Lately, my life feels inelegant, unmanageable and hard. There is sickness, suffering and death. There are fractured relationships I can’t repair. The international, national and local news is heartbreaking—divisive, ugly, violent. To counter my feelings of helplessness and sorrow, I have been watching, over and over, a six-second video of my six-year-old granddaughter cartwheeling. Her joy is so effervescent, it’s contagious.
She sprints across the newly greened spring lawn then leaps into a lunge. Her palms press the earth, legs extending to the sky. She rotates and lands confidently upright, making this amazing feat appear effortless. But her first cartwheels were disasters. Then she performed dozens, possibly hundreds, of clumsy ones. In time, her relentless practice strengthened her upper body. Her balance, flexibility and technique improved.
I could turn this into a lesson about patience, how practice leads to perfection. But I am steeped in the reality that I am powerless to change so much of what is painful in life. I don’t need another pep talk to motivate self-improvement, or a manual outlining the steps to a successful life. I need my granddaughter’s pure, authentic joy, found in the experience of cartwheels.
I’m trying to see the kingdom of heaven from a child’s point of view. For the reward of necessary joy, I’m ready to turn my adult-y, logical way of knowing how upside down.
In a video my daughter-in-law took a few weeks ago, my granddaughter is at gymnastics class, awkward, stumbling, falling on her backside. Yet even in her “failures,” her delight is infectious. She’s not judging herself. She’s set on her single-minded reason for being there—to turn cartwheels.
Michael Casey is a monk of Tarrawarra Abbey in Australia. In his book Seventy-Four Tools for Good Living: Reflections on the Fourth Chapter of Benedict’s Rule, he reveals the source of utter, incomprehensible joy in the face of failure, fear and despair. It’s about priorities. We need a single-minded focus.
If you love cartwheels, that’s what you do, over and over, not because you have to, not because you’re trying to win an Olympic medal, but because living in your wonderful body, moving and discovering its strength, is delightful. Your body is your life, your breath, your blood, your vitality. And so you cartwheel.
If we love the love of Christ, that’s what we do, that’s where we put our efforts. We, as Michael Casey writes, will “allow that love to inform our thoughts and choices, to govern our dealings with others, and to support and sustain us when we encounter situations that are hard, unfair, and unjust.” We will turn our attention to the love of Christ over and over, spending time in prayer and contemplation, reflecting on scriptures so love will guide our thoughts, speech and actions. We will pay more attention to the love of Christ than we give to mass media, social media and worldly concerns, not because we’re trying to win a black belt in piety, but because living in, moving in and discovering the strength and power of Christ’s wonderful love is delightful. It is our life, breath, blood and vitality.
We will find the pure, authentic joy we desperately need, in the experience of the love of Christ.
Tracy Rittmueller, OblSB