I noticed that the trailer (as trailers usually do) largely focused on the “action moments” of the book, the exciting things, the danger, the thrilling moments of revelation. I happen to know that the time covered by the book included vast amounts of time in which “nothing happened”. Time when the humdrum followed one day upon another upon another… Hours of boredom. To look at the trailer you’d think that the whole story was a blockbuster from beginning to end, but this wasn’t the case.
When we read the lives of the saints a lot of the time it looks like this. Time is necessarily telescoped in stories as in movies since one must abbreviate somewhere. The things that are left out are obviously the endless days of everyday life when “nothing happened”. The things that are included are the times of testing, the miracles, the martyrdom. If we’re not careful we begin to believe that if we’re not living a blockbuster life then we are not doing anything on the path of sanctity.
Just think about those saints however. If a given saint lived to be 58, then how much of the time was given to prayer? To walking from one place to another? To caring for animals? To preparing meals (even if one is only eating “roots and berries” one must actually forage for them)? Were they living a life of ease and pleasure during all of those times when nothing happened and only shining forth at the last moments? [Well, we do know of those last-minute conversions by would-be torturers who were then martyred on the spot, but apart from those.]
No, they became saints during the “dead spots”. During the boring weeks. During the times when the most exciting thing that may happen is finding a double-yolked egg. Think of St. Gregory the Illuminator, who, after having been tortured almost to death, was thrown down a dry well in a garbage pit. He was there for thirteen years. We hear about the story, about how he was rescued and healed the king who had gone mad (this is really a wonderful story – if you don’t know it you should read it) but I think about those thirteen long years. Thirteen days would be a horribly long time to be at the bottom of a pit, but thirteen years? Each one of those days, over 4,700 of them, would be spent largely in darkness, no companionship, no books, nothing at all. There’s no exciting story to tell about 13 years in a pit. But it was during this time that St. Gregory became who he was: a saint. Think of St. Mary of Egypt, in the desert for forty-eight years. The examples could go on and on and on.
Many of us – most of us, in fact – reading this are living rather humdrum lives. We’re not being tortured for our faith. We’re not living in grave danger. We’re not climbing mountains. Instead we’re taking the garbage out once or twice a week. We’re wiping noses. We’re driving to work. We’re sweeping the kitchen. We’re doing the same tasks over and over and over. Some, particularly mothers of very little children, feel like this time will never end. They feel as if the rest of the world has gone on and left them with nose prints on all the windows and toys in the bathtub. They hear the lives of the saints and look at their plain lives and sigh.
But it’s exactly those boring days and hours that will make you a saint. In our imaginations (someone, please tell me I’m not the only one who has done this) we stand up to tyrants and torturers. We proclaim Christ boldly. We die for our faith. But the majority of us will live out our years rather peacefully by comparison, dying of kidney failure or pneumonia when we’re past 70. Is it hopeless then? No! Think of Chinese water torture. One cold drop in the same place on the head; hours and days of this until the victim is screaming for mercy. Sometimes I think it takes as much courage to cheerfully and graciously care for ungrateful children (let’s face it – mostly they are) day in and day out, or smile at the next person in line at the complaints counter, as it does to face the sword.
So it’s these days in which we are made saints. We don’t have to look for glorious deeds. All we are asked to do is what God places in front of us right now. There’s no sense in arguing that cleaning up spilled milk is not saint-making. God didn’t ask your opinion. You clean up that spilled milk for your children, then your grandchildren, and keep smiling, and God will do the rest. After forty years of practicing love and patience it will have gotten to be such a habit that if the “moment of glory” ever comes, you’ll be ready. If you’ve sulked and compared your boring life to more exciting ones, then not only will you not be ready, but you may not even recognize it when it comes.