I am still unpacking all of the beautiful words I soaked in during the Frassati retreat this past weekend, still marveling at the graces we experienced there. Those of you who weren’t able to be there with us were certainly there in spirit, and I hope we can share some of our experience with you, too. The theme of the retreat was “Rest for the Restless,” and we reflected on what it means to truly rest, not just in body but in spirit.
Sister Veritas spoke in her workshop about opening our eyes to see God’s presence in all the things that surround us, particularly in the beauty of nature. She referenced G.K. Chesterton as a master of resting in God and marveling at His works. He once wrote:
You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.
Chesterton never ceased to look at the world with a childlike sense of wonder, and we are invited to do the same. Everything is grace; every beautiful thing we experience is a gift from God. Sometimes, especially here in New York City, we become so overstimulated that we begin to take these gifts for granted instead of truly savoring them. If we pause and really take a look at a small piece of God’s creation, we will be amazed at how much detail we notice, and how these little details reveal the Father’s love for us.
As I reflected on this idea, I was reminded of a story from when I was living in Rome. My classmates and I had a favorite salumeria we’d walk to at lunch for panini, where we’d pick out a type of bread (usually pizza bianca) and a type of meat. If we wanted, we could also add cheese, or pesto, or sun-dried tomatoes, etc. The sandwiches were very simple, but so delicious that I can still remember the taste of them years later. One afternoon, a classmate of mine went up to the counter and asked for a panino with prosciutto, pecorino, sun-dried tomatoes, and pesto. The Italian man behind the counter looked appalled and said, “No. Pick two.” Even though he could have charged more for including four ingredients, he refused to create a sandwich that he would consider a culinary abomination. He believed that the raw ingredients he was selling were of such high quality on their own that they didn’t need to be covered up with other flavors, and he told us we wouldn’t be able to savor the richness of the pecorino if it was combined with prosciutto and sun-dried tomatoes and pesto. We quickly got the impression that he was very against the American mentality that more is better, the inclination to pile up as many toppings as possible on our pizza and our ice cream and our burgers. This exchange still sticks in my memory as a reminder that sometimes, in the attempt to experience the goodness in the world, we pile on so many things that we are too overwhelmed to appreciate any one of them individually. These simple panini with just pizza bianca and prosciutto, freshly prepared, were mind-blowingly delicious. We would eat them outside in the sunshine, resting on cobblestone streets with a view of the Pantheon, pausing to take a look at the beauty that existed just outside our classroom window.
We all have a hunger for beauty, but we don’t need to look far to satiate it—we just need to look more closely. It is not the quantity of things we experience that nourishes our soul, but rather the intentionality with which we receive them, accepting each as a precious gift. There is enough beauty in just one blade of grass to capture our hearts, if we just open our eyes to see it.
Resting means entering into God’s gaze, allowing Him to look at us closely and say that we are very good. It means setting aside our desire to be productive and get lots of things done in order to truly appreciate and savor God’s gifts. It means taking the time to say grace not just before meals, but before every good thing we receive. It means letting go of our work on Sunday so that we can check in with God and reflect upon His goodness in our lives. As Sister Maria Teresa so aptly told us yesterday, “The Sabbath is a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money.” We are not made to be productive; we are more than just machines. Our identity does not lie in what we do, or in how much we achieve, but in who we are: beloved children of a God who delights in us.