Perfection with limitations
Beauty abounds in the Wisconsin winter. I celebrate it most mornings by skiing through the snowy woods or across frozen lake Wingra. I don't get out every morning. I took this photo this morning from the jetway as I was getting on the plane to fly off to preach this weekend in North Dakota. I won't be out skiing today, trading trees and fresh air for airport security, travel restrictions, and meeting people I have never met before.
But I will find beauty as I pass through my day, just not the overwhelming beauty of the first light of dawn reflecting off a snow drift as the woods open to a frozen meadow. I will glimpse beauty through safety glass on my way from here to there, and in some way this limitation and fleetingness will make it all the more beautiful.
Today the Church celebrates the conversion of St. Paul. I am reminded of this passage from his Second Letter to the Corinthians:
"To keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong."
Paul is boasting of his weakness. This "thorn in the flesh" had to be more than mere physical pain. It was a pain in his soul. Paul had seen the greatness of God's gift in Christ, believed in it, committed himself to work to spread it, and yet still saw in himself a moral weakness that undermined his work. He could not do that thing that God was calling him to, that he wanted to do—or, he could not do it alone. He could only do it by relying on the grace of God.
Conversion is always in process. It is never finished. Paul believed and fought his entire life to live into that belief, but he never got there. He always had to trust God to give him the grace he needed each day to do what needed to be done that day. In this life, to believe is to glimpse perfection and to know limitations.