In reflecting upon Pseudo-Dionysius' writings on The Divine Names, particularly the name of "Righteousness, " the question arises: Do we quest after the things of God, seek after His Beautiful?
Part One: The Muck
Last week was topsy-turvy here at Te Deum Hermitage. Monday of the Easter Octave began with hope of making great progress for making the old place more livable and with the financial need to have it salable, as well. Raphael had contacted Jorge, a wonderful man he knows; and along with Jorge, he sent Francisco, one of his workers, to help this nothing consecrated Catholic hermit with some heavier tasks.
The first day went very well, with much accomplished even if the tasks were matters that the hermit could do alone with God. But why not gladly accept the treat of these men getting some aspects finished far faster and probably better so that work on the stairway could commence?
By Monday afternoon, Jorge, Francisco, and the hermit tore out the existing--too shallow, too step, too narrow--stairs and loaded the truck with the debris. (The hermit and Francisco had a few months ago already built the landing that will allow a shorter run of stairs to the landing, then a turn to but three final steps to the second floor.)
Tuesday started off with exultant hope. Jorge helped the hermit replace an outdoor spigot with some valves. Yes, the nothing hermit could have done it by studying YouTube videos, as this particular spigot is more complex a contraption; but again, what a treat to have someone right here: show, tell, and help. Then Jorge proceeded to cut out the upper floor enough for the three steps to go from landing to top. The hermit gave some dimensions, and also that for another bit of construction needed.
It seemed to take him quite awhile, and Francisco was his cut-the-lumber helper. The work was not accurate. Ascribe it to hermit-to-Jorge miscommunication of where the stairs need to extend. Granted, the hermit was worn out from the day before with pain level higher than thinking-best.
Yet charitably it was best and right to take the blame for the error. The morning's work had to be torn out and done over. That is fair enough. Then the three 2x12"x12' stringer boards were marked for the stair risers and treads, and that took some figuring and explaining, as stairs can be a very tricky endeavor.
Jorge was insistent he does stairs "all the time." Indeed, he did have the tools and discussed options, but we disagreed on some aspects of process. He became insistent to do it his way, and the hermit relented. Why not--as long as the end result is good? But the hermit noticed a growing "macho" attitude: he preferred the hermit not check the work in progress. All right, the hermit decided to give benefit of doubt despite increasing inklings of doubt.
But when the stringer boards were off 1 3/4," and Jorge insisted on adding another piece of plywood to raise the landing, what to do? He was so adamant; the hermit relented, yet again. As long as the end result is good.... It did not realize the use of too many nails whapping from the nail gun rather than screws (which are to be used--not nails--for securing sub-flooring) until too late. But about then they packed up for the day.
On Wednesday morning, the hermit detected the muck thickening. Jorge and Francisco chatted increasingly in their native tongue and seemed less sure of how to "jimmy" the stair stringer boards so that they'd be level, and how to make up for variances in riser heights....
While the nothing Catholic hermit does not speak Spanish, it does know some words; the lengthy conversations increasingly were not work-related. When the hermit offered to help in some way, hoping to progress them out of the extended chatting to their paid work, Jorge became abrupt and dismissive.
The hermit retreated to do other work, including a dump run during the men's longish lunch break, and unloaded another 500 lbs. of debris.... It did so by the grace of God, help from its angel, a prayer for strength, a wrist brace, and leveraging the boards off the end of Precious Blood (the hermit's used pick-up truck.)
Upon return, Jorge had installed the stairs in a manner that is not code. A call to Craig at the lumber yard informed that the technique used was "old school", but maybe would be passable if all else done correctly. But all else was not done so...not at all.
However, the nothing Catholic hermit kept silent its polite plan to make some additional support corrections, later. We must work forward. ("Beggars cannot be choosers" the hermit's late dad used to say, and about then the hermit felt much the beggar.)
Jorge was readying to build the final three steps from landing on up. Francisco was standing about, so the hermit asked his help for five minutes or so, to carry from the pole barn the 12' ceiling boards. When we finished that short task, what a surprise: Jorge would not answer the hermit's calling his name, had his truck loaded up and declared to Francisco they were leaving. Francisco knew nothing of leaving, but he did what Jorge said.
Oh, my. So the hermit paid them their wages. The hermit asked one final favor: Could they please lift the last heavy, 2x12"x12' board onto the saw horses so the hermit could cut the final stringers for the upper three steps? Jorge decided he did not have to leave right away, after all, as how could the old hermit possibly build stairs?
So they proceeded to measure and cut. The measurements were not exact, although Francisco's cuts are indeed beautiful and precise. But without accurate riser and tread markings, what good are precisely cut but inaccurate stairs?
