The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic podcast episode.
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Today is episode 134: Light at Every Stage (St. Clare)
Hi friends. Today we continue our summer series with reflections from my time in Rome, and today it is all about the many stages and details of our lives. You know, when I was a little girl, for some reason, it never occurred to me to dream about what I would be when I grew up. Maybe you can relate to that, or maybe not, but as I think about it, I can’t really remember anyone even asking me that question, which is sort of funny, I guess. I remember looking as far ahead as the next day or the next week, but very few of my thoughts then were about my capital F-future.
As I write these words today, I embody the future that that little girl could not have envisioned. I am alone in my little house on a summer day with my dog, Bailey, asleep next to me on a little blue loveseat. I started this day on my front porch with my coffee and smoothie, as I prayed and watched the wind move through the big rhododendron out in front. This morning, I walked through the rooms in my little house, cheered by each color on the walls and the memories of the babies who once stood up in cribs in their little sleepers, reaching for me each morning. Today, I thought about some of the many things that happened in those childhood rooms, all of the growth of my kids whom I was privileged to mother and who now are growing in their own spaces. Later, I nodded at the sunflowers standing tall in containers in a couple of rooms, along with some trimmed pear tree and hydrangea branches that I brought in from outside. Later, I’ll do some admin work for my music class business while eating my lunch, which probably will be a hummus toast with feta, cucumber, and a squeeze of lemon – that’s my new favorite lunch, along with an icy half-lemonade, half-sparkling water combo which is my new favorite drink. Through the course of this day, I’ll probably take a couple of walks and I’ll work on sending these words out to you.
This is a good day. A good life. It’s not perfect by any means, but it is good. So, how did I get from the little girl who had no idea what her future might bring to this current day, decades later? It’s a good question. I am so often surprised by the simple joy I’ll find by looking around at things like the colors in my home and I’ll catch myself wondering, how did that cheerful yellow pillow get here, or how did I get so lucky to have a front porch with a breeze going through it? How is it that my job is teaching music with little kids, probably the very thing that my little-girl self would have hoped for if she had known she could hope for it. In part, the pieces of my life are because of me, my own choices, and my own work, but a large part of it is grace. I have walked in the light that God has given me, step by step, at each stage of life. As the song says, grace has brought me safe thus far but also, grace has brought color to my life in a way that I could not have accomplished on my own. My efforts and God’s grace are happening at the same time, through each version of the ‘me’ that I have been in time.
When I was a little girl, I could not have imagined this life, could not have pictured the blue and white patterned plates on the wall, could not have imagined using the running shoes I see in the corner by the front door, or all of the other things that I have, by God’s grace, picked out for both for my home and, much more importantly, my life. When I was small, I did not picture my marriage or my struggle with infertility or the huge, all-encompassing experience of raising my son and my daughter. I could not have pictured myself as an advocate for school funding, or as a cantor at church, or as a preschool music teacher, or a business owner, a writer or podcaster, but in my life, I have been all of those things. When I was little, I could not imagine the many relationships I have had over the decades, all of the interactions and friendships and crossed paths that have made such a difference in my life, and hopefully, in some of theirs, too. And I could not imagine ever sharing my life with a dog, not ever, but I am truly so glad to share my life with this one.
When I was a little girl, I didn’t know how happy an heirloom tomato and a pint of shishito peppers from the local farm would make me, or the true foodie that I would become. Truthfully, I did not even know that those things existed. Believe it or not, an earlier version of me boiled pasta and steamed frozen broccoli for dinner every single night, but as we can say with every earlier version of us, she was doing her best. As Dr. Maya Angelou said, when we know better, we do better.
As humans, we cannot see our trajectories, all of the things that will happen and teach us and shift our realities over time. We can’t see the totality of how we will be remembered in the end, because we don’t yet know all of the versions of us that will exist between the beginning and the end, whenever that might be, and we don’t know just what about us might resonate with someone else when we are gone.
The version of me who fought for school funding directly led to the version of me who teaches preschool music today. One would simply not exist without the other. That letter-to-the-editor-writing version of me made friends with people that another version might not have, and those connections led to more possibilities, and on and on. As you might see in your own life, one version of us always leads to another version, and that’s just the pattern of how we grow.
In every artistic representation or icon of a saint, there are elements or objects that serve to symbolize that saint, no matter the artist. For example, for St. Patrick, he will always be dressed as a bishop and he will always hold a shamrock, representing the trinity. St. Joan of Arc is shown dressed in armor, with white lilies representing purity, fleur-de-lis representing France, and a red ribbon which represents her martyr’s death. For St. Clare of Assisi, she is dressed in a simple Franciscan habit, and she holds both lilies and a Eucharistic monstrance. These symbols are chosen intentionally and are used consistently, as they are keys to understanding the stories of the saints.
