The very fine 1980's French film, Therese, presented a series of vignettes of the life of St. Therese of Lisieux (aka The Little Flower). One scene takes place in the attic where Therese is putting away a costume she wore in a convent play having depicted Saint Joan of Arc. A young nun, clearly unstable and hissing anger, comes out from behind a rack of costumes, verbally accosting Therese, "This place is crazy!" Therese shrugs her shoulders and says simply, "It is my niche."
Now we know that Therese wasn't referring just to the convent buildings. In her letters, she gives indications that she is fully aware of the convent's craziness. In photographs of the Lisieux community, you don't need to be a psychiatrist to realize Therese was far and away the most stable and healthy of the sisters.
But for the spiritually minded person, niche means that inner place, that mental-heart place, that interior habitat where one knows there is a fit, where I am most comfortable, not for purposes of escape but to be the person God intended for me to become. And despite the weaknesses of the others and the sometimes narrow and even life-denying Catholicism of her day, Therese believed the convent supported that niche-life.
And we're all invited to discover our niche, that inner place I might call home, where I know, when all is said and done, that I am not alone. For the Christian, niche is that inner place where I am secure in the fundamental choice I have made, and make again and again, to live in God as God is revealed to me in Christ.
The little ferns in the photo here have found their niche at the base of an old and giant white pine tree. They have found the place to grow, to put down roots, safe from trampling feet and the cars on the nearby dirt road, safe from the lawnmower and the weed-whacker. Can you feel their comfort and security? And do I have my own personal experience of that? I might at once think of some outer-life support:
- when I travel alone in the car
- as I pray the Mass or the rosary
- in the lighting of the candle before the icon
- as I open the Gospel page
- in my home visiting
- my volunteer work
- in the garden where I work alone
- walking or jogging along the wooded path
But ultimately the niche is an inner reality where I experience God as Illumination and Truth, and all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well, Medieval plague-survivor Saint Juliana said.
I came across this little proverb from a Hindu text which I've adjusted so slightly to make it more understandable for the Christian.
His (Her) mind is dead
to the touch of the external.
It is alive
to the bliss of God
because his heart knows God
his happiness is for ever.
A final thought: The heart's knowledge of God is not synonymous with having one's doctrine and ethic in good order. Being a staunch defender of the faith is no guarantee that my heart knows God. Indeed, the Vatican bishop who oversees communications has said recently that the Catholic blogger world is a cesspool of hate - all in the name of defending the faith. You would think that Catholics are against everyone and everything.
That my heart would know God? Biblically, heart means: my intellect, awareness, mind, inner person, inner feelings, deepest thoughts, inner self, my inner yearnings.
But how? The psalms make thirteen references to being and remaining awake spiritually. And Jesus makes some sixteen references to watching. Indeed, the first persons to meet Jesus are the shepherds who are watching at night. Today in a sleepy, distracted, drugged, zombie-world, we might say simply, pay attention.