And on top of that, Jorge's twice-done opening for the upper stairs was still not correct. He admitted the error, and the hermit commented how difficult the work for anyone; it would need to be redone, and the hermit would do it. But Jorge used what discourse left in trying to convince the hermit to instead build angle steps. Of course, angle steps were not a viable remedy for the disastrous, two previous attempts at properly building the steps. However, the hermit was done with debating and instead thought within, how marvelous is God to have given Jorge another job so that he could not come back to this one.
The men left. The hermit kept the parting on good terms despite the disastrous two of the three days and the costs involved. Then the hermit more carefully inspected the stairs. The little 2x4" board upon which Jorge had insisted on hanging the stringer boards, besides not being code to hang stairs, was also cracked at one end; and only one screw was driven in to secure each stringer board. And he had Francisco notch out the stringer boards, top and bottom, to fit over 2x4's: Not good--compromises structural strength.
Next the hermit took a tape measure to each step. The men had altered the top and bottom too much; steps are to be within 1/16th- to 1/8th-inch of each other, for safety's sake. The human mind adapts to stair height quickly, and if some steps are off in height, the mind does not adjust and falls occur. [Ah, the applications of all this to the soul and spiritual life!] Plus, the hermit noticed they had wedged shims under the stair stringers, and jimmied yet another 2x4-- but not flush--so that, too, needed correcting. Yet, it was all fixable, and time and energy is God's, not ours, gifted to us.
Too much detail--but we get the picture. The nothing Catholic hermit called Raphael to ask him to come and give a second opinion, for the hermit had serious stair concerns. He could not come until Friday or Saturday. The next morning, yet more problems with the stairs were noted; the hermit contacted Craig at the lumber yard--excellent contractor with years and years of experience. He said the stairs are not passable and best to start over.
The hermit had to cut out the too-many nails used, and piece-by-piece undo all that had been done wrongly. It pried out the twice-wronged upper floor cut out area. Angle-steps cannot be used for that particular landing; sloped ceiling would have a person hunching down in order to step up and make the turn!
And by the time all was removed, some of the notched sections of the stringer boards had cracked off--another reason why the 2x4"x12' support boards must be glued and screwed in along the notched edges of stair stringers. Jorge had insisted the support boards not at all necessary and that he knew best.
The hermit called Raphael and said no need to come by to check the stairs. They were removed. The hermit was heading over to civilization to buy more lumber--will try it again. Please, do not tell Jorge; the hermit had moved on and was putting the disaster of the last couple of days' work behind. But it wanted to let Raphael know that Jorge and the hermit had communication problems, and that Jorge evidently knew how to do deck stairs, but that these interior ones, perhaps not, or not very well.
But Raphael did tell Jorge, and Jorge later called and had in upset driven over to the place of hermit exile, and had left his three days of pay under a board by the compound miter saw. No, the hermit insisted he should have his pay and was putting the problem behind, and that stairs are tricky, and that even the best contractors often have to re-do them. But Jorge argued again and felt he did them correctly, but that he was leaving the money. Oh my!
The next day, Raphael was upset, too, and defended one aspect of Jorge's ways of installing stairs, and hurtfully insisted that he also needed to make Francisco return his pay, also. No, no, no! The muck was growing out of mucked proportion!
They worked three days and were paid for three days. One and a half or more of the days ran amuck, and a lot had to do with too much pride, perhaps, as well as an attitude of insistence on not consulting with nor doing as the hermit had asked. The hermit, not a trained carpenter, had at least spent hours studying how to measure and build stairs and sought out and listened to several men, quite successful in years of stair-building. (The proper metal stair hanging brackets were offered to Jorge, the construction adhesive, the support lumber, the exact measurements all given.) The hermit did not want money back. Why also debate that? Justice is that the men were paid for their days of work. We all make mistakes. The hermit wanted to move on and get the stairs built--while perfection not humanly possible--better than the first mucked attempt.
(These stairs are the Stairway to Heaven, after all.)
By yesterday, the nothing consecrated Catholic hermit realized it was unlikely going to have further hired help from the skilled Raphael and his good men. (Jorge was not of his work team, but is his friend; and Raphael did not witness the mess of matters here, either.) And true, the hermit could have (should have?) kept its mouth shut and not complained of the poor workmanship to Raphael. Yes, should have called Jorge, but did not have his phone number.
Even Jorge chastised the hermit--said should have asked Raphael for his phone number. True! Did not think of that. Will try to handle such matters better next time, as there will always be muck in daily life until no longer on earth.
Craig at the lumberyard had a different view of the mucky situation. A person paying work to be done should expect to have the stairs done as accurately as humanly possible (which was far more possible than what occurred) and to have them hung properly and safely. He said despite what some workers think of their own ways of carpentry, these stairs were not done properly. There is a reason why strong, metal stair brackets are created, code, and sold. He emphasized to the hermit: Stay the course.
