Carolyn Woo
Our Global Family
August 15, 2018 // Perspective

Summer enchantment

Carolyn Woo
Our Global Family

For prayer, I sit next to a window by a small tiered terrace. During summer, it overflows with red dragon wing begonias interspersed with pink hydrangeas and slender curly stalks of the praying hands plant that sends shoots of flowers skyward.

The branches of the begonias extend out like what one might imagine as dragon wings. The flowers flutter in loose garlands painting the space red. Inevitably, I am mesmerized: My mind empties, time passes and I have not opened my prayer book.

This experience prompted me to ask others what is enchanting about summer for them.

One pantomimed her words with gestures of messy juice dripping down her chin from a peach; a niece mentioned heirloom tomatoes as she did a virtual tasting; a friend described the moment sitting with her 101-year-old mom in front of a lake into which her husband was about to jump with their two grandsons; I recalled watching my 37-year-old nephew hand over a frog to his sister, who screamed when the unwilling creature did its business on her.

Unfortunately, enchantment is not the sentiment that captures our current events: floods, raging fires, scorching heat, bickering politicians, nuclear threats, separated families. The public airwaves invade our mental space with fighting words that are shrill, demeaning and coarse. Facts are contorted to fortify positions rather than to enlighten and inform deliberations.

Disenchantment is more like it. What we face is a serious corrosion of principles, values, manners, civic responsibilities and bonds that unite us in friendship, solidarity and community.  

We indeed must engage with our voices, efforts and treasures. Yet disenchantment cannot be the only fuel we run on. It casts those who disagree with us as uncaring rivals and morons. When we take up the cause, we enter as warriors equipped with war chests, power, dirt and continuous rounds of verbal ammunition. We cannot find common ground as we do not understand the other’s fears and we dismiss their experiences.  

Untempered, disenchantment leads to cynicism, which discards hope for pessimism and disengagement. Simply put, when we give up on the other, we give up on God.   

When we throw up our hands, we do not acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is in the world — working in our midst, guiding us, multiplying our work, patching us up, sending us forth again and making good out of whatever it can use. When all we aim for is victory, we jeer at the Christian mandate for healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and peacemaking.

Enchantment is to put ourselves in the presence of God and particularly in His love for the world. Captivating beauty, simple moments, juicy peaches connect us to the tenderness, goodness and bounty of God, who made us and everybody else to be at our divine best.

Father Ronald Rolheiser wrote, “Beauty awakens the soul by mirroring it. In beauty, the soul sees itself, it recognizes kin.” In her ode to heirloom tomatoes my niece Daphne offers, “When everything that’s elemental conspires to create the perfect harmony.”     

We need to cultivate the habits of enchantment so that when we do the work of the world, we let it be God’s work and by God’s way. As the Jesuit St. Peter Faber instructed, “Seek grace in the smallest things, and you will find also grace to accomplish, to believe in and to hope for the greatest things.”

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