It is a common occurrence to assign the cause of arguments, disputes, conflicts, and friction to a lack of communications. On both global and interpersonal levels this seems quite frequent. Lack of communications may indeed be the cause of misunderstandings. But what might be the cause of a lack of communications?
We extend much of our personal world to larger worlds outside of ourselves and extrapolate from the personal to the general. I am doing just that here when I say I think the cause of a lack of communications is some missing common-denominator that lubricates the ability to communicate. Some common ground or common interest, I find, like a shoehorn helps us slide into otherwise tight dialogue. I find this true even between family members (maybe especially so) because so much is known and has already been talked about between those who are closest to one another .
In conversation the common-denominator is not an end in itself but a means to further communication. Cases in point: I have an older brother with whom it has always been difficult for me to talk. We argue, squabble, and holler quite often but when we talk about music the door to amiable conversation flies open and further communication becomes possible. I have a son with whom I enjoy smoking a cigar. This common-denominator has opened the door to further conversations where nothing else has worked quite so well.. Grandchildren too have now become a common-denominator. Yet it is strangely true that the commonest of all denominators is the one we are most skittish about using – You!
I really believe that there is a deep and well-grounded desire in each of us to talk about God with others. I know it’s in me, and the way I skirt it is by writing. But writing is like a one-sided conversation that is shared with paper. What is really yearned for is face-to-face talk. Yet face-to-face we are very careful about talking about God. For me it is quite true that I wish to converse frequently with my wife and children about God. But there are, among other things, fears of appearing “holier-than-thou,” of eliciting rebellious reactions, or of being patronized. Hence, a common-denominator can, at times, help us slide into the conversations we desire. Thus we can search for that entity in each individual before we start talking about You. This search, of course, is unnecessary in writing.
If it is true that there is no greater desire in the heart of a person than that others should think as he/she does then it would seem there is no greater sacrifice than that one thinks as another. Isn’t this what You did? We fail to recognize in each and every other person that which is in ourselves that longs to be in harmony with all mankind, just as we experience it. Every one of us seeks this harmony and believes it can be achieved if everyone else just thought as we did. It somehow escapes us that everyone else is thinking the same way. Thus, it also escapes us that two individuals can be in harmony if one of them is willing to give up the way he/she thinks about something and accepts the thoughts of the other. And what further eludes us is that the one giving up his/her own thoughts to embrace another’s could be us.
We do not know how God actually “thinks” but we do know that in You He condescended to think as we do. In You He accepted who we are and where we are at and, in You, He taught us(in our own terms) the way God “thinks.” We give up self to seek the truth of God and that is an act of love. The desire for harmony which drives us to want others to think as we do is the same desire of the Divinity that we may all be one. When we think we can reach that goal by influencing others the necessary act of love is turned into a self-serving act of power and manipulation.
It is so easy to think that I am the master of my own destiny. It is so easy to believe that by the choices of my will I am in control. No matter what outside influence pushes or pulls me, I decide the outcomes. But it’s not true! I am not the master of my own destiny. Nobody is. All the choices of my will are based not on the push and pull of exterior forces but on the subtle interior influences of a lifetime.
I say I make my own choices, but my choices have all been influences and steered by other factors. What I have gained or lost through others has shaped who I am as a person and this comes to bear on my choices. Under the sway of other circumstances my choices might be different.
Certainly, for any individual, without the effects of You in his/her life their choices might be different. The reality is that while I seem to be making my own choices I am, in fact, the product of all that has shaped me. In this sense, then, I am not so much master of my own destiny as I am a recipient of it. How I collaborate with or betray my destiny is what I do control. But my destiny itself is a gift already given of which there is only one master. By what You have given me through Your life and death You are the only true master of my destiny. What I control is my response to that.
Thus, knowing my destiny and its master, it is but for me to collaborate with, reject, or ignore it. These options in regard to my destiny are what I control and, controlling them, I might think I control my own destiny. But it is set. What I control is my response. Therefore I am master of my response, but not of my destiny. Even when we ignore or reject our destiny it remains.
As in St. John of the Cross, the classic picture of the soul is that of a prisoner of the body. Depending on the level of one’s spiritual growth this certainly holds true more times than not. The sentient body with its whims, desires, and penchant for comfort keeps the spirit from flying freely. Yet, I submit that in another sense it might be said that the body can be a prisoner of the soul, and this reversal may be precisely at the heart of the spiritual life.
