On the rosary, and Steve Jobs

Today is the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary.

Honestly, I don’t pray the rosary very often.  That’s not because I don’t like it;  I think it’s a beautiful prayer. Sometimes, I pray a decade or two to kick off my other prayers, as a kind of spiritual palate cleanser.  And I’ve had experiences of praying the entire rosary that were literally transformative.  But when I’ve tried to pray it daily, it just doesn’t work; I can’t keep the routine going.  And though there is a school of thought that says, well, that means you just need to try harder,  I incline more towards the philosophy of the English abbot John Chapman.  “Pray as you can,” he once said, “not as you can’t.”  Those are words that I live by.

I guess this article, posted last year, says it best.  I’m grateful for all the beautiful, comforting, incandescent experiences that the rosary has given me.   And I tend to get those when I pray it rarely, not regularly.

At least, that’s how things stand now.  Who knows?  Someday things could change, and the rosary may become my “Yes, I can!” prayer where the others fail.  That’s what I love about being Catholic: there are so many different delicacies out there to try, to sample, to return to later, when our tastes have altered.

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On a radically different note, I — like many of us — was saddened to hear about the death of Steve Jobs on Wednesday.   That reaction, in itself, surprised me.  It’s not like I’ve ever been a techie, or someone who follows the latest innovations (I am surely the last person in the greater Bay Area without a smartphone).   But he has, in fact, been a part of my life for a long time.  Here’s why.

I grew up in Silicon Valley, a place that was once called the Valley of Heart’s Delight for all the fruit trees that grew there.   Over the course of my own lifetime, the landscape changed as the apricot orchards gave way to Apple campuses.  My dad was an engineer, as were the dads of many of my friends.   They worked at IBM or Apple or for the many tech startups that dotted the valley.

As a bookish kid, I paid little attention to the technology around me.  (That is still mostly true, to be perfectly honest.)  And yet I knew about Steve Jobs;  everyone did.  His name was one of those names that you heard over dinner, as your parents talked about dad’s work and you and your sister waited politely for them to be done so you could talk about something more interesting.   The things he created, the company he led, the imprint he left all over the place where I lived — he was as much a part of the landscape as the foothills around us.

Years later, when I met Scott, I heard his own Steve Jobs story, which dated back to the time that Scott had a small software business with some friends.  They were meeting with Steve to give him a demo of their software for the NEXT operating system.  The meeting was not exactly relaxed and amiable; it ended abruptly,  with some profanity on Steve’s part, which is a story that many people in the valley can tell.  And yet Scott — who now works fulltime in ministry but has retained his inner geek — has tremendous respect for what Steve accomplished.  “I kind of regret that my one experience with him wasn’t more positive,” he said last night over dinner.  And he shared his reflections on one reason why Apple was so successful: Steve inspired others to “wow” him.  He made people want to bring their A-game, to innovate, to knock his socks off with what they were able to accomplish in his company.

I’m hardly the entrepreneurial type, but I see the value in that.  Some people are so passionate about bringing their A-game that it makes others rise to the occasion, wanting to match their intensity and passion.  And whether you work with words or children or bricks or lines of complicated code, there’s a useful lesson there.   Don’t hold back.  See what you’re capable of doing.  You just may surpass everyone’s expectations … especially your own.

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