So, all of that to say, friend, if someone were to make an icon of you today, as a saint-in-progress, what symbols would they include? Would a painting of me necessarily include something about music, or maybe that heirloom tomato I love so much, or something symbolizing my prayer or my writing, my kids or my dog, Bailey, all the things that are so very important to me today?
The truth is, we don’t know. It can be easy for we humans to look at our lives only through the lens of the present, but in reality, each of us have been so many different people over time. We’ve learned and adjusted and grown at so many stages, and God-willing, we will continue to grow and shift and pivot until the day we go home to Heaven.
When you read the life of a saint, what you get is an incomplete picture of their humanity. There are the prominent stories that are told over and over, but usually not much nuance. St. Clare became friends with St. Francis. She started an order of nuns who lived according to the Rule that St. Francis created which was rooted in poverty, and that’s why the members of her order were called Poor Clares. She once defended her sisters from invaders by holding up a monstrance which contained the Eucharist, and according to the story, the attackers all fled in fear. Clare’s rough brown habit, which you can see today displayed in St. Clare’s Basilica, is featured in all of her art, as is that monstrance.
There’s also a story about a particular Christmas Eve when Clare was too ill to attend mass, but she received a vision of that mass on her wall which was so clear that she could name every friar at the celebration. Because of this, Clare is considered the patron saint of television.
Now, all of these details come together to make a picture of St. Clare which features the details that people chose to remember over time, along with her words which of course reflect much more of her internal reality. In studying and reflecting on the life of any saint, we might be able to see how one stage led to another, but we’ll never understand the complete picture of a human life simply by a collection of their symbols or their stories.
I know why pops of yellow and blue in my home in the summer make me so happy, and I know why shopping for and cooking with really good produce and then sharing that food with people matters to me so deeply, but no one else really could know that. People can see me sing in a church or connect with preschoolers in a music class, but no one can know how those experiences feel so profoundly holy to me on the inside.
The human experience is such a strange, grand adventure. We contain all of the versions of us that ever existed, as we learn and grow and become who we will be in time. And as I consider St. Clare by her symbols and her stories, I find myself wondering about her doubts and her wandering and her dreams and even what a regular Tuesday looked like to her, because, friend, we all have our Tuesdays. St. Clare famously instructed, “Place your mind before the mirror of eternity,” and I guess that’s right. Doing our best to zoom out and to see our lives in totality as kindly as God might see us is a practice that we should all engage in. But having grace for every version of us, welcoming the light in at every stage, as we continue to become who we will one day be remembered for, well, that’s something we should do, too, because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We can’t predict the symbols and the stories that will tell the arc of our lives. And we still might not know what we want to be when we grow up. Friend, that’s okay, I totally relate to that. Just like Clare, we are walking it all out in God’s grace. We have the light of God’s Providence for every detail of every stage, and I guess I’d just like to say that for today, that is enough.
Thanks so much for being with me today. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my website at kerrycampbell.org. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend. That really makes a difference in growing our community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with some resources related to today’s episode, so do check all of that out, but before we go, let’s pray together.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
In the words of our friend, St. Clare:
Lord, may we place our minds before the mirror of eternity!
May we place our souls in the brilliance of glory!
May we place our hearts in the figure of the divine substance!
And may we transform our whole beings into the image of the Godhead Itself
May we, like Clare, feel what His friends feel
as we taste the hidden sweetness
which God Himself has reserved
from the beginning
for those who love Him.
In the name of Jesus and wrapped in the mantle of our mother, Mary, we pray, Amen.
Thank you for listening today, friend. I’ll see you next time.
This week continues a summer series on a bunch of spiritual takeaways and epiphanies I experienced while on pilgrimage in Rome. I hope this one about looking at our lives in stages of grace is a meaningful one for you.
If you’d like to connect with me, find me on Instagram or at my website. If you’d like to help support this podcast financially, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me on my page at buymeacoffee.com! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!
Thanks as always to my friend, Peter Vaughan-Vail, for providing the beautiful harp music you hear in this and every episode.
Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:
1. St. Clare of Assisi basics and short video from Franciscan Media
2. St. Clare of Assisi icon and short biography by Theophilia
3. Guide to Basilica of St. Clare
4. Blog/Podcast – Every Flower Created – St. Clare – Sunflower
5. Song: St. Clare, by Suzanne Vega
6. Journal questions:
What is one story that might be told of me by those who know and love me?
What is one story by which I would want to be known?
What are three symbols that might be included in an icon of me today, as a saint-in-training?
7. Reflection on St. Clare by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration
8. Song: I Am, by Kirk Franklin