Living Mystery

I am reading a book called After the Fire: The Destruction of the Lancaster County Amish by Randy-Michael Testa.  Kirkus’ Review sums up the basics thus: “As a Harvard graduate student, former third-grade teacher at a Denver private school, and serious ethical thinker of Catholic persuasion and “morally tired” condition, Testa spent the summer of 1988 living with an Amish family in Lancaster County, where he conducted fieldwork for a Ph.D. thesis exploring a “community of faith”.”

Here is an excerpt that echoes all the discussions Steve & I have about living a life that embodies our values, a grounded life, a life of depth.

“…Dorothy Day once quoted from the Archbishop of Paris: ‘To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda or even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery; it means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.’

   “I stand barefooted thinking of Elam.  Earlier in the week, he and I trooped across the Franklin and Marshall College campus to the library to look for some maps of the county.  In lieu of classes, campus had been taken over for the summer.  Everywhere there were boys in soccer gear and coaches in black shorts and white and black striped shirts blowing whistles and clapping their hands and yelling, ‘Atta boy!  Good work!  Good WORK!’

   “Elam and I had just driven in from the farm.  I had been up since five working in the sweltering barn, where I am regularly stung in the eyes by sweat rolling off my head.  My white shirts are permanently stained yellow.  I have gained ten pounds and back muscles.  I sleep so soundly in the Stoltzfus house I sometimes awaken myself with my own snoring.  So for all that, hearing the word ‘work’ in teh context of a soccer camp seemed like complete insanity.

   “Elam turned to me and asked, ‘What is this?’

   ‘It’s a soccer camp,’ I said.  I felt my soul tense.

   ‘What is ‘soccer’? Elam asked blank-faced.

   ‘It’s a sport.  Like baseball.’ (I knew some Amish played baseball at family outings.) ‘These boys are here to learn how to play it better,’ I replied quickly.

   ‘But why?  It’s a game,’ Elam said, puzzled.

   ‘These boys have paid money to come here to learn how to play a sport better,’ I repeated tersely.

   ‘But why would they go to school to learn a sport?’ he persisted.

   ‘Because the outside world doesn’t have or value productive, meaningful work for its young men, so it teaches them that it’s important to know how to play a sport well.  This keeps them occupied until they go to college and THEN THEY PAY A LOT OF MONEY TO COME HERE AND ASK WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE!!!’

   “I practically turned on him- and my own world.  I shocked Elam with my vehemence.  I shocked myself as well.  I wondered what was happening to my view of the world.

   “Now, standing in Levi’s meadow in the middle of the night, suddenly I understand what has happened.  At this hour, in this stillness, among these people, life makes perfect sense.  The outside world does not.  I have become a witness.

   “I return to the upstairs bedroom as the blue mantel clock in Elam and Rachel’s room chimes three, and fall asleep to a cow lowing in the moonlight.”

To live in a way that embodies your deepest values, despite persecution, propaganda, and perspiration.  That seems like an honest life to me.  I hope I have the courage to live like that.

(photos taken at Old World Wisconsin, the living history museum where I work as a costumed interpreter)

12 thoughts on “Living Mystery

  1. Yes I like the 2nd shot too…
    Ah to live a life of integrity with your value base intact should indeed be the way to live and work… which is why I am still off with work related stress as I cannot seem to work out a way to go back to work knowing I will be able to maintain neither… 😦

  2. I love that quote from the Archbishop of Paris. I came across it in something by Madeleine L’Engle, I think, and have thought of it several times this year in relation to things you’ve written.

    • I am refining my working definition of “God”, trying to get away from some of the associations that have been linked to that concept that represent entirely different values, so it’s a good challenge to keep looking at that quote and asking myself what that means.

  3. I must apologise and say that I came to see the photography on this occasion, though I do write …. and I was not disappointed….. thank you.
    Regards, John

  4. Thank you Priscilla for that beautiful excerpt. I’m especially aware of the impact of propaganda on me. I know a lot of my superficiality and selfishness is my fallen nature, but when I feel ashamed of myself for not being wealthy or influential or attractive, I know I’m being manipulated by someone who is trying to profit from my self rejection.

    • Lance, my dear friend, it’s hard to read this comment and not ask you if you’ve ever considered that what you “know” about being superficial and selfish and fallen by nature might not also be an example of “being manipulated by someone who is trying to profit from your self rejection” as well. There’s a lot of shaming in the world; some of it seems like a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing. I see the Church doing a lot of damage that way, historically and currently.

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