Julian of Norwich has said, “...without fault or blame Christ places upon us some particular thing that carries with it the blame and derision of the world.”
In our society and culture today that “particular thing” can often, ironically, be doing the right thing. It seems to have come to pass that those who do not lie, cheat, or pursue their own selfish ends are the ones most in line for blame and derision. Those who are dishonest and self-absorbed but famous and successful are somehow admired.
We have a bishop in our diocese right now who is under a lot of fire. He came from Boston where he closed/merged a large number of churches. It is my understanding that he was not particularly liked there. Then he came here and has done the same thing to something like 50 churches. Now I’m in a fairly small minority here who believes that the “downsizing” he did was economically and logistically necessary for the survival of the Church in this city. I think he did the right thing. His blunt manner, apparent lack of people-skills, and dictatorial demeanor veil the correctness of his actions. Thus, gobs of invective are aired almost daily by the media, and counter-measures have been taken up with Rome by a number of groups. Clearly, to me, this man has been dealt a “particular thing” that is carrying with it the blame and derision of the world even though he’s doing the right thing.
It might be wise to reflect on putting ourselves in his place. What would we do? When put in a position of responsibility that demands doing “the right thing,” and doing it is criticized and derided we experience the pain of the cross.
I cannot deny in myself the fault of judging other people. But I’m curious about the significance of the fact that there are some people I judge and some I don’t. In thinking about the people whom I judge and whom I do not judge it comes to me that the people I know best and, hence, are closest to me, are the ones I judge most. Those I observefrom afar and don’t know so well are, for the most part, the ones I donot judge. In fact, there are many in this latter group that I tend to idealize. The reason for this seems to be because I don’t really know them and therefore can form my own image of them without direct knowledge or experience of them muddling up anything.
The people closest to me whom I know and love most suffer my most critical judgments because of the ways they do not conform to the idealized images I have for them – images I have because of my concept of love for them. But with some consideration it becomes clear that such judgments may keep me from loving them correctly. The more we know about another person and the more time we spend with them the greater is the temptation to judge them and be critical of them. Our perceptions of that person are heavily influenced by our experiences of him/her. Our interactions with them are influenced by this.
Even You had issues with those closest to You: Your apostles, Martha, even Your mother. But judging is different than having issues because issues are annoyances while judgments are assertions of self; and there are no people with whom we assert ourselves more firmly than those we know best. We know with greater certainty what they will say, do, or think in certain situations, but also what we think they should say, do, or think, and then how they should act. This projection of self is a judgment.
There will always be people who annoy us, but to judge anyone is to do yet another thing that puts us squarely in the camp of the Pharisees.
Luke 14:26 talks about the meaning of being a follower of Christ and a disciple of Christ.There’s a difference, and the distinction is germane to the Christian spiritual life.
I am a follower; one of those on the rag-tag fringes of the crowd that attaches itself to You wherever You go. I have not given up much because I have convinced myself that to be a follower I don’t have to. I am one who says to myself and to You that I want to move up to that inner circle of the crowd that follows You. I want to be a disciple. But when I see what this necessitates I back off, but continue to follow. It’s the difference between the saints and the rest of us.
You held back nothing from me. But I cannot abandon my wife, my children, or my friends. It is through them that I imagine that I experience You. Yet it would seem that they sometimes get in the way – another great paradox of the spiritual life. You did not reject Your followers. There’s hope in that. But You did encourage them to become disciples and You outlined the meaning of such a commitment.
I don’t think the “predicament” of secular married-life was meant to be a hindrance to being Your disciple – but maybe in a different way than the monk who would give up the world and everything in it for You. I still feel he is the noblest possible disciple in our world. But there are things the rest of us can renounce to grow closer to Your inner circle if even amidst the buzz of the marketplace.. That is why, perhaps, I am so attracted to Anthony DeMello’s notion of Sadhana, because its tenets seem to be tailored to the one living the secular life in the world who still wants to be Your disciple. To learn to love without condition; to come to accept one’s own life and the lives of others; to ward off being possessed by material goods; to learn the lessons of suffering; to place no blame; to deny one’s false self; and to pray – these, if mastered, pull us into Your inner circle.
You pursue me like the lost sheep. You never give up on me. My hope is in this even if I am never courageous enough to become a full disciple. In the words of St. Theresa: I am far from practicing what I know I should, but the mere desire I have to do so gives me peace.
If we were to say that when the inner spiritual life settles into a “comfort zone” our seeking stagnates and the false self takes over, then we would seem to imply that a feeling of “discomfort” is necessary for the life of the spirit to progress. Personal experience tells me this is true.
