The Weight of Knowledge

I was cleaning out my emails today, a never ending task it seems like, when I stumbled across an email from my mom. She had sent it a few weeks ago, but I have no memory of actually reading what it said (sorry Mom!)! I must have clicked on it with the intention to read it, most likely from my phone, and got distracted by something and never went back. I’m so thankful that I found it today.

My mom was telling me about a book she is reading called The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Bloom. It is about a Dutch family who bravely hid Jews and others during World War II. Here is what my mom shared with me:

Corrie and her dad were alone on a train and she asked him what ‘sexsin’ was.  First of all I never heard that word but clearly it was not something a very young girl should know about.

He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing.  At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads and set it on the floor.  “Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said.  I stood up and tugged at it.  It was crammed with watches and spare parts he had purchased this morning.  “It’s too heavy,” I said.  “Yes,” he said.  And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load.  It is the same way, Corrie, with knowledge.  Some knowledge is too heavy for children.  When you are older and stronger you can bear it.  For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”

A couple of things. First – WOW, what an awesome Dad! How many of us, when presented with a question like that, get some kind of deer-in-the-headlights, defensive, uh, oh dear Lord what am I going to say to that, kind of face? It’s like we have some kind of fight or flight response when our children ask us questions about the human body, why people mistreat one another or to explain words and concepts that are beyond their comprehension or appropriateness.

Second, I love how physical this response is. Corrie’s dad didn’t explain to her something that was too old for her. Nor did he yell at her for asking about something she shouldn’t know anything about. He didn’t tell her it was a grown-up thing and she couldn’t know. He wasn’t awkward, anxious or upset. Instead he was calm and deliberate. He gave her something physical that she could relate to, the large traveling case. It’s contents were important for the family (her father was a watchmaker and repairer) and would one day be important for Corrie. But not yet. She was still young, too young to shoulder the burden. Her dad gently relates the heaviness of the case to the weight and responsibility of knowledge.

Third, does this sound like any other father’s you might know? God, our heavenly Father, has been telling us from the beginning of time to take care, because knowledge comes responsibility and consequences (literally, look at Adam and Eve). Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t learn anything because with knowledge comes responsibility and consequences.

As babies we learn how to talk. The consequence is that now we can express ourselves, our needs, desires, thoughts and emotions. That’s great! As we mature in our speech, we learn that we are responsible for our words. We learn that there are things we should say like please and thank you. We learn that there are things we should not say. Our knowledge of speech gives us great freedom, but we must accept both the consequences and responsibility for that freedom. The same comes with learning to walk, learning to read, learning to ride a bike, learning how to cook and job skills. This knowledge is wonderful, when learned at the right time and at the appropriate speed.

And so with God. Think about some of the great saints – St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Bl (soon to be Saint) Mother Teresa, and many others. Something incredible about each of their journeys of faith is that they all went through a period of darkness, a dark night of the soul. They were permitted to participate in the darkness and emptiness of the Cross, the intense feelings of abandonment and aridity that Jesus experienced for our salvation. Both Mother Teresa and St. Faustina share experiencing the unquenchable thirst of Christ for the love of souls. Why is it these saints experienced this kind of backwards union with Jesus when the rest of us don’t?

I believe it is for the simple reason that God knew it was a weight they could carry. God does not shoulder all of us with the same spiritual experiences indiscriminately. The joys and burdens we experience are equally unique gifts from our Father who works all things for our good (cf. Romans 8:28).

The Weight of Knowledge from Daily Graces at
Library by Stewart Butterfield via Flickr (2006). CC. Modified by Kate Taliaferro 2016.

Are there things in your life that you do not understand? Are things not timing out the way you want? Are you struggling to understand a piece of theology or mystery that seems to elude you? When this happens to me, I usually inevitably start to think in a negative way that God is keeping something from me or that I’m not smart enough/strong enough to handle it.  And maybe that’s exactly right. Maybe I’m not ready to handle something or God knows that a deeper understanding of a mystery will not be good for my faith at this time. It’s hard to not only admit but embrace our weakness. But rather than getting defensive and letting my feathers be ruffled that God is keeping something from me, I’m going to turn the attitude around. God, as a loving parent, is sheltering me from knowledge that I am not ready to handle. He will not keep it from me forever and I trust His timing.

After all, Jesus didn’t start his ministry with his death. That would have been too much, too soon, to incomprehensible. He made sure the disciples had a good foundation, he formed them and helped them grow, so that when the incomprehensible happened, they survived (it wasn’t pretty or perfect, but with help from the Holy Spirit, they were able to change the world).


