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The Power to Submit

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The movie Akeelah and the Bee tells the story of Akeelah, a super-smart 11-year-old underachiever from a poor urban neighborhood whose principal asks her to let spelling expert Dr. Joshua Larabee help her qualify for the Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Akeelah's first reaction is not enthusiastic. "So everyone can call me a freak and a brainiac? No. I ain't down with no spelling bee." She only agrees when the principal offers her a deal: hop onto the spelling bee circuit or sit in detentions and summer school for all the classes she's cut.

Dr. Larabee starts Akeelah's training by making her read aloud part of a quotation by Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. ... We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

I thought about that scene and that quotation recently when I read a certain passage from St. Faustina's Diary. In the passage, Faustina describes the times when it seems as if even God has abandoned her, and of those times, Faustina tells the Lord, "I arm myself with patience and silence, like a dove that does not complain and feels no bitterness when its children are being taken from it" (Diary, 209).

I read that passage two or three times, and gradually I realized that the words frightened me. The image of a meek and helpless dove giving up her babies without a fight — without even a feeling of resistance — made me feel surprised, awed, vulnerable, and very nervous. I underlined the sentence and wrote a question in the margin of the page: "Are we afraid to be saints?"

Faustina could not have imagined herself as a humble creature offering her most precious treasures to God unless she had found within herself the unfathomable power to submit. Yet I reacted with nervousness to the passage because, like Akeelah, I have a human tendency to shy away from opportunities for true greatness In other words, I don't always allow God to work in me without trying to set limits on Him.

Sometimes our reluctance to surrender comes simply from our fear of where God may take us if we hand over the reins to Him. But sometimes it comes from a shyness about our faith that surfaces when we face the possibility of letting our "light shine before men" (Mt 5:16). It can be hard to stand out. Like Akeelah, we don't want our peers to call us freaks. Part of our humanity is a natural desire to belong.

Saint Faustina understands what it's like to be labeled and criticized. Even among the other nuns, she encountered ridicule during her lifetime for her arduous devotion to God. "When the Lord demanded that I should paint [the Divine Mercy Image], [the sisters] began to speak openly about me and to regard me as a hysteric and a fantasist, and the rumors began to grow louder," she writes (Diary, 125).

There have been many times when I've wanted to mention God but have kept my mouth shut, or I've skipped saying grace when eating with friends, or I've wanted to make the sign of the cross and say a prayer when passing a cemetery or hospital but have restrained myself because someone else was with me.

Saint Faustina, however, endured the thoughtlessness and misunderstanding of her sisters because she knew that God's way was the only path she could rationally follow. Faustina also knew that without Him she was too weak to overcome her human fears and attain the greatness He had planned for her. "Oh, how everything drags men to earth!" she wrote. "But lively faith maintains the soul in the higher regions" (Diary, 210).

In the movie, once Akeelah begins to discover her capabilities, nothing can make her happy except to fulfill them. Likewise, the more time we spend with God, the harder it is to justify blocking His plans. We become irresistibly attracted to the beauty that only He can bring out of us, and eventually no uncertainty or abuse can scare us enough to make us want to stop Him.
Despite all the fears and insecurities that still remain in us, we can come to God and say to Him with St. Faustina, "I will not grow weary, because it is on You that I am leaning — O You, my Strength!" (Diary, 209) Then, as we place ourselves in His hands, He will teach us how to "be guided not by human dispositions, but by those of the spirit" (Diary, 210) and so give us the courage to become what He made us to be: no less than saints.

Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.

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Marymol - Jul 4, 2007

Wonderful insight! Thanks!!

Bea - Jul 3, 2007

Thanks for your beautiful insights.

Mary - Jul 3, 2007

Thank you Marian, for such a beautiful story. I deeply appreciate your willingness to expose your vulnerability in your writings. You don't preach so much as share.