I would say that right now I am pretty much comfortably settled into a spiritual routine that leaves little room for the discomfort that could move me forward. But there is, somewhere, a less comfortable starting point which I need to find again. Maybe I’m just too old, too resistant to change; but I don’t think anything in my approach to spiritual growth will grow until I am willing to accept the discomfort of change. I’m disinclined to give up anything I’m already doing, so, change would have to come by adding something – something that, at least initially, brings a discomfort with which I must deal. I am inclined to think that this will come in the area of centering prayer since finding the time to do this on a regular basis is so difficult for me, and so is the ability to empty my mind.
But there is also the matter of listening to Fenelon’s advice that we get closer to You by embracing the crosses in our lives than by spending free time alone with You. Martha seems to come out far better than Mary in this approach. Martha’s “activity” certainly seemed to render her more vulnerable to getting “nicked” than Mary’s rapt adoration; and getting “nicked” is uncomfortable, but we grow from it.
I will not stop seeking time alone with You, but maybe I should be less cautious about avoiding discomforts and embrace the opportunity for growth that comes from them.
At Mass, all through our lives, we say the words at communion time: “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” This, when meditated upon, is a remarkable expression of humility and, it is also a remarkable statement of faith.
My aim in receiving You in communion is a show of love for You as You give Yourself in love to me. Thus, it is a common union of love. It is heaven! – or at least a bit of heaven on earth. Union with You is what we constantly seek, and You know that. But, as in all things, love must be freely given. The will must make the choice. It would be great to be saved by Your simply saying the word. But You know that would eliminate our wills, our choices. In communion we make a choice. We willfully come to You and invite You, as You make Yourself lovingly available to us. God gave us a will to make sure our choices are our own and are freely given.
When we ask You to “say but the word” we are, in effect, asking You to override our wills. This is something in our relationship with You that You just won’t do; but within ourselves it does convey the humility and trust that dispose us to the union we seek, and of which, because of our flawed humanity, we are not worthy. We dowish to hear that word. We crave it. It is the guarantee we seek if only we could totally obliterate our selves.
There is some real insight in the consideration of the phrase: “Say but the word and my soul shall be healed” if we consider that we utter that phrase both to You as an expression of our humility and trust in You, and to ourselves as an expression of the fact that we must give our consent. We must say the word that allows You to save us.
There are a lot of things we embrace in religion that go against a spiritual life based on a relationship of loving You and others. I feel, as Thomas Merton apparently does, that God speaks mysteriously to everyman, including “unbelievers.” No matter how little I understand this, I believe it. There are ways beyond my imagination that God touches individuals. It has nothing to do with whom I may like or dislike or think worthy or unworthy. God touches all in some way which may or may not involve me.
Thus, for me to be disheartened or discouraged about being of seemingly little influence on others should not be a consideration. There are ways in which God touches people that have nothing to do with the accepted concepts of “getting them to church.” In fact, this tactic, for many, is a blatant turn-off. This ploy, as well as a bag full of religious presuppositions nurtured by church affiliated do-gooders may be in direct opposition to the ways by which God touches certain people.
Quite simply, all that’s needed is love – not understanding! An individual whose will is free can choose easily to ignore the tiny whisper or gentle touch that comes from You; but for others these may be, in their tininess, more potent than the heavy-handed “counseling” or obvious “examples” of well-intentioned religious folks. The “my way or the highway” approach was never a state-of-the-art refinement of spiritual guidance; yet, so many regard this as the stance of the religious hierarchy.
The movement toward ecumenism notwithstanding, the residue of infallibility does not rest lightly on those who might be considered anti-authoritarian. While these people may seemingly be the hardest to impress, I believe Your voice is heard clearly and interiorly by them especially because they trust what is within themselves more than they trust that which comes from outside. However, even that is often ignored. In the final analysis it come down to recognizing and accepting that everything is between God and the individual
Is it possible to be a victim of one’s own spiritual imagination? Is what we conjure in our minds solely constructed of thin air? Does it have any value?
The father of the mute boy in the gospels says, “Lord, I do believe. Help my unbelief.” And that’s the way it is with doubts about our own spirituality. We need help even though we feel pretty sure about it. We are, indeed, a victim of our spiritual imagination when we allow it to fashion doubts about our relationship with You. It is fundamental in the spiritual life to keep before us the notion that, for Your part, there is always a loving connection between You and me. Whatever my doubts, weaknesses, failures, or mistakes I must always fall back on Your relationship with me – which never changes!
The foundation of my spirituality is not my relationship with You, but Your relationship with me. So, what is my part in my spirituality? The answer is that You leave that up to me. You allow me, if I so choose, to be a victim of my imagination and to have doubts. It does not affect Your relationship with me.
