St. Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, Elizabeth Ann Seton. Clare of Assisi, Hildegard von Bingen, Catherine Doherty, Monica, Veronica. These holy women are our role models; we follow in their footsteps, ask their counsel, beg their intercession. As Catholics we are so blessed to have them, aren’t we? Their example of holiness, each the fruit of unique gifts bestowed by God and lived out in very diverse lives encourage each of us to persevere in our own lives.
It isn’t only in history books that we find such examples. We all have people around us who inspire us to strive to better ourselves in some way, people who are examples of a gift used well.
In my own life, Kay* is one such person. She is, for me, an excellent example of the wonderful feminine quality of receptivity - a quality I notice I muffle in myself. I find it a challenge to remain open to people and experiences, to accept help, and so on. The reasons why I want to be guarded are legitimate: I’m single and have to look after myself – it’s only smart to be protective of myself; I’m an introvert –too much ‘people time’ makes me downright cranky. Logical as those reasons are, I’m very aware they are holding me back, keeping me locked in. Enter Kay.
Kay is a colleague from work. She is kind, gentle, generous, creative (an artist in many forms, a gardener), interesting, fun. It seems in every conversation I have with her, I learn something new about her, her interests, her accomplishments, her hobbies. I often wonder, where does all that come from? How does she keep the creative juices flowing? How does she manage to be so patient and kind with each person who approaches her desk? Does she ever have a blue funk?
I noticed one day how she handled the books she was putting away. I could see that for her, each one had the potential to reveal something wonderful. There was no rushing, not one was overlooked. She was delighting in the illustrations, the humour, the ideas and labour that went into the creation of that book. Once I saw her in action with books, I realized she is the same way with people: she takes her time, and allows each one to reveal something wonderful to her.
It came to me then: being receptive is being open – open to experiences, people, inspiration, opportunity, joy. That openness is one way women have of being childlike, in the way that little ones have simple expectations, are ready to be delighted, are inspired by what they see and hear.
As well as being open to inspiration, Kay is open to learning. She is patient and humble when it comes to instruction (receiving and bestowing) and is willing to hear what someone wants to tell her, rather than assuming she already knows what is about to be told.
Kay is also generous, another form of openness. At the risk of running purple in my prose, I want to say that she is open of heart and hands – she gives her time, shares the bounty of her garden, encourages the talents of others, and doesn’t keep her joy to herself.
None of us are perfect (yet) and we are all trodding our own path to holiness. Kay isn’t perfectly saintly either, but she seems to have figured out this receptivity bit, even if she is not aware of it. She carries a sense of peace and contentment with her, which I think result from having done so.
I’ve been trying to apply what I’ve learned from Kay to my own life, and while it isn’t always easy, I know the goodness that will come from the attempt.
Is there an example from your own life of someone who encourages you to strive for holiness, someone who demonstrates a gift used well? Please feel free to tell us about her! (Or him, we are equal opportunity holiness seekers!)
*names changed to protect those who didn’t know I was observing them for the purposes of writing about them.