Every time someone asks me to do something for them, every time someone wants me to listen to them, every time someone makes any demand upon my time, they are giving me a gift. In each of these instances the gift is the opportunity of self-denial. Every time I cringe because I sense I am about to be imposed upon, I am rejecting this gift and asserting my self. Recognizing this gift is an essential of growing in love and it meshes beautifully with the acceptance of life and the erasing of self of DeMello’s "Sadhana".
I do not have to painstakingly search out and mine this treasure. It is placed on a silver platter and offered freely to me countless times every day. Fasting, hair shirts and self-flagellation pale to the point of absurdity in the face of the steady flow of graces that is infused into every pedestrian situation that a day offers. I mean there is truly genuine wealth being offered here over and over again as a gift.
To say "Yes!" to these gifts, to be grateful for them and not let them go by is to have the scales of ignorance about life and about love fall from one’s eyes. But the fact here is that for some strange reason we let most of these gifts pass unaccepted. Why? Maybe part of the reason is that the usual channel of these gifts is other people and I and my ego just naturally clash with other peoples’ egos.
It seems to me that whenever one ego diminishes another one increases and I like to be the one with the pat on the back rather than being slapped down. To operate this way is to miss the gift.
Seeking out and accepting Your gifts through other people is much more painful and ego-bruising than medieval self-tortures. Yet it is evident that we grow best when we willingly accept the gift of self-denial in the face of another’s will. I don’t think that cultivating our love for You happens best without accepting the channels for it offered by others. Your gift is always there even though at times we may not like the packaging.
There’s not a whole lot one remembers from earliest childhood, but the memories that do stick are usually significant. At somewhere in the area of four to six years of age I remember asking my mother, at least once a day, "Are you my honey-pie?" I think the reason I remember this is because of the added significance it took on when, after our car accident on Christmas morning, I was shipped out to a married cousin in a nearby small town to be taken care of while the rest of the family recovered in the hospital. I found, at first sheepishly, that I absolutely needed to ask my cousin (even more than once a day), "Are you my honey-pie?"
There’s no question that we all feel a deep need to be loved and accepted. I don’t imagine that I’m really different than anyone else, but I feel like this is a gigantic part of who I am. It affects my marriage, it effects my relationship with my children and, as You know, it effects my relationship with You. Fifty years later there’s still that sheepishness about coming right out and admitting I need to be wanted. There’s a sense of unfairness to others that makes me reluctant to say I need to be needed. Yet this is still a very powerful underlying force in my life, one that is not easily sublimated. My wife is aware of it. She says I’m always looking for that pat on the back that says I’m OK in her eyes. But that’s only part of it. "Are you my honey-pie?" here translates into, "Do you really see how much I love you?" and "Tell me what a good father and husband I am". With my children it translates into, "My dad - the best friend I’ve got and the model for my life".
With You, I know the acceptance is there, but there is a fear of not being able to hear these things from You. Centering prayer is my needed "hug" in this regard.
Where, in the balance of things, do I place newfound knowledge about letting You act in my life? I’m over a half century in age and all I’ve learned is founded on how much I do! Are my efforts the proof of my worth? It’s a painful and difficult awakening to realize that what we do may not be that important - yet, this has been my life! I mean what kind of brakes do I use to slow down 50 plus years of that kind of momentum?
It’s not me! It’s You! What I do - no matter how perfect, saintly, or altruistic - cannot save me! Only You, Your activity in my life, Your being allowed (trusted) to act in me, with me and through me - only that is important! What I want to do or be must be profoundly influenced by a genuine understanding of the fact that I am an instrument for whatever You wish and You will act in me if only I let go.
I recently saw something that gave me pause. It was a long-haired, leather-jacketed biker with a sticker on the back of his motorcycle that read: "Pray the Rosary". I got to thinking about the incongruity of that image and about the pause it caused in me. What I thought was, ‘This is good! There is really something to be said about the power of incongruity and the pause it gives. There isn’t much anymore that so catches a person’s fancy as to literally stop him in his tracks and make him think.’
If that bumper sticker had been on a car, few would have noticed it and it probably would have given pause to no one. If it had been on the back of a grand-touring Honda bike ridden by a middle-aged couple in regulation helmets and sports attire, some may have read it but few would have paused over it. Is there a message coming through here?
