I attended a morning mini-retreat yesterday morning, at the Casa (Franciscan Renewal Center, in Scottsdale, Arizona),and the theme was the lives of “Three Gifted & Misunderstood Men.” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Vincent Van Gogh, and Theilhard de Chardin, S.J.
(Quotes from Theilhard de Chardin, S.J. )
The retreat started with an invitation for us to listen to Don McLean’s beautiful song, “Vincent,” and we were reminded that Don McLean was only 26 years old when he wrote those beautiful lyrics. Throughout the retreat we were struck by the young age of both Van Gogh and Mozart when they were in the depths of their creative work. Both died in their 30’s. Theilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit theologian and geologist with a passion for the earth, was silenced and sent to China for 20 years to study the earth–all the while writing what he would not be able to share until after he died.
There were parallels and differences between these three men, but all of them accomplished what they did in spite of the lives they lived that for most of us would have led us to abandon our efforts and surrender to the norms we were being pushed to accept and live. Their works were known during their lives, but not to the extent to which they would fill our lives with wonder and awe.
(Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor —on youtube– it is wise to lower volume to avoid the sound of the ad, then raise it to hear the music.)
While I write this, I notice the large white puffy clouds floating across such a beautiful blue sky, the cool air entering my patio door with the crisp moistness from last night’s blessed desert rain…and I hear the multitude of birds in a chorus of nature. The seeds I planted two weeks ago are showing their tiny little green sprouts through the muddy soil. My dogs are curled up, napping, and occasionally opening their eyes to gaze outside before exhaling in lazy comfort.
We were asked to consider what we learned from reflecting on these three men’s lives, and this is what I’m choosing to print on a card I will carry in my journal, to center me, before I allow myself to get carried away by the events of my life or the mad flurry of thought in my mind:
1) If we pay attention to the simple things that give us great joy and by which we are driven from some ‘internal’ source to continue doing or enjoying, regardless of the circumstances of our lives, those are gifts of grace that can sustain us throughout life.
2) The things we create and do in our lives are not meant for us, but for others. What we receive from all that we create is the gift of fulfilling our purpose.
3) The voices and efforts of others to stifle us, ridicule us, silence us, banish us, and otherwise hurt us in ways to stop the flow of life’s gifts in us, couldn’t stop these individuals from continuing their life’s work. If I immerse myself in my creative gifts, I am protected from domination by others, even if my life is full of their influence.
4) All of them were grateful, not for material goods, titles, or privilege, but for the wonders of nature, their capacity to love, their connection to God, regardless of how other ‘people of God’ attempted to stop them. They responded with their gifts, not with hate.