Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Ten Commandments for Mature Living #7

Live in a more radical sobriety.
“Maturity does not mean that we are perfect or faultless, but that we are honest.”

As I have had occasion to talk to people who go to AA meetings, this is what is striking: the emphasis on honesty.  Admitting to the truth about yourself. Being desperate enough to stop trying to cover it up.

I don’t know of any practice more necessary for human maturity than confession: radical honesty. Instead of admitting to the truth about ourselves we tend to blame someone else, make excuses, lower our standards, or feel guilty and try to do better. None of those are confession; simply admitting what is true of us, standing there in the light of God.

I wonder what would happen if we began our church small groups with “Hi, my name is Carolyn, and I am a sinner.”

“If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. “

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ten Commandments for Mature Living #6
Bless more and curse less!
The mark of a deeply mature man or woman, the mark of a very mature disciple of Jesus, and the mark of someone truly giving their life away is this: he or she is a person who blesses others and blesses the world, just as God does and just as Jesus did.

...to bless someone is to see and admire that person, to speak well of him or her, and give away some of your life so that he or she might have more life.

Blessing by seeing is one of the deep archetypal functions of all royalty, all parents, and all who lead others in any way: God blessed the world by seeing it… Normally blessings work from the top down, from those who have more power to those who have less… Young people may not overtly want the blessing of their elders -but they desperately need it.

I just finished JK Rowlings first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy.  (Warning: it has graphic and disturbing parts, and therefore I do not recommend it for everyone.) I liked it a lot - (I finished it Sunday afternoon instead of taking my usual nap and walk in Washington Park! ) and I think this is why:  It is a novel that sees people. It takes you beyond the surface to see people as they are.

One of the characters, Krystal,  is a foul mouthed, promiscuous, angry 16 year old girl. Krystal has grown up with an addicted mother in “The Fields” - a drug and crime ridden housing estate. Her life is portrayed in unvarnished realism.   The novel opens with the death of the one person who ever really who blessed her - who saw her, saw something admirable in her, who spoke well of her and gave away his life so that she might have more life.

Barry Fairbrother came to the high school to put together a girls rowing team. He brought a rowing machine and asked for volunteers.

“Krystal Weedon”, said Barry, pointing at her. “I’ve seen you dangling off the monkey bars down the park; that’s proper upper body strength you've got there. Come and give it a go.”

Krystal ...swaggered up to the machine and sat down … heaved on the handle, making a stupid face… “Look at that!” Barry had said. “She’s a natural. Straighten your back. Thats it. Pull … pull… have you done this before?” Then Krystal really had straightened her back, and she really had done it properly….She hit a rhythm.

“Excellent!” said Barry. “Look at that, excellent! That’s how you do it!”

What was it that Barry had? He was always so present, so natural, so entirely without self-consciousness. Teenagers …. were riven with the fear of ridicule. Those who were without it, and God knows there were few enough of them in the adult world, had natural authority among the young…

But at the end of the exhibition, when Barry asked those who were interested in trying out for the team to raise their hands, Krystal kept her arms folded. Barry carefully noted down the names of the interested girls, then looked up.

“And you, Krystal Weedon,’” he said pointing at her. “You're coming too. Don’t you shake your head at me. I’ll be very annoyed if I don’t see you. That’s natural talent I see there. I don’t like to see natural talent wasted.”

Had Krystal thought about her natural talent as she showered at the end of the lesson? Had she carried the thought of her new aptitude around with her that day, like an unexpected Valentine? … to the amazement of all, except perhaps Barry, Krystal had turned up at tryouts… Barry had liked Krystal. He had seen in her things that were invisible to other people’s eyes.

In Sacred Fire Rolheiser writes:

In summary,we bless others when we see them, delight in their energy rather than feel threatened by it, and give away some of our own life to help resource their lives. Sadly, the reverse is also true: we curse others when we demand that they see and admire us, when we demand that they speak well of us, and when we use their lives to build up our own. A gesture of blessing feeds others; a cursing gesture feeds off of them.

Krystal, who had only ever been cursed, was, for once, blessed.

“Bless more and curse less!”

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ten Commandments for Mature Living #5

“Forgive: those who hurt you, your own sins, the unfairness of your life, and God for not rescuing you.”

“...and God for not rescuing you…”

I have had a lot of crises in the past 5 years - and I have been pretty mad at God. OK, real mad at God. For not keeping my friend Laurie’s cancer from coming back and killing her. For my daughter being in terrible pain and not being able to help her. For giving me all these people to take care of - when, as everyone knows, I’D RATHER BE READING A BOOK!!

I always tend to rescue people if I can. Seeing people in distress makes me uncomfortable, and sometimes rescuing them is more about my discomfort than about them. If I were God, I would be rescuing people even when they needed to not be rescued. (I am not a good leader for that very reason. Not a good god either, btw.)

One thing I have discovered is that I am a lot stronger than I thought. I never liked to quote the verse “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” because I mentally thought, “No, really, I don’t think I can…”  But  these last years I have fought and persevered more than I ever thought I could. So I am beginning (just beginning, mind you, and maybe a little reluctantly) to forgive God for not rescuing me.

I so, so don’t want to be a bitter, unforgiving old person.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ten Commandments for Mature Living  … #4

“Let suffering soften your heart rather than harden your soul.”

‘Suffering and humiliation will find us all, and in full measure, but how we respond to them will determine both the level of our maturity and what kind of person we are going to be. Suffering and humiliation will either soften our hearts or harden our souls.”