We may have noticed that at those times when our spirit soars our bodies are not even an afterthought. Sustaining this condition, however, is opposed bluntly and inevitably by the body. Of course, even during the times of our greatest spiritual moments we can never sever the rope to the anchor of our bodies. But I do think that with practice one can become more and more adept at sustaining longer durations of subjugation of the body to the spirit. After all, isn’t that what growth in the spirit is about? What can be reversed in this regard is the urging of the body to accommodate one’s spiritual endeavors to its own comfort and convenience. It can be reversed by embracing the urgings of the spirit to overcome these inclinations of the body by love and self-denial. To live out our lives this way is to make the body the prisoner of the soul
There is an interesting phenomenon that reveals who, in reality, a human being is. It has to do with the impression, given or derived, of ourselves on other people. To those we know casually the accomplishments, status, and circumstances of our life may be very impressive, praiseworthy, and deserving of note. However, to those who know us best and are closest to us, such things seem to matter less and are treated with a certain blasé deferment. The things that have formed us over the years and the rest of our background may really impress our casual friends and acquaintances, but our own family and relatives are much less smitten.
There is a great lesson in humility here. There is no one closer to me than You. Therefore I might deduce that there is no one less concerned with my background or “credentials” than You. The greatest concern of my family, relatives, and anyone who is truly close to me is what I am now– not how I got here. I think that this is all You care about too.
For others to get to know who we are, it is somehow important to know our background, our education, our job, our accomplishments, and our politics. But this is all just a way of beginning to know a person – points of departure. Once a relationship is formed these things seem to matter less and less. Over the long term the person most impressed by my background is probably me. This infatuation is worthless. It is futile to hold onto it like some distinguished resume that can exert a favorable impression.
Memories are nice and so is reminiscing, but all that counts is now. Who we are right now is who we really are. I tingle with pride relating my background to others. It’s pure vanity! So what? What am I now? To me it is clear that everything in a person’s past merges with and is dissolved in the present.
This strikes me then as the very foundation for seeking positive inner advancement. In the context of the increasing progression of my “nows,” each one should render the former obsolete – each one should be a new and better “now.”
It strikes me that nowhere in the gospels do You speak directly about the nature of sin; nor do You mention the “fall” and what we call “original sin.”Yet Your whole life was about negating the effects of what we call “sin.” So, while not speaking specifically about sin, what You did speak about was love and forgiveness. In hindsight the impression this leaves is that You and the Father are vastly more concerned with love and forgiveness than with sin. The extension of that into our own lives is that we should be the same way.
If the dance of our lives is nothing but side-steps, ducks, and dodges we can never embrace You and move with You to the music. The heart that longs to do this and wants to help others do it is far more precious to You than the scrupulous maneuvers of the tactician whose only goal is to avoid sin.
You know that sin is an unavoidable part of the human condition, a flaw, as it were, in our very nature – a flaw that is inconsequential in the face of not only thelove and forgiveness we receive but in the love and forgiveness we bear in our hearts. You brought not condemnation but mercy and Your life is our model. If we love You and others we will not do things that separate us from that love; but when we do these things or when they are done to us love and forgiveness carry us on. You came, as You said, not to the righteous but to sinners – for in sinners is the great need to see the light, to be forgiven and loved.
Our dance is filled with missteps and stepping on Your toes as well as the toes of others, but the answer is not to get off the dance floor and become a wall- flower of self-pity, but to continue the dance and ignore our lack of grace and rhythm.
“If,” as Julian of Norwich says, “this life is a penance,” then I think we should be moved to accept and embrace it as the opportunity for atonement. We know well the things we would call our faults, failings, weaknesses and mistakes. We are aware of them because we are taught that certain thoughts, words, actions, and omissions are in opposition to Your will for us. We feel the need to make up for these things. We feel a need to do “good things” to atone for the bad.
Life, Your gift, offers us a shot at this psychology; so much so that we can get caught up in the idea that we control whether You love us or not. It’s a dangerous game because every time we drift into that merit-oriented mindset it emphasizes us and what we do instead of focusing on and welcoming Your great love. Julian is right to the extent that accepting life, accepting Your gift means accepting and learning from the suffering and disappointment life may hold for us, and growing in the depth of Your love because of it. It is like going to confession and hearing the priest say, “Now for your penance, go out and live!”
The perfection of the way we love God is the way God loves us. If one thinks carefully of the person in this world one loves most it cannot be denied that the love one has for that person forgives and forgets many faults, failings, weaknesses, and mistakes. I really don’t think God keeps score. That’s something we are into. God sees us with all our warts, overlooks them, and still loves us. To really love another demands that we too overlook all the warts – the warts that we might say make our lives a penance.
The point is that we should think as Julian that life with all its warts is a penance. And maybe accepting these is how we are able to love. But God doesn’t think that way. The concept of penance is ours. You know that when You told individuals to “repent,” You knew it was the way we handled atonement. You did not tell people how to repent, just to repent. It was not Your concept but what You recognized as what we thought we needed to do to “be forgiven.”And You knew that for us Your forgiveness was very important. Life is our Passover.
