There is no quieter place on earth than a college campus at 7:30 a.m. on a weekend. I learned this recently thanks to a sordidly-timed breakfast meeting. Clearly, the people I met with did not know I was a college student, because no good and righteous person makes a college student wake up at 7:30 a.m. on a weekend.
But as much as I resented this meeting as I lay in bed, alarm clock blaring, I was later struck by something. The walk I made to get to my meeting that morning was absolutely beautiful.
Now do not get me wrong when I say this morning walk was beautiful. I have noticed that Notre Dame suffers from a funny problem: its campus is actually so picturesque that its beauty can become trite. Has someone you know ever posted a sentimental, “like”-gobbling picture of the Dome or the lakes with the caption “Love Thee Notre Dame”? I thought so. Inundated with these self-congratulatory images of our own campus, it can be easy to forget just how wondrous it all is.
On this morning walk to breakfast, though, the beauty around me was arresting. The brilliant sunlight just starting to poke through the night spilled across campus and glittered golden in the dewy grass. The trees were a rich green, and there was an unforgettable loveliness to it all. What recharged my sense of wonder—what broke the spell of my apathy to the goodness all around me on campus that day—was the morning. Had I made that walk later in the day, even if campus had looked the same, I trust it would not have had the same effect. There was a certain quality—an irreducible morningness—to that early time that made me think: with all my typical sleeping in, was I missing something?
Waking up is hard, and it costs something of us. Getting out of bed when you are not quite ready yet is certainly a sacrifice. But mornings are beautiful. They are quiet, still, peaceful, and they have a certain knack for healing our damaged sensibilities.
At college, it is easy to get frazzled, behind, and stressed. Giving yourself over to the willfully unproductive time of a quiet morning can seem scandalous or antithetical to your purpose here at Notre Dame. You are a student after all, aren’t you? Shouldn’t you be doing work? But perhaps the learning we are called to here is bigger than just the enlarging of our intellects. Waking up early can be something of a spiritual exercise. It can be a practice in formation, educating us to configure ourselves and our sensibilities to something new: say, the delight of a morning.
Recently, a friend of mine walked into my room when I was taking a nap and said that, when I first woke up in a daze, I acted as if we had never met. I do not remember any of this myself. Of course, I eventually escaped my sleepy stupor and all was well, but I think we can see acutely here a more subtle and detrimental phenomenon. We have a tendency to forget ourselves and to lose what is important, like our relationships or the appreciation of a beautiful morning, in the tired daze of busyness and stress.
Being awake in the morning has a centering, orienting effect. It can be a time for prayer, reflection, and preparation for the day ahead, for nourishment and healing. Mornings slow us down and wake us up. This happens literally of course, but mornings also wake us up to the possibilities of the day. The morning opens our eyes from sleep, and it expands our vision of how we might live by drawing our attention to the goodness and beauty around us.
Mary, among her many titles, is known as the Morning Star. What is the Church trying to tell us in this remarkable little name? Mornings mark a coming of light with the rising of the sun, and Mary, too, offers us light through her Son. Like the star that guided the Magi to Christ in Bethlehem, Mary is the star who guides through her example of perfect faith and her unfailing intercession, with all of the beautiful splendor of a perfect morning.
Feeling stressed, anxious, or a little unsettled about something? Get up early. Go into the morning, slow, and ready to waste some time. See what happens.
Michael Infantine is a senior PLS major living in Keough Hall. Getting out of bed in the morning is probably the hardest thing he does every day, but he’s getting better at it. Contact him at email@example.com for some tips.