When one lives by oneself, as I now do, it seems that one becomes more and more susceptible to establishing certain patterns as daily ways of life – an habitual modus vivendi. The seeds of that life-style were planted while my wife was still alive but after all our children had left the nest. When she passed away it became cast in concrete. For me its most salient recurring theme is “expectancy.” There are shades of both good and bad to the ways I have become accustomed to understand this mode of expectancy in my life.
What is good about it can be pretty much summed up in what it does for my spiritual life. It keeps me pushing forward, seeking, and anticipating new insights and different ways of growing and experiencing God’s grace in my life.
But on the mundane side, the side of my daily routines, this expectancy somehow seems more complicated and darker. It is built around the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc., routines I have established for myself. Hence, I wake up on any given morning actually previewing what I can expect that day. The waking up and previewing becomes an expectancy in itself. My calendar, which I keep up pretty faithfully, also plays into the mix of daily expectations, usually offering some welcome variations.
Typically I wake up and expect to go to Mass, probably do some shopping, and post any mail. Then I expect to come home, make breakfast, read the paper, and clean the designated room of the house for that day. Next I expect to spend time with You, in the music room. If it’s a Saturday or a Wednesday I expect to have a cigar. If it’s Tuesday, I expect to go to the Cosgrove Hunger Center; and if it’s Friday I expect to do laundry. On Thursdays and Sundays I expect to care for my brother. Each day goes through its own litany of expectations. The bad part is that these habitual expectations seem to become so internally mandated that they lock out any other possibilities for that day. There are times when one of my kids will call and ask me to do something for them, and I find myself saying, “OK, as soon as I finish……etc.” – simply because I’m so paranoid about not fulfilling my expectations for that day. This often carries over into my relationship with You when I put You on “hold” because, from the very beginning of that day, I expected to do something else at that moment.
The word “expectations” is a very powerful word. In many instances expectations actually define our lives. For the most part we are influenced by our expectations for ourselves, but also for other people. The expectations others place on us are also powerful influences. These kinds of expectations strongly pressure the way we live. Yet, all things considered, these kinds of expectations seem minor in comparison to our expectations of God and His expectations for us.
When we are very young we learn of God’s expectations for us and we try (and often fail) to meet these expectations. As we grow older we tend to place our own expectations upon God. It’s the difference between the children in scripture and the elders.
In my own life I recognize an ever-widening gap between what I expect of God and the distant consciousness of an earlier time when I learned what God expects of me. My expectations of God now cover a wide range of mostly selfish wants and needs without much thought of what God expects of me. There is irony in the fact that I have no real justification for expecting anything from God, but my expectations are outgrowths of His gifts and graces. God would offer these to me even if I didn’t expect them. But I do expect them regardless of legitimate claim. I expect answers to my prayers. I expect forgiveness, mercy, and salvation. I expect God’s love and His whisper. I expect His safety and security. I expect all these things because He already continually gives them to me. God spoils me!
But what does God expect of me? He expects me to know, love, and serve Him in this world. That’s what we were taught when young. As a child these were important. The way a child perceives them may be why our becoming like children was so important to You. But now, as I age, my thoughts often turn to expectations of how God can know, love, and serve me. Does life teach us to harbor expectations or to meet them?
In the very early days of the church I think there was a real feeling among the apostles, St. Paul, and many of the disciples, to be You in the world. Over the centuries since then I don’t think that ideal has vanished, it has just taken on a wide array of different approaches.
When we look closely at Your life in the world of Your time many things stand out but none so much as Your giving of Yourself. If we would conform to our true selves – Your image and likeness in us – then we would give of ourselves to others as You did. Your concern with doing the will of Your Father meant that You were willingly complicit with His love for mankind. Imbued in that love there was often the necessity to act in conformity with the wills of others: Your Mother, St. Joseph, Your apostles and disciples, even strangers sought to make Your will conform with theirs – and You did! And by doing so You conformed to the will of Your Father who so loved all His creatures.
We, on the other hand, often take conformity to the will of another as a challenge to our independence and autonomy. We inwardly regard our own judgments as superior to others thus substantiating our will over anyone else’s. To be You in the world one must embrace self-surrender. One must embrace the reality that all is gift and giving is all.
You are the perfection of life, but for us to be You to others it is not the perfection (which is beyond our ability) but the effort, including all failures as well as successes. You know this better than we – and You smile!
I watched a feature-length evangelical Protestant film last night called The Finger of God. It was mostly concerned with visually documenting numbers of miraculous healings at the hands of young lay-disciples of a California ministry centered at Bethel Church in Redding. Beyond that, however, it contained a couple of noteworthy insights that gave me pause to consider.
One had to do with the Father’s and Your powerful actions with humans up to and through Your ministry on earth; and then the seeming lack of that kind of powerful divine action thereafter.
The other had to do with Your actual and implied admonitions to people that to follow You meant to say and do as You said and did. To be like You!
