- Vincent van Gogh, “The Stone Bench in the Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital” (1889)
There is so much “excitement” in the world.
Politics. Sports. Entertainment.
Even in the simple act of kids going back to school there is so much hoopla.
We can’t just do things simply. Everything has to be planned, announced, delved into, broadcast into something “grand”, “life-changing”, “utterly profound.”
But the more we need to insist that something is the case, the less in reality it usually is. For excitement, like authority, is something that by its very nature announces itself—and it decreases in direct proportion to the need to have it proclaimed.
In other words, just because we make “a big deal” about everything doesn’t mean it is. In fact, it is normally quite the opposite.
I remember when a child’s birthday party was composed of eight or ten kids sitting around a kitchen table, wearing silly pointy hats, and eating a Duncan Hines cake made the day before by a stay-home mom.
Even catechism lessons seemed a whole lot more straight forward, and effective. For me they took place around that same kitchen table, with those same neighborhood friends, and were taught by that same mom who baked the birthday cake. Now, catechists are expected to act like game-show hosts. And preachers? We’ll they’re expected to be downright celebrities.
Well, there is an answer to all this triviality: The Bench. Whether it’s in the park, in front of your house, or even under one of those little bus-stop canopies on the side of the road.
Sit. Listen. Do nothing. Especially when you are tempted by “boredom”. For that’s exactly what boredom is, a temptation. A temptation to deny the existence of God. For if we are conscious of God’s presence we can never be bored. Every nook and cranny of every “meaningless” daily act and encounter has profound, truly profound significance, if we are conscious of God’s omnipresence and His perfect will.
Sit there peacefully, resting quietly on the cutting edge of boredom. You never know how much good God might do through you: what poor widow you may accompany, what orphan you might help find a home, what angel you may entertain, what authentic prayer you might offer up—now that God and not self-image is in control.
Truth flips things on their head. I think it is Saint Bernard who says something along these lines: If we really think about how radical a call the Christian life is, as compared to the way the rest of the world lives, we realize it’s almost the equivalent of us walking down the street on our hands.
If it isn’t Saint Bernard that I’m paraphrasing, well then it is one of God’s other saints, and that is all that matters. For in God’s Kingdom the only credit that is given comes from and returns to God, and God alone. All wisdom is His.
And there it is, there is the crux of it: We have become obsessed with being “original”, with being “special”, with being “one-of-a-kind”—which of course we all are, tremendously so in fact—that is until we stop and think about it, or even worse, try to achieve it through our own means.
Trying to be “original” is the end of all originality. Wanting to be “special” is the death of a truly special purpose.
Pure existence on the other hand can only result in true originality—and it is always special, no matter what Tom, Dick, or Harry it is taking place within.
When a human being is existing as God wills, the result is dynamic, truly exciting. And God never wills for us to believe and act as if we are God and He is not.
Put to death once and for all the need to self-promote, to self-proclaim, to self-worship.
Sit on a bench instead. Be still. Exist. You just may be surprised how cool you really are.