In many recent years, my skin regularly develops cracks. They happen on some of my fingers, right at the corner of my nails. Gosh do those little cracks hurt. And they can be so slow to heal. A priest got me started using a product called Udder Cream which I ‘lather’ onto the top halves of my hands at night, and then I pull on thin white cotton gloves and I sleep with this on my hand(s) for two or three nights. (Can you spell romantic?) This approach doesn’t heal the cracks but it seems to soften my skin and the softness allows the cracks to close up within three days or so.
Have you ever experienced this problem? It’s a dryness that winter seems to gift me with. It started when we lived in Colorado (up at 7,500 ft. elevation), and it’s happening in north central Arizona (at 5,000 ft.). The area of pain is small but acute and I guess I must be a wimp. The cracked, sore skin distracts me at times. Imagine being distracted as I type on the keyboard of my computer, or when I go to wash off a dish or something at the kitchen sink. Imagine not wanting to wash something for the sake of a bit of pain or adding to the damage to the cracked area.
And yet, there are things I can do. I can just put up with it, quietly. I can put on rubber gloves and go ahead and wash the dishes, or clean the toilet or whatever else I might try to avoid when not wearing the gloves.
This aridity reminds me of the faith journey that we all experience. I have times of seeming good progress in my faith journey. Perhaps coincidental, this seems to be more often in summer than in winter. And then there are times when I experience faith-aridity. During these weeks, I don’t feel that enthusiastic about some of my regular prayer practices. Adoration can be rote. I try to fast once a week, and a lot of times I don’t look forward to it.
The great mystic, St. Padre Pio once said, “Winter is necessary for us to practice self-denial and the thousand and one small beautiful virtues that one must practice in times of sterility.”
And so, I think this means that we are to continue the journey whether we are pleased and joyous or dry and brittle. And yet — there are small things we can do. Therese of Lisieux is one of my favorite ‘simple’ saints. She gave us her famous ‘Little Way.’
“In times of aridity when I am incapable of praying, of practicing virtue, I seek little opportunities, mere trifles, to give pleasure to Jesus; for instance a smile, a pleasant word when inclined to be silent and to show weariness. If I find no opportunities, I at least tell Him again and again that I love Him; that is not difficult and it keeps alive the fire in my heart. Even though this fire of love might seem extinct I would still throw little straws upon the embers and I am certain it would rekindle.”
Isn’t that beautiful? Little things done even when we don’t feel like it are like straws upon the embers of our faith walk. The Little Way is filled with such images. I can smile at someone that I may not feel inclined to acknowledge. I can reach out to someone who doesn’t seem that attractive a personality. Like Therese, I can pick up a pin that fell to the floor and which most people would just ignore. We can pick up the pin (or the socks or pajama bottom) that someone else let behind — and we can put the item where it should be. And then rather than calling attention to it – just smile and say, “That was for you, Jesus.”
For over ten years, I’ve tried to emulate an Irish priest from Ocala, Florida. His name is Fr. Patrick J. O’Doherty. He taught me (and countless others) about The Little Flower and about the use of Sacrifice Beads. His team at Queen of Peace parish have made something like 100,000 of these Sacrifice Beads. Imagine the countless little sacrifices they’ve inspired all over the world.
And now, for over a decade, I’ve been in the habit of giving these beads away as well. I send along a little instruction sheet which tells about Therese of Lisieux and her Little Way. I share that these beads helped bring about change in my life. They’ve probably helped bring about change in hundreds and hundreds of other lives. And yet, they are such small things. Ten beads with a Crucifix at one end and a medal of some saint at the other. Ten beads that people carry on their person to remind themselves to practice little things. It’s such a Little Way to make changes — and to get past the dryness we all experience.
If you’d like a set of Sacrifice Beads, please send me your mailing information. I’d love to help you to bring about small change in your life. Even during the winter days of your discontent.
Copyright 2012 Deacon Tom Fox
Copyright 2012 Deacon Tom Fox