“There is no depth without suffering”,  writes Rolheiser. “It can make us deep in understanding, empathy, and forgiveness, or it can make us deep in resentment, bitterness and vengeance…. And we have to make that choice daily: every time we find ourselves shamed, ignored, taken for granted, belittled, unjustly attacked, abused,or slandered we stand between resentment and forgiveness, bitterness and love. Which of these we choose will determine both our maturity and our happiness.”

I don’t think I can add anything to that … except to pray that the Spirit of God in us will give us this grace to choose well.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Ten Commandments for Mature Living #3

Transform jealousy, anger, bitterness, and hatred, rather than give them back in kind.

“Any pain or tension that we do not transform we will transmit.”

Jesus “took in hatred, held it, transformed it and gave back love; he took in bitterness, held it, transformed it, and gave back graciousness; he took in curses, held them, transformed them, and gave back blessings; and he took in murder, held it, transformed it, and gave back forgiveness.”

Just think about that one for a while: whatever we do not transform we will transmit.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Carrying Life’s Complexities

Ten Commandments for Mature Living #2

This weekend I went to a party. It was a celebration that took place in the midst of a very difficult and painful circumstance. There were old friends, loving children and grandchildren, good food and wine, laughter, and poetry to celebrate the guest of honor. That is, some of the very best things in life. It was a celebration in the midst of a sorrow - or maybe a sorrow in the midst of a celebration.

I also (against my better judgement, as such movies generally make me crazy) watched a “Christian” movie. And yes, it did make me crazy, until we began to think of it as a mockumentary … a Christopher Guest movie about Christians, sort of “Waiting for Guffman” meets “Spinal Tap.”  And then we roared with laughter and guessed everything that would happen next (down to the dead guy’s cell phone message… and now you know what the movie was.)

The thing I hated of course is that it was so predictably “Jesus fixes everything.” Unambiguous. Happy endings. (Even for the dead guy who miraculously had a deathbed … or rather deathstreet) conversion.

Real life is more ambiguous - more like the sorrow in the midst of the party. I believe that because of Jesus, the party is the lasting thing, and the sorrow the fleeting. But until then, there is tension. Hence, this week’s invitation:

Be willing to carry more and more of life’s complexities with empathy.

Few things in life, including our own hearts, are black and white, either/or, simply good or simply bad. Maturity invites us to see, understand and accept this complexity with empathy, so that, like Jesus, we cry tears of understanding over our own troubled cities and our own complex hearts, and like Jesus, too, we can forgive others, the world and ourselves for this complexity and imperfection.  
Ronald Rolheiser

In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable, we come to understand that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished.

Karl Rahner

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Ten Commandments for Mature Living

This summer I have been reading (at the suggestion of Father Kenny and Laura Benge) Ronald Rolheiser’s book Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity.  In one chapter he elaborates on Ten Commandments for Mature Living.

The ten commandments given us in Scripture are warnings intended to keep us from falling into sin and into places where we should not be. They are not the standard for holiness, but a lowest common denominator, the minimal requirement for morality, the benchmark below which someone should not fall. Hence, each of them is prefaced by the command, ‘Thou shalt not!’. The series of commandments here for a mature discipleship have a different intent, to invite us to a higher place, to a deeper maturity and a more intimate relationship with God and one another. Hence they are invitations rather than commands, and consequently each begins with a positive invitation.

For the next 10 weeks I am going to attempt to practice one of these. And I may just blog about them (which may help me keep going) and include some quotes (what a surprise, Carolyn offering quotes!) and a few thoughts.  No promises.

The first one is this:

Live in gratitude and thank your Creator by enjoying your life.
Gratitude is the basis of all holiness. The holiest person you know is the most grateful person you know. That is true too for love: the most loving person you know is also the most grateful person you know because even love finds its basis in gratitude. Anything we call love, but that is not rooted in gratitude, will, at the end of the day be manipulative and self-serving. If our love and service to others does not begin in gratitude, we will end up carrying people’s crosses and sending them the bill.

(Referring to Luke 17:7-10) What Jesus is doing in this parable is drawing the distinction between what comes to us by right as opposed to what comes to us as gift. If each of us were given only what is owed to us, we would live like that servant just described. But we are given more, infinitely more. The real task of life than is to recognize that everything is a gift and that we need to keep saying thanks over and over again for all the things in life that we so much take for granted…

As well, our gratitude is meant to carry something else: enjoyment of the gift that is given to us. The highest compliment we can give a gift giver is to enjoy the gift thoroughly. We owe it to our Creator to appreciate things, to be as happy as we can be. Life is meant to be more than a test, and so we might add this to our daily prayer: give us this day our daily bread and help us to enjoy it without guilt.

Our level of maturity and generativity is synonymous with our level of gratitude- and mature people enjoy their lives.

“We will end up carrying people’s crosses and sending them the bill. “ Yikes.

I decided to do this today because I am so tired of being a caregiver. And on the verge of sending everyone the bill (spending the morning on the phone with Social Security and the afternoon at a doctors office can add up to a substantial bill…. just saying…) Angry at doing things for people. Sorry for myself. Gratitude far away. No grateful feelings in this heart.

So because I cannot muster up gratitude (reflecting my low level of maturity, see last sentence above!), I am practicing. Practicing giving thanks when I do not feel thankful. Practicing takes me to a place that  I cannot get to by trying. So here is my invitation to practice this week:

Live in gratitude and thank your Creator by enjoying your life.