a simple one: the best in us will always win out no matter where we are.
One thing is sure, however. Life is an exercise in waiting, an enterprise of twists and turns, or drifts and stops and changes that leave us feeling lost, or useless, or ineffective. But, if truth were known, it is our ability to weather it all, to transcend it all, that is the very proof of our effectiveness.
This month’s artist, Gertrud Staats, 1859-1938, for instance, a woman in a man’s world, allowed to dabble in art a bit but basically underrated professionally, not only functioned well despite it all, but persisted. A dedicated landscape painter, she traveled across Europe leaving works of genuine value and beauty behind her as she went. Until the wars came. And travel went with them. Then, Gertrud Staats turned to still life painting to satisfy her sense of vision and truth. And so an even broader body of work is with us, still, in galleries of no small reputation where her value as an artist is assured despite the very circumstances that seemed to arrest it.
This month, her whole life is represented in her stark painting of valiant ships adrift and aground, stopped by forces outside of themselves. But there for all to see and reckon with. Waiting and abandonment, a sense of invisibility and personal incompleteness, plague us all. And yet, the only proper response to those phases in life must be to simply go on being ourselves, our most committed selves. Then, intent on a direction that seems unreachable, in the waiting itself may well lie the ripening of both ourselves and our hopes.
~ Taken from “The Monastic Way” by Joan Chittister, OSB. Joan Chittister has been a leading voice in contemporary spirituality for more than 40 years, is a best-selling author and international lecturer. She is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie.