A few days ago we celebrated the birthday of Sr. Mary Jane. As is the custom in our community, her place at the dinner table was decorated in a special way. Considering her love of nature, a few small pots of blooming crocuses and one of miniature jonquils adorned her place. Seeing their colors and the new life in them was a joy for all of us.
But also gracing the special place at table was a work of human creativity, ingenuity and love. Sr. Maria Linda created a small Japanese style doll. It was made entirely out of 'found' materials, bits and pieces of fabric and ribbon, shells and match sticks. Love and generosity created a thing of beauty out of the simplest of materials. In another life, Sr. Maria Linda was a Franciscan in a novitiate in Italy. In the simplicity of the Franciscan charism she learned how to produce such works of art.
The religious vow of poverty, especially the solemn vow of poverty which Redemptoristines take, leads us also into this realm of making gifts from virtually nothing. Sometimes these 'nothing gifts' take material form and sometimes they are not material at all. These fall into the category of those little books people still make with tear off coupons for special favors or treats which can be redeemed at will. The giver promises to follow through whenever asked - breakfast in bed, a trip to the store, the gift of a day free from household or family chores. I remember the spiritual bouquets we were taught to prepare as gifts for special family occasions. My father recently found at the bottom of a desk drawer the Father's Day spiritual bouquet (a Mass offered for his intention) that I gave him over fifty years ago.
We are all, in and out of monasteries, so busy these days. Parents are always busy. Husbands and wives are always busy. Friends lose touch with each other. Families become estranged. Communication deteriorates. Children find others to listen to them. Husbands and wives take each other for granted and marvel that when they were courting hours of conversation was the norm. The family community, nuclear and extended, and any religious or monastic community thrive in love where communication happens, when the gift of nothing is given regularly.
So consider the gift of nothing this Valentine's Day. Make something out of nothing. Make something out of the only thing readily at hand, that is yourself. The gift of self comes in the form of time to ask and time to listen. When speaking of getting to know people, someone once said, "If you don't know what an introvert is thinking, you haven't asked. If you don't know what an extrovert is thinking, you haven't listened." The business of taking time to ask and to listen isn't easy. I remember an occasion many years ago when, just as I was about to turn in after a long hard day, a teen aged son came home from being with his friends and wanted to talk. It was the last thing I wanted to do and the first thing I had to do.
There's the gift from the heart you might choose to give this Valentine's Day - a gift for child, spouse, parent, friend, fellow worker, sister or brother in community. Make something beautiful out of nothing.