The Way of BeautyBalancing Our Lives: 'The Great Game'

Imagine a painting that depicts a young girl taking one step at a time along the top of a fence.  Titling her arms now to the right, now to the left, she tries to maintain her balance to the very end.  Despite her lithe and willing body, it’s not easy.

Thus far, it’s been a game, but when it comes to balancing time spent with her family, on schoolwork and other activities, the girl must discover the meaning of the word while she lives her life.  As an adult, she will discover what most of us already know: that finding one’s balance in life is far more than a game. It’s the great game of life.

The image just described is also a painting entitled, “The Great Game,” a woodcut in watercolor by Sr. Marion Honors, C.S.J.  In this depiction, she captures the beauty of youth intent on play.

The Great Game of Life

Balancing our lives is a perennial challenge for mothers and fathers.   In their desire to give their children as many opportunities as possible, they risk getting frazzled by parental devotion.  Then there are other duties, perhaps caring for a sick relative. Balancing the demands of family life is never easy. 

For clergy and consecrated men and women, balancing our lives is not easier—to be “men and women for others” and also men and women at prayer.  This is our vocation.

The Life of Jesus Christ

When we look at the life of Christ, what do we see?  Jesus was a serene person, able to balance his life between prayer and his itinerant ministry. Yet, there were a few times when he stepped out of character.  Recall Peter’s show of dismay, even of irritation, at the mention of the Lord’s Passion. Jesus turns to him with the harsh rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan” (Mt 16:23)!  Who of us would have liked to be on the receiving end of this rebuke? 

When Jesus goes to the temple and finds moneychangers there, his actions shock; he angrily turns over the tables of money: “My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it into a den of thieves” (Mk 11:15-17; Mt 21: 12-13; Jn 2:14-17). Jesus is enraged when confronting such irreverence, but his anger is prompted by his Father’s glory.

Balance in the Ordinary

Most of us conduct our activities according to a schedule, whether self-imposed or given from without.  It is in our choices that balance is kept or compromised. Some of us work too much and sleep too little.  Some love too much and risk smothering others.  Some love too little and treat others with cool detachment. What seriously compromises our balance? The inner and outer life need to be in harmony with each other. 

Ingrid Bergman and Her Choices

Occasionally it happens that a prominent and beloved public figure is denounced by a private scandal. In 1949, at the age of thirty-four, Ingrid Bergman had achieved international status as “the first lady of the screen.”  Moviegoers fell in love with her public persona and equated it with her private life.  Whether as the wife of an Allied Czechoslovakian patriot, a nun or a virgin-saint; whether playing the wife and victim of a crazed husband, a psychiatrist or the daughter of a Nazi war criminal, the glowing beauty thrilled her viewers. Her radiant facial features, pure and natural, her majestic nobility gave the impression of a saintly person with great inner strength. At the time of her death in 1982, Ingrid Bergman had won critical acclaim and awards for almost every role she played:  Oscars, three in all, Emmys, Golden Globes, the David di Donatello Foreign Award.

As 1950 approached, Ms. Bergman’s personal life began to unravel. Her priority had always been acting, not commitment to her husband Dr. Lindstrom, a neurosurgeon, and to their daughter Pia.  Her absences from them lasted for months at a time.

Ingrid Bergman’s desire to diversify her cinematic roles led her to Roberto Rossellini who was directing her first in Italy, “Stromboli.” During the film’s shooting, they began a scandalous affair.  Notoriety followed.  They sought to marry while they were both already married.  Rossellini became the father of her three children, a boy and twin girls.  Six years elapsed before Ms. Bergman returned to this country.  She had been denounced in Hollywood and in Congress but not by the Catholic Legion of Decency.  Her films were to be judged according to their artistic merit and not by her personal life, the Legion observed.

Ms. Bergman, always articulate, offered this statement to the press:  “People saw me in ‘Joan of Arc’ and declared me a saint.  I’m not.  I’m just a woman, another human being.”  

She felt boxed in by her controlling first husband, by the roles she played, and then by the greater control Rossellini exerted on her. After she divorced him, she married Lars Schmidt. Her children have narrated their own experiences. 

More in The Way of Beauty

All this is a matter of record and not intended to cast judgment on Ingrid Bergman’s motives. She is ranked as one of Hollywood’s greatest film stars. The events of her life are here presented to express the dilemma all of us face despite differences of time or circumstance.  And what is that?  We walk not at the top of a fence, as in a game, but on a moral tightrope. There is conflict between the outer and inner person.   

Lent is a good time to regain our precarious balance. It is a time to focus on God’s action in the ordinary details of life where balance is so difficult to achieve.  “To destroy our taste for the ordinary is to interfere with the foundations of our life,” writes Ladislas Orsy, S.J.  He explains: “We need much peaceful monotony to enjoy surprising happenings.  At the time of monotony, the spirit of the inner man awakes.  Not distracted, he can reflect on himself and on the outside world.  The quiet rhythm of the ordinary is the best framework for thinking in depth.  Great deeds and movements never originated in shallow thoughts; all giant trees have deep roots” (The Lord of Confusion, 38-9).  Here is wisdom for balancing “The Great Game” we call our life.

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