Considering the first: I had never really thought about it before, but from their primitive and slowly evolving understanding of spiritual things the chosen people could more easily comprehend their relationship with God when it was backed by powerful interactions and displays that carried understandable meaning for them.
The Old Testament accounts of that relationship were almost always of a caring God but One whose interaction with men was based on power and authority. Even in the New Testament accounts of Your ministry there were the powerful miracles and signs to grasp the people’s attention. Historically, as time went on, our spirituality and theology evolved, becoming more and more sophisticated and the acts of power and authority became less and less necessary for us to comprehend our relationship with God. And so, for the most part, they ceased.
Considering the second: we now understand better that You meet us where we’re at. It became more apparent that the human/divine dynamic reflected through You was meant to be continued by individuals whose spiritual and theological evolution gave them to understand the imitation of Your life embraced such intercessory actions. Thus we have healers and saints, acting as You did and following Your example of healing. The question then becomes: If we would become imitators and doers of what You did, should we not be doing the same?
That was pretty much the lesson taken to heart by the young lay people in this film. They actually went out and “beat the bushes” to find and cure people who needed healing through their prayers.
Look at the life of Mother Theresa or at almost all of the saints and you will see how they all came to the imitation of You by extending the power of Your healing love to others. If we would be one with You who are one with the Father we must be willing to help heal the lack of oneness we have with each other.
“The other” is a pretty nebulous person, as is the term “others.” To love others as we love ourselves, or You, is often too generic a concept to truly make a specific impact on our spiritual growth. But if we give a name to “the other” we can make some progress. I was recently thinking about this in regards to Lent.
It seems like all the people in my family and others around me perennially choose to “give up” something for Lent. At some point in my life I convinced myself that giving something up for 40 days and then taking it back up after that time was something less than a sure bet to improve my spiritual life and/or my relationship with You. It seems more needful to work on “doing something” for 40 days that will contribute to forming a habit or disposition that will carry on when Lent is over. For example, to pick some “other” whom we see or deal with frequently – someone with a name we know – someone in whom we can identify a “need” we might help him/her meet; but not so overtly that they would see it as the deed of a “do-gooder.” In fact, whatever it is that we choose to do should never be mentioned between the two principals. It is strictly between God and us.
A Lent or two, or maybe a few, of taking this approach will establish a disposition of compassion for others that giving up something for 40 days will not, most likely, offer. And, truth be told, we are still giving something up – self!
I recently watched a children’s movie with some of my grandkids. The title was “Despicable Me.” It was entertaining and funny, especially the hoard of little yellow minions who were dopey, servile underlings of the comically evil main character. I do find spiritual insight in a variety of places, but never before, I think, in a children’s movie.
One way we can think about the gift of life to every person is as a gift to be God’s minion – to bring Him into the world – to be His hands and feet as best we can in our own ( often dopey) way. Failure at this is a failed life!
Looking back on one’s life is a scary business; not so much regarding the things we have done but regarding the things we have not done, the omissions, the missed opportunities. I can think of lots of things for which I pat myself on the back (which undoubtedly diminishes them) but I can think of far more that fall into the category of “woulda, coulda, shoulda.”
Each day at the penitential rite of the Mass I pray that God will diminish me so that He could be magnified through me to others. Yet I find myself not so willing to be diminished, thus giving God a lot of debris to push through. God is magnified through saintly people – people who diminished their egos. People who let go and let God. I am not a saintly person and I make a hypocritical hodge-podge of trying to be one. Yet it is what I desire in order to be God’s minion. Learning to abandon and disregard all the past woulda, coulda, shouldas that fall into the category of missed opportunities is the preliminary action to simply enacting the role of God’s minion during one’s life on this planet while jettisoning the debris behind us. That debris confounds and bedevils us but God pushes through it.
Of all the things we ever do in this life, the things we do for others matter most! I picture God as pretty much ignoring the things we do for ourselves, but what we do for others catches His attention.
The image and likeness of God reflected in You is my true self. In Your life, we see modeled a life totally for others. If we live our lives totally for ourselves I can understand why God might pretty much ignore us. We’ve missed the point!
We’ve given up seeking our true selves and made idols of our false selves.
There are also, apparently, degrees of how much of that which we do for others matters. That which we do for those we love the most matters, but not as much as what we might do for acquaintances; and that not as much as what we might do for complete strangers; and that not as much as what we might do for our enemies. We see this in Your own interactions with loved ones, acquaintances, strangers, and enemies.
By saying that I think God ignores our selfish actions I do not mean to say that He discounts us. I picture God as intently waiting for our change of heart and ready to grace us in that direction once we’ve chosen it. It’s our actions that are directed toward serving ourselves that militate against our true selves. It is this which I see God ignoring. Only in ways that give away to others something of ourselves is God’s eye caught; and added gifts of grace are bestowed.