More costly new lumber was loaded onto the truck. But how could the hermit be able to lift the heavy, fresh, stringer planks off the truck? The nothing Catholic hermit had an inspiration from His Real Presence. Back up the truck in a spot just so; the hermit could leverage off each of the three, heavy 2"x12"x12' boards. Use the ground to bear the weight of one end of the board while getting under and walking the other end over to the porch, letting the porch bear the weight of that end. Then go to the end on the ground, lift up, and slide it onto the porch. Set up the saw horses off the end of the porch, and leverage the boards one at a time onto the sawhorses to do the cuts. Thanks, God!
However, the nothing Catholic hermit did not have much practice with using the circular (Skilsaw). And it discovered, too late, the saw had been on clearance because it was for left-handed folks. The hermit is right-handed. Only thing to do is to try a nothing hermit's best, pray for God's mercy upon this stuck-in-the-muck sinner, ask St. Joseph and Jesus to lend carpenter graces, ask Mary to dispense virtue graces, and ask its guardian angel to help with physical strength.
By the time the hermit marked and sawed into the third board, the notched cuts were amazingly clean. In all the stringer board tread and riser cuts, the measurements were within 1/16th an inch; and they fit cleanly against the ledger of the landing at the correct mark. There are some slight over-cuts into the inner portion of the notch; this is not advisable but may be minor enough and acceptable. Craig will be consulted tomorrow. If the hermit must get more lumber and try again, so be it. It is a miracle that the hermit could make the cuts and lift the boards at all!
How on earth the hermit will be able to get the 4'x12' heavy pieces of drywall into the hermitage, and how it will get one piece lifted up on top of the lower one to drywall the stairwell, only God truly knows. The stairs cannot be completed until the drywall is up, despite the wrong-ordered process Jorge had used--and despite the hermit's asking otherwise. That had also been torn out. Just start fresh.
So all this stuff of temporal life detritus depicts being stuck in the muck. The mess of relationships, insulting a man who did try his best but did not succeed in passable work--all the gurgling, stressful, gooey upset for everyone involved in these types of life scenarios: Muck! Now the hermit also has to figure out how to get the money to Jorge that Jorge truly did earn--at least a day and a half's worth of decent work. The hermit was and is just fine with him having it all; none of this will the hermit miss or worry about on its deathbed.
Part Two: Longing for and Finding the Things of God
How can that which is actually not even all that bad or serious in daily, earthly muck-stuck, possibly become a yearning after the things of God and questing for God's Beautiful?
The answer came while working on the third stringer board--in the exacting measuring and marking phase. As the nothing consecrated Catholic hermit touched the fresh fir of the thick, long, wood plank, all of a sudden it realized it was touching God's Beautiful.
The hermit reflected upon a recent phone conversation with a young spiritual friend, with whom it is reading Pseudo-Dionysius' Collected Works. This is exactly how we can long for the things of God and quest for God's created beautiful while stuck in the muck of our daily, earthly lives.
She does it while changing diapers and wiping tears from toddlers faces, while breaking up sibling tiffs, while cooking meal after meal with little time for feet up in the last month of a pregnancy. The hermit does it while touching wood and praying for healing of damaged pride in someone who wanted to go the course on his own rather than collaborate with another or to try a better way.
Beauty is in the faces and minds and souls of people, as well as in the wood of trees and in water mixed with dirt. The things of God are of and in the good and beautiful of His created creatures and creation.
The things of God are in the electric current that flows through a circular saw and a jigsaw, the energy that flows through our bodies to lift boards and cut them, the prayers thought for those we've offended even when we did not mean to, the winds that blow the sawdust from boards so that eyes can see and hands can guide a power saw straight on the mark, the rain sprinkles that forced a hermit to take rest from labor and to ponder His omnipotence.
We can long for the things of God amidst the deepest, thickest, stinkiest muck of which we may find ourselves at any given moment--or for month or years. The color and consistency of the muck might change, but we frankly are mired in it, physically, temporally, while we are living on this earth.
The longing for the things of God and seeking His Beautiful, however, is so very possible as He desires to pour out his endless power into us. All we have to do is yearn, long, seek after the things of God and His Beautiful, with all our minds, hearts and spirit--despite being stuck in whatever temporal muck.
And then the muck becomes not muck, but rather is viewed, touched, and experienced as simply the beauty of the earth He creates, the water He creates, the situations He allows and offers in just the right degree of measure, in due time and proper place--all ordered to what He knows in advance is His perfect provision for each one of us. When we grasp this reality, the potential of His grace and power, we are as well off with our feet stuck in the muck as all else of us is truly in His Beautiful.
After awhile, we embrace the good of it all. All muck and the things of muck are temporary here, anyway. A viable sign of our longing for and finding the things of God while being stuck in the muck, can be as simple as shifting the amount of verbal and mental space the muck takes in our minds and lives. All that muck-minding can be far less or nothing compared to the amount of soul-freedom that we can think, express, and exude by our longing for and finding that which comprises God and His Beautiful.
God bless His Real Presence in us! Little children, let us love one another! Remain in His Love!