Book Review: My Sisters The Saints: A Spiritual Memoir

Book Review: My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir. #DailyGracesI have struggled to write this book review. Colleen Carroll Campbell’s My Sisters The Saints: A Spiritual Memoir is thoughtfully written, compelling and and personal. She opens more than just a window into her life’s journey as she explores her spiritual transformation with the reader. Truthfully, I loved this story and connected with Campbell on many points.

My struggle with writing this review comes into play as soon as I start talking about the trials of Colleen’s life and how she chose to face them. Colleen’s father, a strong spiritual figure in her life and one of the guiding forces which lead her to encounter spiritual mentors such as St. Maria Faustina and St. Teresa of Avila, suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease. These sections were difficult for me to read because my own great-grandmother suffered from this disease. I hope that anyone who reads this book and has a personal connection to Alzheimer’s will find Campbell’s writing inspirational, even if it does highlight wounds and loss, fresh or otherwise.

One of Colleen’s and her husband’s greatest crosses which she humbly shares was their struggle with infertility. The Campbell’s road to parenthood was long, complicated, full of feelings of defeat and hopelessness, and required all of their faith and trust in God. Through this process, Colleen discovered through the Blessed Virgin Mary and Mother Theresa what spiritual motherhood truly means. She also beautifully expressed what it means to carry one’s cross:

I wanted to analyze and dissect my cross, to know how long I would have to carry it and how my carrying it would glorify God. Like a groggy patient fighting to sit upright amid her operation so she can monitor her surgeon’s progress, I wanted to stand outside my suffering and scrutinize God’s work in my soul as he accomplished it.

Jesus, I realized, wanted none of this. He did not need my supervision, and he was not asking me to understand my cross. He was asking me to carry it. He wanted me to wake up each morning, bend a knee on the cold wooden floor beside my bed, and offer that day’s sufferings and joys for whatever purpose he wished to use them. He wanted me to joyfully embrace my daily duties and leave the big picture to him.

Page 166

I’m not going to spoil what happens in the book. But I do feel obligated to offer a word of caution for anyone who has struggled with infertility. Campbell’s struggle was real, constant and long. In today’s world of fertility treatments and options, more and more Catholics are choosing to use alternative means to try and conceive their children. These children are beautiful gifts of God and are cherished joys for their parents, no matter how they came into being. Hopefully, the Campbell’s story will encourage and inspire those families who share the same struggle and choices that they faced.

Maybe I’m overthinking the issues, but I want to make sure that anyone thinking about reading this book is ready for the journey ahead of them. It was a beautiful book and for me at least, very life giving.

Book Review: My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women Who Showed Me How To Live

My Badass Book of Saints #dailygraces #bookreview kktaliaferro.wordpress.comWith such a title, who wouldn’t want to pick up this book?! I have to say, it certainly grabbed my attention. Even the cover is great. Maria Morera Johnson, author of My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women Who Showed Me How to Live, is a college professor, blogger and radio host who has selected a beautiful and badass group of women that are sure to inspire you. Not only has she chosen named saints (that is, saints with a capital St.) but she has also chosen bold, courageous and devoted women from a variety of backgrounds. For Johnson, to be truly badass you are, in her native Spanish, tremendaTremenda means “tremendous, sometimes. It also means terrific, and terrible. It translates to bold. Daring. Fearless. Stalwars. Smart. Courageous…But mostly, it means badass” (xvi).

Johnson weaves the lives of these badass women with her own story, a first generation Cuban-American, military wife and mother. The women, 24 in total, each represent characteristics that Johnson considers “badass.” They are audacious, courageous, missionaries, advocates, selfless, passionate, compassionate, and virtuous, to name just a few. At the end of each chapter, Johnson offers reflection questions on the highlighted quality and how we as people of faith can integrate the lessons from these women into our life.

Some of the saints and women I knew about already. Consider how St. Joan of Arc would be a model of courage, St. Catherine of Siena a model of advocacy or St. Gianna Beretta Molla a model of human dignity. I also knew about Audrey Hepburn and her work with the UN and Immaculee Ilibagiza and how she not only survived but found forgiveness in the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.

I was blown away by the women I had never heard of. Did you know that Sr. Blandina Segale stood up to Billy the Kid not once but 3 times!? Or how about Nancy Wake, an Australian socialite turned super secret spy for the French Resistance and was so good at it the Nazi’s never figured out who she was?! Or Phyllis Bowman who founded the Right to Life movement in 1998, but started her work on behalf of the unborn in the mid-1960s by forming the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in the United Kingdom?

The women in this book are incredible. They are more than beautiful, they are more than strong, they are more than awesome. They really are badass.