Chiseled

Excerpt from:  Abandonment to Divine Providence (Jean-Pierre de Caussade)

“It is true that a canvas simply and blindly offered to the brush feels at each moment only the stroke of the brush.  It is the same with a lump of stone.  Each blow from the hammering of the sculptor’s chisel makes it feel – if it could – as if it were being destroyed.  As blow after blow descends, the stone knows nothing of how the sculptor is shaping it.  All it feels is a chisel chopping away at it, cutting it and mutilating it.  For example, let’s take a piece of stone destined to be carved into a crucifix or a statue.  We might ask it:  What do you think is happening to you?  And it might answer:  Don’t ask me.  All I know is that I must stay immovable in the hands of the sculptor, and I must love him and endure all he inflicts on me to produce the figure he has in mind.  He knows how to do it.  As for me, I have no idea what he is doing, nor do I know what he will make of me.  But what I do know is that his work is the best possible.  It is perfect.  I welcome each blow of his chisel as the best thing that could happen to me, although, if I’m to be truthful, I feel that every one of these blows is ruining me, destroying me and disfiguring me.  But I remain unconcerned.  I concentrate on the present moment, think only of my duty, and suffer all that this master sculptor inflicts on me without knowing his purpose or fretting about it.”

15 thoughts on “Chiseled

  1. How true, and it’s marvelous that you are, for finding and sharing it! I wish I’d had it a day or two ago to send someone in place of almost mindless platitudes, but I’ll hang onto this. No doubt it would help us all to withstand the blows better.

  2. Simple and yet profound. It’s like he’s saying the shaping of us, will actually be the making of us…changing us more and more into beings better able to reflect His glory. It isn’t easy relaxing and accepting our own work in progress but trust would definetely seem to be the key…total trust in His hands.

  3. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the Divine Artist works with Love, isn’t it, as we’re formed (or de-layered). Yes, trust must be the key, I think.

    We’re going on a little picnic now. I have to run and pack the basket, before hubby drives away without me, or it. 🙂

  4. I don’t have problem being a hunk of stone. I love the analogy too. But at the same time, this theme has always disturbed me. At what point are we supposed to be passive and let the divine artist control the situation? How do we know when are we supposed to control the situation?

    This subject has been one of the many broken planks in my rickety suspension bridge faith. How do we balance the take charge heroic life defending Catholic imagine with the detached mystical infused contemplative image? I’d like to think that the Lord and some of the fellas helped Martha clean up after dinner.

  5. “I’d like to think that the Lord and some of the fellas helped Martha clean up after dinner. ”
    I like that thought, JohnT.

    Gab:
    Yielding to those hard hammerings at times is hard for me when I feel I have ‘had it’ with a particular trial. I am one to holler and try to wriggle out from under the hurt. Take matters into my own hands to ease the situation.
    Also, at times I need to watch out for a fatalistic, que sera’ attitude…”well, I have said my yes to His will, and its gonna happen, so I will just sit back and ‘ let Go and Let God.’
    Not good!”
    Oh, come on now y’all…don’t tell me this has never happened to you fellow human beings during those dark nights!🙂

  6. “fatalistic, que sera’ attitude…”

    My point exactly. Cannot figure out the balance. It is hard to find good spiritual direction on the topic, because a lot of times the adviser uses words like “pride” to describe your intentions. When your really motivated by a sense of self donation (e.g. sacrificing for the family.) Your internal dialog says I would not be doing X right now if it were not for the wife and kids, but the adviser suggests I am doing it out of narcissistic pride. Now your are in a double pickle because things are still tough and a spiritual adviser causes you to doubt even more your intentions and inner dialog.

    So you spend years tied up in knots of conflict not knowing how to adjust your behavior due to all the conflicting messages. Hope I am making sense.

  7. Well, I actually stopped doing things for the parish, once, when I realized I wasn’t doing them only for love of God..

    Who benefitted from my realization/honesty? Right.

  8. Of course the Lord helped Martha clean up after dinner. He took her sister’s place in that– that Mary not lose the better part. Mary’s laboring would return soon enough.

  9. I think there are several decidedly different (but not unconnected) issues being raised in these comments. But I’m really tired (violins please), so can I get back to you tomorrow? Well of course you can, they replied in unison. Thank you, she answered, just moments before she tipped over.

  10. Well, I think Jesus helping out in the kitchen is wishful thinking…Although he revolutionized certain attitudes towards women, and it was probably one of the excuses they used to condemn him, I think no woman at that time would have accepted having a man enter into her realm of action because she would probably have felt humiliated by it. I think he would have understood that. I imagine he would have entertained the children with a story or a parable, so she could go about her work unhindered…

    Thanks for the quote Gab. It’s very a propos because today was the last day of work for one of my most beloved colleagues. The first head has finally been chopped at work, and others are soon to follow. She’d been working there for 17 years and I was the last one to arrive at the company, but they need me for my language skills, so she was the one to go.
    But on the bright side, by the end of august we may have a hefty order. We all hope and pray it will work out so that she can be called back, but I doubt she will accept. She spent the last year knowing that she was going to be the first to go. She’s falling a little apart right now, and I think it would be cruel to have to hang on to threads of hope like that because one order is not going to make the company’s future.
    I think it will be very good for her to read this quote. I’d appreciate prayers for Marilina, who is on my heart today. :’-( Thanks.