You endured the common necessities of being human: eating, sleeping, etc. But when You woke up each morning it was apparent that You did not plan Your day around doing things for Yourself. Scripture records the things You did for Your mother; and for Your friends, the apostles; and for those with whom You were acquainted, Your disciples; and for strangers who just came up to You or whom You met along the way; and to those who wished You no good and ended up killing You.
My days are a mix. When I wake up my mind is usually flooded with what I’ve got to do today. Percentage-wise most of it is stuff I want to do for myself. But I find that being alone now somehow increases my desire to reach out more to others I think it’s the grace God’s been waiting to give me!
If the notion of the “true self” can, in feeble human terms, be somewhat accurately described as the image and likeness of God that dwells in each of us, then we move to the next consideration: what is in me that is that image and likeness?
The image and likeness of God is love! St. John says much the same thing and we often hear the expression “God is love.” Thus, if the image and likeness of God is love, and the true self is the image and likeness of God in me, then my true self is all about love.
The manifestations of love in Your life, as recorded in scripture, reflect the Father’s love for His children. Manifestations such as servitude, healing, compassion, patience, forgiveness, trust, empathy, obedience, and prayer are all reflections of the image and likeness of God as shown to us by You. They each manifest love! If my true self is the image and likeness of God in me, then it is all about reflecting this love. Yet it is evident that we nurture a proclivity for constructing any number of other selves which promote a variety of images and likenesses that do not reflect the source and truth of our existence.
One of the most cautionary aspects of our false selves is to not only offer our false self as that which might attract the love of others but also to be, ourselves, erroneously attracted to the false selves of others and make it the essential object of our love for them. In this sense it may be said that our false self is often about false love – or loving for selfish reasons.
Our false self wears many faces, and we create each of them. Our true self wears only the face of love and is not created but, rather, nurtured or ignored by us. It is the image and likeness of God Himself in us!
In the way human beings think and in the limitations of the conceptual denotations of the words we use, and because of our grounding in the sentient, the path to a clear understating of some spiritual realities is clogged. Unclogging those paths necessitates a level of deeply inner contemplative thought that goes well beyond the senses, words, and concepts that commonly populate our brains.
Among such spiritual realities is the so-called “true-self.” I think I have a substantial grasp of the “false self” about which I have so often written to You. It is the superficial persona that I have cultivated during my lifetime. It is the “me” that is the blockade to my true self. It is the image and likeness of the self I wish to present. My true self is Your image and likeness in me. Why is it that we are so inclined to choose the former over the latter? I repeat: the true self is the image and likeness of God as it resides in the individual that is me.
I can explain to myself and comprehend all the aspects of the false selves I have assumed during my life because I have created them. They originated with me. But how do I comprehend and explain to myself the image and likeness of God in me which is my true self? What is God’s image and likeness in a human being?
I know myself by the choices I make; but You know me beyond those choices. You are the incarnate reflection of the image and likeness of God in the very way that I am meant to be the reflection of Your image and likeness in me; and that is my true self! That is also the aspect of my life that I spend a lifetime side-stepping.
Our lives are, in many respects, all about discovering and comprehending what is Your image and likeness in us and how, in our daily lives, we reflect it. As we progress to this point we more and more dissolve the false selves we have assumed and live life with greater consideration of our true selves.
But, by what means do we make such progress? In my reckoning the means of supremely paramount importance is prayer; prayer of petition, prayer of thanksgiving, prayer of praise, and prayer of meditation. Nothing in the life of a human being draws him/her closer to the true self than prayer – prayer on a regular daily basis! The answer to the question: How do we arrive at some kind of comprehension of the true self in us? – it is prayer! If the true self is Your image and likeness in us, then it is never more present to us than when we pray.
When I say to You each day, “Diminish me so that You might be magnified through me to others,” the meaning of the “me” is the self. Without diminishing the self my self allows me no room for anything else to come forth but my self. My self only magnifies my self. What I am asking You is to help me hold back my self so that I can let another self – Your self – shine through. In my case I cannot do this for myself.
My self is so overwhelming that I need help to get it into the background. I want Your self to grow out of me. Of course my knowledge of Your self is based on what my self has pieced together and integrated from a wide variety of sources chosen by my self. That is to say my self is responsible for the composite understanding of Your self that I maintain. It is a problem. So pervasive is my self. But it’s not the only problem expressed in the context of this desire.
The question arises: Does my desire to be diminished so that Your self radiates from me override my self’s ability to see Your self in others? Am I so blinded by my own self’s image of Your self that I cannot find it in any other source but my self. Without Your help there seems to be just no way to divest one’s self of self. The nearest example we have of even partial success in this area is among the saints. Yet even they were never completely successful, which leads me to wonder if, indeed, You would want me totally lacking my self. After all, that self, as much as I might try to lose it, is the unique person You love with a forgiving, compassionate, and understanding love despite its failings