Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tempered, Twisted Steel

Yesterday morning, in his homily, Father quoted a poem by Fr. Gordon Gilsdorf, from the book "Ashes to Easter"

We look for mystic gold
and search for silvered ecstasy;
but saints are made of a
tempered twisted piece of steel

The imagery of this poem caught me off-guard at 6:45 in the morning. I related to it on a visceral level. In so many ways, this poem speaks of me. (Not that I, in any way, mean to imply that I am a saint).

I think of my perfectionism, my constant search for "mystic gold," my striving for that "silvered ecstacy." I think of how often I get frustrated with all that lacks in me.

I look for the same things in my spiritual life. I look for those moments of deep union with God, those glorious consolations He provides from time to time. I want my prayer time to be peaceful, fruitful, focused. I want to see myself growing in holiness, becoming more Christ-like in my thoughts and actions, loving deeper, forgiving more.

But what I see most often resembles twisted steel. I see deep frustrations, quick impatience, and lots of little moments of selfishness. I see prayer time that is interrupted, unfocused, sometimes downright chaotic. I look deeply at myself and see all the places where I am lacking, where I am broken.

I read the poem again.

One little word stands out this time: tempered. The steel is not simply twisted. Not simply malformed. It is tempered. It is strengthened and "toughened." According to Wikipedia, steel is tempered to transform brittle materials into a form that is "strong and ductile." Strong I get. But ductile I look up... here, it refers to malleability, the property of being able to stretch, take on new shapes, but not to the point of fracturing.

I read the poem again.

This time, I focus not on where I am lacking, not on the failure to reach the "mystic gold" and the "silvered ecstacy." Those moments of peace, consolation, achievement are wonderful... but fleeting. My mind lingers over "tempered, twisted piece of steel."

The process of tempering requires heat, delicate balance and control. It is a process that is imposed upon the steel by outside sources. Someone must control the process, must watch over carefully to ensure the balance is met, so that the end result is a strong, useful piece of metal.

I am the twisted piece of steel. I am not doing the tempering. I am not controlling the process, ensuring that a delicate balance is met. But I can see the things that are tempering me. I can see the heat that is applied, the careful combination of experiences and challenges that are uniquely mine.

And I will trust that He who is controlling this process will guide me into a form that is "strong and ductile."

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