Here’s another way of thinking about the work of our lifetime: We mold and behold.
The phrase came from the American Catholic moral theologian William E. May (1928 – 2014). There’s a lot packed into these seemingly simple words, mold and behold. It’s not a matter of embracing one and not the other. Together they give rise to life.
Through discipline, practice and determination, the Olympic medalists molded themselves into athletes who passed the limits of others and sometimes themselves. Athletes who try to mold themselves into super athletes also find tension as they succeed “this far and not as far as they want to go.”
Parents mold their children in many ways – offering them opportunities, testing their desires and talents. But parents need to accept their children for who they are, even as they try to mold them. As a result, tension is, not surprisingly, woven into family life.
We’ve seen some of these family and athletic dramas unfold during the Olympics. But do parents recall that they are given children by God to love unconditionally? And do athletes love themselves even though they are unpredictable? Molding goes only so far. Beyond that – and perhaps, more to the point, at the same time as parents, athletes, people in general grapple with life, wisdom bids them to behold life as a journey that cannot be confined to our molding of it.
Enter awe and wonder, realities that are hard to discern much less embrace. In our day, people are so quick to look and then move on, to ask a question and not wait for the whole answer. We don’t even realize how much we pass by.
Wonder requires a full stop before that which is wondrous – to take it in, relish it, recognize that it is not for us to own, not for our consumption but to hold gently and then let go. Awe can be curious, beckoning us to delve deeper, but we can never claim complete understanding of what we truly behold. Sometimes we have to rein in our desire to control and just look, taste, touch, feel, hear, allow ourselves to be caught up in the wondrous.
Life in us is mediated through the divine. Jesus, in John 10.10 says of himself: “I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.” He does not reduce the lame, the anguished, seekers after truth, justice and healing into people to be molded. Instead, Jesus releases in them the good that has been suppressed, the love that has been warped or rejected, the awe that raises them out of themselves.
This week, I invite you to join me in taking time for wonder – in the nighttime sky, the rainbow, the face of an old person who has experienced what (s)he would not have expected from life.
In the presence of the truly awesome, come to a full stop. Look. Listen. Be reverent. Let wonder take the lead. Let’s not try to shape it by our own desires.
~ Sister Joan Sobala