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.