Finding good news in the new year
By DAVID WHITLOCK
Comedian Tracy Morgan had it right when he said, “Bad news travels at the speed of light; good news travels like molasses.”
It’s sad but true.
The NYTimes.com has a segment called, “This Week in Good News.” I look forward to it, for it comes at the end of the week that’s primarily been dominated by bad news.
The prognosticators of the foreboding are at this moment poised for the New Year: “Watch for a worldwide slowdown in the economy, resulting in a recession;” “Look for a prolonged shut-down of the government;” “How secure is Social Security, really?;” “Will the Ebola outbreak in the Congo eventually find its way to your doorstep?”
Maybe like me, you shake your head in dismay.
I find myself staring at my complimentary 2019 Norman Rockwell calendar and wondering, “What happened to that world? Was it ever?”
But if you go back and read the newspapers in Rockwell’s day, you will find bad news there too, for bad news is generational. It’s just that Rockwell, whether you consider him an artist or merely an illustrator, had a knack for taking everyday life scenarios and depicting them on canvas.
I am no art critic. Yet even I know that any successful artist must be able to see what others miss. Somehow those seemingly common events were captured by Rockwell’s eye and depicted in an attractive way.
This year, why not see through the bad news that will always be there and instead try capturing the good on the canvas of your soul? Why not declare yourself an artist of sorts?
Just how does that happen?
A seventeenth century French Jesuit priest named Jean-Pierre de Caussade might be of help. De Caussade was appointed the spiritual director of a Jesuit retreat house where he undertook the spiritual development for the nuns there. They wrote down what he taught them, and years later those notes were published as a book, “The Sacrament of the Present Moment.” (If you teach, it’s frightening to think your legacy could lie in the notes your students take.)
In essence, what De Caussade taught was that God speaks to every individual through what happens moment by moment. He concluded that once you had pared down all religious responsibility to the core, “There remains one single duty. It is to keep one’s gaze fixed on the master one has chosen and to be constantly listening so as to understand and hear and immediately obey his will.”
How is this done? De Caussade said that “the only condition necessary for this state of self-surrender is the present moment in which the soul, light as a feather, fluid as water, innocent as a child, responds to every movement of grace like a floating balloon.”
So, how about this for a New Year’s resolution? Live each day in the present moment; mindful of the Lord’s good intentions for you; willing to obey him and thereby seeing through the obvious bad to the possible good.
“Ok, fine,” you skeptically acquiesce. “But get real, David. What about the bad moments we will inevitably encounter this year?”
De Caussade was well aware of that, too. He points to Mary, the mother of the Jesus, as the example of how to apprehend the presence of God even in ugly circumstances, for what could be worse, he maintained, than watching your son being crucified while the world laughed at him? “When all the world disowned, abandoned and persecuted her son, she followed him from the stable to Calvary. In the same way faithful souls triumph over a succession of mortifications, shadows and fantasies which contrive to make God’s purpose unrecognizable, and pursue and adore it to the very foot of the cross.”
Contemporary Christian music artist TobyMac sings essentially the same message, “No matter where I go I know your love is finding me/I see You in everything/you’re all up in everything.”
From the stable to Calvary, from Advent and Christmas to Lent and Easter, and all the ordinary times beyond, it may not always be easy to find him. The artist in you can see through, even getting better at sensing his presence and painting the picture in your life — for after all, his love is finding you.
And that’s good news for every day of 2019.