We expect a "person of the cloth" or a known lay-minister to conduct themselves in certain ways. Their example is important, but it’s like the bumper sticker on the family sedan - it may be noticed but it gives pause to few. But unsolicited, dramatic changes in the life of a thief, prostitute, or murderer give us pause - the power of incongruity! There seems to be more hope and power in the good example of a sinner (or one we perceive as worldly) than in an apparent saint. One looks at a Mother Theresa and admires her deeply, but puts her on an unattainable level of existence far above our own. But when an alcoholic or drug dealer turns his/her life around and dedicates it to saving others from the snares of alcohol or drugs, or serves the poor and destitute - that gives us pause. The incongruity of an NFL coach or a major league baseball broadcaster attending daily Mass and standing behind his values gives us pause.
The bumper sticker on my car reads: "I love Jazz". This is hardly incongruous with my musical passion, but if it said: "I am a jazz musician - and I Love God!" the kind of pause-giving incongruity I’m talking about would be generated. People would read that and say: "How can that be?" And, of course, that’s the point! A biker can pray the rosary, an ex-con can help serve others. celebrities can attend daily Mass, prostitutes can pray and a jazz musician can love God. The very power to influence other people (or at least to give them pause) is lately found more and more in this kind of incongruity.
Your own life, Jesus, showed us this. The very thought of any good coming from the son of a Nazarene carpenter gave pause to the Jews. Who of those high priests and "holy" Pharisees are remembered now?
Paul was a "Christian-basher". What dynamic incongruity when he began to promulgate Your good news not only to the Jews but to the incongruent gentiles!
Yet, unfortunately, congruity and conformity may have such a powerful hold on us that we are incapable of admitting the dramatic changes or seeming inconsistencies of hearts that give genuine pause to others.
I’ve been wanting to write You about "comfort". I started thinking about it first in terms of spirituality, then I realized that it pervades almost everything else in life that I can think of. In fact, it seems that life, in a very real sense, is a quest for comfort.
We worry about the comfort of those we love and we do what we can to make them comfortable. We try to take away pain, hurt and inconvenience in our own lives and in the lives of those we love so that we (or they) are comfortable. We say, if an action isn’t comfortable, don’t do it! If clothes aren’t comfortable, get some that are! Shoes, mattresses, cars, homes, temperatures, and even friends - if you’re not comfortable, make the necessary changes.
In spirituality too I find that I seek what is comfortable. I’ve molded You to that with which I’m comfortable. My prayer life is what I’m comfortable with. If I feel uncomfortable, that’s bad and to be avoided - or is it?
In St. John’s, Dark Night of the Soul, he talks about plucking out of our lives the comfortable ways to pursue a spiritual life that we have developed . He seems to say that we must, in order to really find You deeply in our lives, cast aside that with which we are so comfortable and enter into a barren darkness of dry discomfort and aridity. It is by means of establishing this void that we make room for You. You are the seat of all comfort. When we seek our own comfort with all the comfortable devices we have devised to make our spirituality easy what we have done is plant obstructions in Your way. It’s not the prayers, books, meditations, activities, etc. that are the source of comfort - only You are! But my comfort has to do with my self - and there it is again, that self - always in the way - always in Your way.
I think there is an unwritten principle somewhere that says a man’s children will embrace paths psychologically at variance with his as they grow older. This, in my observations, does not hold true 100% of the time, but certainly better than 50%. I’ve seen it over and over again in friends, relatives and in myself.
In me the spiritual aspect was probably a reaction to my dad’s hedonism. A friend, who is a deacon and a man deeply in love with You, has a majority of children who choose life-styles in apparent opposition to his values. Another friend, who is a priest, receives from many of his nine siblings reactionary values to "Father’s". Look at the theme of the movie "A River Runs Through It" - that’s what it is!
So, why should I be surprised when I see none of my children buy into my values? I shouldn’t! It’s quite normal. Yes, but it still bothers me that what I would most want them to have - they reject.. I want them to have it because I love them, and that’s the river running through it - love!
What in the world do I think happened to You? You were rejected by the people You loved! And look what they did to You! Human nature is funny. We each want to find our own way and we are much more willing to adopt methods we read about in books by complete strangers than methods of those who love us - go figure!
When the word "foolish" or "fool" is used in combination with other words such as "Christ’s fool" or the "foolishness of a saint" it is not used in its literal sense. It is used, ironically, to mean showing a wisdom beyond the world’s comprehension; and when we don’t comprehend something or someone we often try to pass it off as foolish. He or she is a fool.