The wealthy, powerful, prominent, and famous have a dangerous proclivity towards reaping their dignity, integrity, and self-worth from their own particular positions. The poor and downtrodden of history could not look for dignity, integrity, or self-worth in the same places. They had to find it in something inherently human that had nothing to do with wealth, power, or fame. They had to rely on the spirit of God as manifested in You to get their dignity, integrity, and self-worth. Maybe this is why You said that union with You for the wealthy and prominent who rely on themselves to establish their worth is as difficult as a camel passing through the eye of a needle.
We look to prominent people and are fascinated with how they gain their prominence. But the paradigm of their lives often comes from what they miss. The captive Jews of the Old Testament, the serfs and peasants of the middle ages, the Negro slaves, and many more could reap no integrity, dignity, or self-worth from their own positions, but it was a basic human need that they have access to these qualities of life. It is the realization by these people that these qualities dwell most genuinely in the interior spirit of man; and maybe it is only these “lowly” people who are shorn of the exterior trappings of dignity and prominence who can fathom what makes man truly dignified. Could this be yet another reason why the poor were so dear to You?
What I build, design, create, invent, or enhance may bring notoriety, but dignity and integrity are gathered elsewhere. Fame, prominence, and notoriety come from the exterior we fabricate to be noticed. If we consider these the measure of our integrity and dignity it may be because of a superficially overblown notion of our self-worth. Kings, princes, presidents, and CEO’s too easily deduce their dignity and integrity from their positions. Such are adhesions to the false-self. Only in the eyes of men do kings, princes, presidents and CEO’s when shorn of their positions lose their dignity and integrity. We are the caretakers of these virtues, not their creators. They are already present in each of us because You are present in each of us. What we can do, not withstanding our station in life, to enhance our dignity and integrity is to enhance Yours.
In our daily attempts to draw ourselves closer to You there is always something more we can do. There’s no way around it. There’s always something more. Each time we gain new insight or understanding there is always more to be gained. It is inescapable that, right up to the time we draw our last breath, there will be something more. The human inability to fully comprehend the totality of our relationship with You can only be dealt with by Your revealing bits and pieces of it as we grow. Like ascending steps on a staircase, one follows the other as we go up. But each must be taken one at a time because our “legs” only stretch so far.
Therefore, as we learn more about You and about ourselves and our relationship with You, something else, something more always pops up. As the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and decades of our inhaling and exhaling go by we can never say, ‘Is that all there is?’ because it’s not! So, it would be foolish to ever be satisfied with where we’re at. The notion that there is more applies to every aspect of our spiritual life at any given time. Seeking more is the axiom upon which our growth is based. That which we strive for is a state where there is all. Yet, to be human means to be unfinished!
Our earthly quest for union with You is, and always will be, inextricably flawed by our humanity. While this may seem something of a revelation to us, it is no secret to You. We should frequently consider the fact that You know better than we that You must work through our humanity. Yet we, despite great efforts, simply don’t seem to understand why we cannot move directly to the level of the spirit.
In the way humans work there is an irrevocable connection between mind, heart, and spirit. Both the mind and heart are human faculties, but the heart is special. It is what we call the “heart” that connects our minds with our spirits. I use the term “heart” not in its anatomical sense but rather in its popular connotation as the seat of our inmost thoughts and feelings. Where our treasure is, there is our heart; and our hearts, if set on spiritual concerns, can lead us to the treasures of the spirit. The heart’s influence can move a mind mired in earthly things in a different direction.
St. Paul in I Corinthian 2:10 says that: “...the spirit scrutinizes all matters, even the deep things of God.” Our minds are like sponges. They absorb that to which our hearts move us. The mystery, subtlety, and depth of our spirit (wherein lies our true self) takes dedicated intention and effort to seek; and unless our hearts lean us in that direction our minds alone won’t get us there. Our heart is the key. It connects our mind and spirit, and when that connection is made a door is opened. You know this is the way You can touch us and we can touch You. It is we who have the difficult time seeing this. And because You know this is the way it is with man, much is forgiven us in our failings. Much leeway is granted because You know better than we how difficult it is for humans to mesh their minds and hearts with their spirits.
Yet, our humanity is all we have with which to work. While it is extremely frustrating for us to seem never able to overcome our humanity, it is commonly acceptable knowledge to You; so much so that You assumed our humanity Yourself to show us how it’s done. Your heart and Your mind were married in Your spirit.
Within the boundaries of being human it is only the heart that transcends the mind and bridges the gap to the spirit. But so often we neither listen to nor are we open to the leanings of the heart which connect our spirits to You. Too often we attend only to our minds and what it alone is able to apprehend. We remain on the level of the head – the intellectual level. We must learn to translate the things we learn with our heads into the language of the heart. We then must listen to our hearts in order to enter our spirits.