On Old Lakes and New Eyes

By Jonathan Liedl on August 5, 2020

Rural Outreach and Ministry

Growing up, we had a word for people who drove up from the Twin Cities to summer in cabins on our lakes; we called them “cidiots.”

It’s not a very nice expression (especially considering that summer tourism keeps our small-town Northern Minnesota economies afloat for the rest of the year!), but there is a bit of justification behind it. Because they don’t live here year round, “cidiots” give the impression of simply “using” the same woods and lakes where us year-rounders make our living. Often coming from the well-kept suburbs, they don’t have to pay the price of our bleak and desolate rural winters before enjoying the fruits of our gorgeous summers. What to us is our backyard is to the them a kind of quaint spectacle, an “escape” from the real world. Throw in the traffic conflagrations and the long lines at the boat accesses that accompanied most summer weekends, and you can see why it might be easy for teenage boys growing up in upstate Minnesota to develop a bit of a complex concerning their visitors from the Cities.
It’s been nearly ten years since I’ve called the Northwoods my home. For the past six, I’ve lived in those same Twin Cities I used to disdain on principle. I love living in the Cities; I frequent hip bars and cafes, and enjoy the vibrant arts and education scene. On my summer weekends, I tend to escape “Up North.”

For all intents and purposes, I’ve become a “cidiot.”

But in doing so, I’ve acquired a perspective I never could’ve had before, when I was too busy judging others by whether they were committed to our rural community for the long haul, or only for a handful of summer weekends. In fact, back then, I think I thought of the lakes and the woods more as possessions to be jealously guarded from others than as gifts from God to be enjoyed. Moving away from them has allowed me to appreciate them in a way I never quite did while growing up amongst them.

If anything, I come up to the Lake now with the childlike attitude I had when I first encountered it, during weeklong summer visits from Madison before my family moved up permanently. Upon arrival, I would sprint down the root-laden path to the beach to get that first big glimpse of Whitefish Lake and our little island. My mornings on these visits were spent patiently crouching atop the cracked stone steps of my grandma’s cabin, waiting for the brood of garter snakes who lived there to, one by one, emerge and slither off into the grass so I could catch them. My nights were spent sleepily walking back up the path after trolling for walleye with dad and grandpa, shining a flashlight into the brush to spot toads as they hopped away from our approaching footsteps.

In a way, this conversion back to a more humble and grateful attitude is what Christ asks us to do with our faith. “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:3). Being Catholic, belonging to Christ’s Body, the Church, being able to encounter Him in the sacraments and depend on our brothers and sisters the saints, to rely upon the fidelity of the One Faith taught consistently throughout the centuries, these are incredible gifts! Gifts that we did not earn, like childhood trips to the lake.

But how often do we, do I, view the faith as a possession to be covetously clung to, as a ruler with which to measure up the value of others, used to lord our superiority over others? To be sure, the Gospel of Christ is clear and definitive, and its teachings are often hard; watering down its message is anything but loving. But when we treat the Church and Christ’s grace as objects we control, we lose our ability to look at them with gratuity and wonder. It’s no surprise that the greatest saints were often convinced that they were among the greatest sinners; they always knew of their dependency, and of the generosity of God.

If our desire is to share Catholicism with others, to invite others into the freedom found in Christ, then we can only do so by looking at this old faith with the new eyes of children; by being struck anew by the love of Jesus, and then looking at others with His same gaze of mercy.

– Jonathan Liedl is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. He has previously worked for the Minnesota Catholic Conference, Catholic Rural Life, and EWTN. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Notre Dame and an M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas.

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