The best part of my spirituality is learning to rest in the love You have for me and accept my own weaknesses while working to rid myself of them. You, not me, are the source of whatever it is I consider my spirituality. I may concoct it and manipulate it in all different ways but the only time I am a victim of it is when I buy into the delusion that it comes from me. You meet us uniquely where each of us is at. We erroneously pat ourselves on the back when we consider that we have“arranged” these meetings. If I choose to go on pursuing and tweaking what I regard as the spiritual routines of my life, You will accept them, love me, and work through them with me. I may be a victim sometimes of my own spiritual imagination but I cannot, nor do I wish to, make You one.
I sometimes think that to consider our relationship with God, and God’s with us, we have to navigate through overly charted seas of mythology. What we look at when we consider the religions of the Greeks, Romans, Persians, or early mystery religions, we now call their mythology, just as sometime in the future our Christian mythology will be recollected – or, maybe, we’re in the midst of that kind of analysis right now.
A myth is a traditional story used to explain some phenomenon. The word “myth” does not necessarily mean fiction. I do not believe the gospel reportage is mythical, but tradition has embellished much of our popular beliefs with myths about “earning” our salvation, about prayer, about The Father, and particularly about the saints. Xenophobic myths and legends about national patrons are abundant. Apocryphal writings from the early centuries of Christianity perpetuated many myths. Much of Christian mythology is genuine exposition that has been superseded.
I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t enjoy a good story. A story is a great way to get someone’s attention, to entertain someone, and to teach someone. You, Jesus, used stories often in exposition of basic truths. These are a part of the mythology of Christianity. But many of us (myself included) attach to the meaning of myth a passé quality that, with time and knowledge, is outgrown but kept with a fond memory of simpler times and simpler explanations that no longer satisfy our intelligence.
As we go through life we pick up more and more bits and pieces of mythology, but all the bits and pieces, all the wonderful stories about the things You did, about the early church and the saints, all the legends when put together equal, in some form or fashion, the basic messages You taught as recorded in the gospels. Mythology can become just so much baggage. Therefore, it’s wise at times to sweep it all away and reflect on the simple truths of our relationship with God.
Among the many paradoxes of the spiritual life is the one that reveals the correlation between sin (a separation from God) and the “quest” (seeking closeness to God).
The closer we grow to God and the more our relationship with Him flourishes, the greater becomes our awareness of our own faults and shortcomings – our sinfulness! I’m not sure what the exact chronology is, but as we grow and mature in the spiritual life we do become more aware of our faults, weaknesses and mistakes (our sins). Or, is it that an increased awareness of our sins moves us toward the pursuit of a more spiritual life? I suppose it depends on the individual. It could be true that a little bit of both comes into play. For me, however, I think the former case is truest.
As the spiritual life and our closeness to God grows and deepenswe are more and more confronted with the prospect of our own wretchedness. The contrasts between what I want to be and what I am become stark. My hypocrisies cannot be hidden and I wonder how You could love me so much. I feel certain that I am a disappointment to You and it seems I cannot help myself. I wonder if I will ever be able to not be a disappointment to You. The fact is, more often than not, I am a disappointment to myself; and the more I keep knocking on Your door and being admitted to the warmth of Your unwavering love, the more I realize my failings.
It might seem that the only course is to reluctantly resign oneself to accepting this since there seems no way out of it. But there is a way, and it’s through that same door. What I feel about myself may be true but it’s of little consequence against what You feel for me. It is a phenomenon possible to imagine in some ways, but impossible to fully comprehend. Yet without it I have nothing to rely on but myself; and my feelings about myself are not that good. Whatever good I am comes from Your love. The realization of this, despite the realization of my own wretchedness, keeps me knocking at Your door.
I’ve been reading a book called Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Many of the questions put to the abbas dealt with how to relate to God. The answers varied but were usually very simple and straightforward. In thinking about this it seems to me that a great purpose of Your life on this earth was to give us the definitive answer as to how we are to relate to God. Quite simply and straightforwardly we are to relate to God as You related to God. You were obedient to the will of Your Father. We should be too. You prayed a great deal. We should too. You spoke to others about what You believed. We should too. You had special concerns for the poor and the sick. We should too. You loved children. We should too. You were forgiving. We should be too. You were compassionate. We should be too. You gave Yourself to the needs of others. So should we. You healed, You taught, You suffered. So should we. What could be more straightforward than that!
We look to You to know how to live our lives. We not only have the way You lived Your life but, in scripture, we have the words that flesh out the many themes with which You were concerned: faith, love, acceptance, forgiveness, trust, service, humility, mercy, evangelization, disposition, etc.. We should let the New Testament record of Your life be our guidebook.
In these days one sees key chains, bumper stickers, wrist bands, and jewelry with the initials WWJD? What Would Jesus Do?It’s not a bad idea. If we all stopped more often and thought about what You would do, we would be more in tune with Your wishes for us about how to relate to God.