Red Wagon Ruminations

The great Irish poet Oscar Wilde once penned, “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” While I definitely would not dispute any of those items on his list, I recently came across an ordinary item that provoked a spirit of joy and gratitude that I would most certainly add to Wilde’s list! Before I do that I have a riddle for you, “What has four wheels, colored in red, and brings happiness?? Answer: While, technically a crimson corvette, may still be correct—the answer I was looking for was a red wagon! 

 

Over the past week we celebrated Christmas with my wife’s side of the family. One of the gifts that my father-in-law gave to my kids was a red wagon. I assembled the crimson coach while watching Sunday football. When my two year old woke from his nap his eyes lit up and shouted, “Wheels, wheels!” So far this week, I have taken the kids for a ride at least 5 times.  The following exchange between my 5 year-old daughter and I demonstrates how a simple children’s toy brings happiness.


 Daughter: “Wagon freedom!”

Me: “What does that mean?”

Daughter: “Freedom means I am happy.”


J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, Little by little, one travels far. His words perfectly summarized our wagon experiences. Through merely traveling a few blocks, either around our neighborhood, or to and from the elementary school, the short trip brought an immense amount of knowledge. From the click-clacking of the cotter pins as the wheels turned to the giggles of my children as I lugged them behind me, I traveled down Memory Lane to the nostalgia of my childhood and simpler times. 

Experiencing Christmastime with the attitude of gratitude, not only brings out the best in the season, but also the unexpected. Although at face value, a red wagon is not the most alluring, expensive, or glitzy gift, the joy it brought me and my childrencertainly exceeded expectations and brought joy!

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Wonder of the Youth

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The great American poet Maya Angelou said, “Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging.” Aging is a universal problem. Adults lose a sense of wonder with the world. We arrive on the job scene after our schooling years and get sucked into the maelstrom of monotony. I definitely feel like I my spirit of wonder and awe dulled over the course of time. But does that need to happen? Is it possible to return to child-like wonder? Is it possible to be young again while aging? Let me put forth three examples of activities that reignite my imaginative spark and curiosity about the world.

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1. See anything [and everything] as new: As curious individual, growing up I tended in see freshness to nearly every aspect of life. I intellectually devoured information with an endless appetite. Subjects that fascinated me [and still do to this day] included: geography, animals, board games, baseball, colors, science, history, literature, words, order of the world, space travel, and time travel to name just a few.

The adult version of myself still maintains enjoyment on learning about those topics. Difficulty arises with the need to balance, family life, work, volunteering, and hobbies. Thankfully, I have made it a point to read at least 30 minutes a day after my family goes to sleep. Currently, I am learning about Darth Vader’s ascension to power as the Emperor’s galactic general in James Lucano’s Dark Lord: The Rise of Darth Vader. Entering the fictional universe of Star Wars reawakens the wonder of my childhood. I feel like I am learning constantly about the characters—old and new alike—and enjoy learning about the wondrous possibilities of space travel! I strongly encourage you to experience the wonder in the written world of fiction. Wonder abounds in a book. To quote Levar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it!”

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2. All work and no play…makes Jack a dull boy: There are variations of this old adage. All share the same theme—too much work leads to drudgery and stress. As a committed workaholic I am far too familiar with the dangers of not making time for recreation. God foresaw the need for rest and recreation in humanity’s life on earth. According to Genesis chapter 2, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation.”

Following this biblical principle, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states, “For Christians, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is a special day consecrated to the service and worship of God. It is a unique Christian festival. It is “the day the Lord has made” (Ps. 117 (118):24). Its nature is holy and joyful. Sunday is the day on which we believe God acted decisively to liberate the world from the tyranny of sin, death, and corruption through the Holy Resurrection of Jesus.” Oftentimes, I fail as a parent to promote play [and engage in playful activities with my children]. My son and daughter excitedly rushed to our front lawn and jumped in jubilation at the yellow-tinged leaves newly fallen. “Let’s get into the car, I am going to be late for work!” is my default reply lately. I was a curmudgeon, the very person I did not want to be as a father. All work and no play makes me a dull Catholic, a dull husband, and a dull father.

all work no play

3. The Golden-Rule leads to true riches: The good news is that every day is a new start. I went to Confession this week. I received the sacramental graces to sharpen my awareness to God’s activity in my kids, friends, wife, and family. When I treat others with respect [i.e. FOLLOW THE GOLDEN RULE] I acquire riches beyond the value of physical gold—I attain joy and a spirit of gratitude. My penance for my confession was to reflect on the gifts God has given me. The priest urged me to grow my gifts and not worry about others’ gifts that I previously envied. Through prayer and advice from other people, I have realized that one of my God-given gifts is writing. Confession and a mindset of thankfulness reignite my desire to write—the past few weeks I have struggled with laziness and have not written enough!

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Life is full of periods where you feel aged, dull, and simply lethargic. This became a problem in my life when habitual laziness and dismal attitude became the norm. I ask for your continued prayers to support me in my journey toward a joyful life. Today I re-commit myself to act as God’s instrument in hope to provide a glimmer of hope and light into you [my readers] daily living!

Finding the Creative Spirit of God in Play!

playing

According to G.K. Chesterton, “It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground” (From the essay Oxford from Without). There is so much theology packed into this quote. What stands out most to me in Chesterton’s thought is the word true. I think that while earthly life consists of toil and repeated work, God planted the seeds for true life to flourish in our earthly lives and hopefully culminating in the heavenly playground if we achieve sainthood. Let me explain.

The opening chapter in Genesis charts out the creation of the world by God. Creation occurred in six days [periods of time] and God rested on the seventh day. Why does God need rest? Is he not outside of time and space—thus He would never tire? The real purpose of the institution of the Sabbath rest on Sunday is because God knows that humanity needs time for rest and recreation! True joy and creativity oftentimes comes from our resting and recreational activities. Last summer I read a biography about St. John Paul II and it talked at length about the saint’s love of skiing. This playful activity was a unique way for the late pope to encounter God and to be recharged to continue his papal duties.

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Going back to the notion of God’s creative genius instituting the holiness of resting on the Sabbath, the Catholic Mass is considered the perfection and fulfillment of the Jewish Sabbath. The retired pope Benedict XVI says it best in his book Spirit of the Liturgy, “It is a ‘playful thing’ in which those gathered for the liturgy can be said to be at play— homo ludens—in the presence of God; it is like children’s play—it is ‘not there to achieve an end’ but is an end in and of itself (p. 2). To expand on this point, whenever I play with my children or friends it is out of love! It ultimately does not matter which game we play—board game, lawn game, basketball, football, or soccer. Within the creative activity of play, a joy arises similar to the joy I experience during a Catholic liturgy where I receive the gift of the Eucharist every week.

While work and toil certainly has its place in our earthly lives—and even is a means to holiness—we should not forget the importance of play as a means to holiness as well. As a person who tends to be more on the serious side, Chesterton’s words are a shot of theological medicine that thaw my impatient heart. This week my challenge to myself is to look for God’s creative Holy Spirit in playing with my young children!