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On the utility of doorstops

17 May 2013 No Comment
Door (with doorstop) to chapel at Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA

Door (with doorstop) to chapel at Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA

“Why do you have a stage light?” I queried, as we opened the back of the station wagon in Georgetown’s parking garage last fall and a heavy matte black cylinder toppled out. “It’s a doorstop,” declared my eldest, something his tone of voice intimated should have been obvious. Which it should have been. Years have dwelling with technical theater geeks have given me an appreciation for a hitherto unseen ranges of possibilities in everyday objects. Admitedly the transfer usually goes the other way, leaving me peering at some prop mid-production and realizing that my missing side table had not been appropriated for grading midterms but had snuck off to star in the high school production of Noises Off.

The light was plopped into position at Mike’s door, holding open this new space as we moved his boxes in. It was still there when we returned to see him on our spring break, casually rolled into place as we stopped in his room while he checked his laundry.

Mike took his last exam on Friday, but has yet to come home. Instead he is taking a bit of a break between the furious pace of his first academic year and the undoubtedly furious pace of the intensive Greek course that starts in a few days, and musing on his blog about what he’s learned this year (besides a lot of Greek). Earlier this week he wrote about some of the more idiosyncratic items on his college packing list — the inflatable moose head and his doorstop.

“I can’t tell you how many conversations I had about the huge stage light I use as a door stop or the inflatable moose head I kept around for bit,” he writes in “Find a Doorstop.” Not surprisingly, his open door literally led to an openness to new relationships, but he points out that this theatrically sized doorstop worked on other levels. His eccentric doorstop reminded him to be open to new experiences, to things that might not have seemed engaging in the past. To make room in his heart for new people, and new passions.

As I read his reflection, I wondered if Mike remembers the homily at the First Vows mass we were at not quite three years ago. Eight of the Jesuit novices that I had made the Spiritual Exercises with professed their vows in the Society of Jesus that day, and the homilist was Joe Lingan, SJ, who had been their novice master (and who is now at Georgetown, too). In his homily, framed around Gregory the Great’s description of Ignatius of Loyola’s heart as being big enough to encompass the universe, Joe invited us all to consider our own openness of heart: “A vow ceremony is a good occasion to assess the size of one’s heart — it’s openness, flexibility, passion and desire — and to see how and in what way I allow God and God’s grace to assist in the maintenance of my heart.”

I’ve periodically returned to those questions (usually when I run into the prayer card from that occasion that is tucked into my breviary). How flexible is my heart, can it expand? What am I passionate about? Where do I desire to be able to love, and to love, not in the abstract, but in my practical day to day existence?

Mike’s doorstop, drawn straight from one of the passions of his life, makes me think about the doorstops of my heart. What do I use to keep my heart open so that I can love — God and neighbor — passionately, abundantly, joyfully?

The ephemera in my breviary; notes and prayer cards and fragments of palms from Holy Week’s past that I literally use to hold the book open when I pray, but that also serve as reminders to pray for the living and the dead, and to recall the Pascal Mystery that orients my life; the woolen prayer rope bound to my wrist, a bridge to the desert fathers and mothers, who sat on the edge of vastness, open to God; the Examen, returning me to the doorway of each day to contemplate what doors I choose to hold open, which to shut.

These doorstops are tangible graces, God at work in me doing what I cannot do for myself: hold my heart so open that, like Ignatius, it might one day encompass the universe.

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