  11. One of the weaknesses so prevalent in so much of the particular kind of protestantism I knew (and it is fair to say the influence of that kind was not small, at least in North America) was that there was no room or very little room for anything that might be called redemptive suffering. If it was suffering it was automatically bad, or the result of sin in our life. God would never allow let alone bring about pain or blows upon the kids of his kingdom. The weakness mentioned is that, of course, blows and suffering come to all and if we cannot on any point attribute these to God then they must be a problem with us but if we know ourselves to be not deep in some sin or horribly lacking faith, that is to say, not to blame and deserving of the blows, then who is left to blame but God?

    Two weeks ago I wanted nothing more than to remove myself from his blows. I wanted to run to the safety of his arms until I realized I was already in his hands. I was not pleased to remain under his blows and would not have but for a promise to my wife and children. By staying I made it through a testing, a literal battery of exams and was able to complete the Final. Now, I waiting during several days of silence that are as punishing as the blows, waiting to find out whether or not I passed.

    I could be wrong but I believe that a saying attributed to Michaelangelo goes something like this: when the master was asked how he carved so precisely and majestically the likeness of a horse he answered that he simply cuts, chips and blows away all the parts of the stone that are not the true likeness of a horse and what remains is….

  12. Pia, I’m so sorry to hear this; I know it’s been coming for some time. I’ve experienced this with several companies I’ve worked for, and I have found that no matter how much people know, in their heads, that it’s because of the sales, they tend to lose faith in themselves. My prayer for Marilina will be that she will not lose faith in herself or her skills because of this situation which was beyond her control, and that she will find another job as soon as possible (if that is her intention). I wonder where God wants her? I wonder what new and exciting work might await her.

    Owen, I agree with you that, as Catholics, our understanding of redemptive suffering is really the key to our experience of suffering in this world. I also appreciate the final quote you gave us, because, to me, that is really what is being talked about in the de Caussade quote I posted. What the Divine Artist, the Divine Sculptor, is chipping away at is our false self, to reveal the beauty of the true self, the Divine nature within us. If we are on the contemplative journey, we know that we will go through, as St. John of the Cross tells us, the Dark Night of the Senses and the Dark Night of the Soul. They contain both active and passive purgations – Thomas Keating also tells us that sometimes, pyschologically speaking, going through the dark nights often feels to us like things are getting worse rather than better, because the removal of the layerings of the false self is, truthfully, very painful. We know how hard you’ve been working and studying, and the amount of physical, emotional and psychological stress it has created, but you’ve been a trooper, for yourself and your family. God bless, and I’m sure I speak for others here that we’ll keep you in prayer as you wait for the exam results.

  13. teresa: I may have misunderstood, but it seems to me you are talking about particular situations in life that are hard to bear, rather than aspects of yourself that are troublesome? And you are describing the difficulty of deciding (being as honest with ourselves as possible) what is the Will of the Lord and what is just ourselves being lazy or not proactive? If I’ve understood your points correctly, I agree that it is often difficult to discern the difference, and also often difficult to find the courage within ourselves when we have discerned the difference correctly. I think that is why we need to understand the importance of self-knowledge (which is not self-absorption), pray always, and ask Our Lady to intercede for us.

    JT, I think that you have more than one issue on your mind, here, and that it might help to try to look at them separately, or take them one at a time in your prayer and reading. For instance, I think you are seeking to find a balance in your day-to-day life between abandonment to God’s Will and your own personal action which is required, but truth be told, God desires complete abandonment to His Will. I think maybe part of the problem lies in your idea of “control”, but we know we have little or no real control over our lives. Accidents happen, health issues pop up out of nowhere, we lose our jobs, etc. We cannot control any of this, but what we can control, the only thing we can really control, is our response to whatever arises. The more we grow in the contemplative life, the more we grow in virtue, the more control we should have in the only area really possible: our response. Also, it may help if you try to change this idea of control and see our action as our participation in God’s Will for us, do you know what I mean? We are active participants, but do not demand control.

    You’re also bringing up another point, your seeking of balance between contemplation and action. This cannot be answered in a cut-and-dried way for every contemplative. Many contemplatives have been able to, and feel that they have been called to, a certain level of action (particularly in the area of social-justice) in their lives; others are called primarily to prayer, which is their service, and a very real one for this crumbling society and world of ours. This can be a very painful area of discernment in the life of a contemplative, and we should seek only to discern God’s Will in our own lives on this point, and not ever judge other contemplatives in this area.

    I think another thing that’s coming up here is a confusion re what you feel you are being called to now, and your thinking that your state of life precludes you from following through on it. But we cannot live our life with regret for choices not made earlier on. I bet there are quite a few of us who may have made different choices if we knew, say, twenty or thirty years ago, what we know now. But the fact of the matter is, we didn’t, and perhaps it was never God’s desire that we did. Now God would desire us to embrace the duties of our state in life with joy, to embrace our families and all the opportunities we have as lay people to help other lay people. God has given us a very difficult path as contemplatives in the world, and we must embrace that with as much joy and courage as we can. And one more thing, if your spiritual advisor truly doesn’t appear to understand what you’re talking about, I’m wondering if he/she is a contemplative. St. Teresa has told us how important it is, as contemplatives, to try to find a director who is himself/herself a contemplative, otherwise the whole thing is quite likely to go nowhere fast (our rapport with the director, I mean).

  14. I love the way several of us responding to one post respond in different veins! Same phrase, totally different foci. It shows me that the Holy Spirit is working and that His Word doesn’t return to Him void , but accomplishes what He wants to in each one of our lives!

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