When I read about the "foolishness" of Francis of Assisi I think of how not only the society of his time but especially our world today is filled with epithets for social misfits (especially among the young) such as: "geek", "dork", "dufus", "nerd", etc. All I can think of is how Francis, indeed, Yourself, Jesus, would probably have been the recipient of such names in Your times. And if the irony can be twisted another way, should I not say that these names are the blessings and compliments of a world where literal foolishness has often become a way of life?.
How is it that moral values and the ways we’re taught them seem to have changed so much from the time I was a kid? I guess I’m dating myself and falling into that generation-gap trap; but despite all those psycho-social hang-ups nuns are accused of perpetrating upon my generation, they did instill a sense of respect and importance about religion and spirituality.
Somehow I don’t think that importance and respect for the spiritual life is there anymore. It may/may not connect with the fact that the nuns are pretty much gone too. The humanistic values that have taken their place are noble, but they often seem to supplant You. This wasn’t Your message. It was not "do good and forget Me". Have we forgotten that loving neighbor came second to loving You?
In talking with You in one of the stations of the cross yesterday, the fourth, I got to thinking how hard it must have been for You to not compromise Your ideals and Your goals for things of the spirit because of the human relationships that were at the core of Your humanity. We’re used to looking funny on people who do that. It’s the way we’re teaching people to feel.
Are ideals more important than what is real? I’m not sure what is the right answer to this question - or even if there is a right answer. I only know that as I look at my own life I seem to value the ideal more than the real: the ideal of family, the ideal of teaching and so on is what seems so often to govern my attitudes toward life. It’s not the realism of the suffering servant, nor the life of a father whose idealism about family clashes with the realistic influences of the world upon each family member, nor the realism of an inner-city classroom with the raggedy-edged realism of the street. No, it seems all too easy for me to say I don’t care about politics, economics or the world in general - I care about God! I don’t care what other people say or do or what the TV promulgates - I just care about family or teaching, etc. I don’t care about drug abuse, broken homes or poverty - and so on.
How do I fight it when the ideals become a separate reality, a reality which, over time, tends to smother idealism? Or should such idealism be smothered? I need Your help.
The Feast of Michael, Gabriel and Raphael gives us pause to think about other beings, about Your creation and about the place of such as we within it. You Yourself spoke of angels and they are mentioned often in scripture. Thus we know they exist. But we humans always have and always will consider ourselves pretty much the center of things. We become wise only in hindsight. The Galileos, Copernicuses and DeVincis were the fruitcakes of their time. No one would accept as anything but heretical day-dreaming that there were other planets than ours or that our planet was not the one around which the rest of creation revolved. Now we study the works of these great men and heap honors on their wisdom as we pursue hotly the nascent sciences they nurtured.
I’m not aware of any individual Galileos or DeVincis in the present age. It’s more like science and technology in general (as a whole) has taken the place of these individuals. What is often scoffed at in this age is science saying that we may not be alone in the universe. It seems like only a matter of time before the last remaining pinions of our ego- centrality are knocked forever from beneath us. Then how do we think about You and our relationship with You, knowing, all of a sudden, that we may be the "slugs" of created intelligent life?
In one sense we’re already living in denial. The evidence for the existence of angels
is very strong, but we still hold ourselves as the most prized apple of Your eye. What if there are millions of other planets in the universe just like ours or, possibly, with vastly more intelligent or, perish the thought, "non-fallen" preternatural beings that are closer to the angels than to us? Now what do we think of ourselves in regards to You? Certainly we lose in pride what we gain in humility.
In the manner in which we look upon ourselves now, we consider Your all-encompassing love and forgiveness as our hope. Should it be different if a distant new race or species of not only intelligent but spiritual beings is discovered? Are You not God? Is Your love limited by the boundaries of the people of earth?
I really think we are on the brink of discovering the next great humiliation to our cosmic speck of dust. Of all the humiliations science and technology have brought upon the reality of our lives, this one will be the most spiritual! It will be a draught from the truer fountain of wisdom. Senses dulled by the mundane will open to new clarity. Narrow minds will widen to new possibilities and the magnificence and wonder of Your mysteries will come into new focus. It will not, as one might think, push us farther away from You but will bring us closer than ever to You. It will give us even more to know and love about You and it will properly knock us back down from the role of demigods to that of children. You always take best care of those most in need