In reflecting on our lived experience of the past week, there was a beautiful "sharing of the season" which spoke to becoming "doors and windows through which God shines back into His own house." The sharing was inspired by a story which likens us to Pumpkins who God turns into Jack O Lanterns. God washes us, cleans us out from the inside, carves windows (eyes, ears, mouth) into us and then places in us his light for all to see. We also talked about forgiveness as grounded in our ability to have compassion for others and ourselves. When we are able to forgive ourselves and have compassion for our "ugliness", then we will be better able to do this for others. The scriptural notion of forgiving 70 x 7 times came up and was related to the small opportunities for forgiving we have in the everyday, ordinary events of our daily lives. By opening ourselves to forgive others in small annoyances, we prepare to forgive others for larger things. As I reflect on this, I would also add that we need to include ourselves as well, so that we don't hang onto our own failings to tightly.
Because of the richness and depth of this week's readings we focused mainly on Merton's Voice. Although it seemed like there was much more to be shared, we were drawn to a few specific parts of the Introduction to the Text and the Merton's Voice passage:
We started by commenting on the lines from the Introduction that dealt with our state of being fractured: "We often regard our spirituality or religious observances as just another room we enter from time to time, a socially required pause as we rush between the rooms of our private and individual selves. We need to integrate the walled-off, non-communicating dimensions of our daily living. Becoming an integrated person is the inner work or contemplative living." As we discussed and related to this text we reached a consensus that the work of integration of the walled-off areas of our daily life consists of a gentle, healing process which is the spirit of the Contemplative way. This process is akin to gradual assimilation, pulling back a curtain, or transformation rather than a violent process of breaking down walls.
We talked about the traditional definition of Wisdom as seeking Truth (for its own sake), Goodness (intuition of the very ground of all being) and Beauty (fullness of being). We discussed how living the Way of Wisdom (living contemplatively) "does not withdraw from the fire (living in the world). It is in the very heart of the fire, yet remains cool, because it has the gentleness and humility that come from self-abandonment and hence does not seek to assert the illusion of the exterior self." This was related to living an integrated life, in which we are able to balance action and contemplation. We affirmed that a balance of both activity and stillness, community and solitude, are required for a healthy human life. It is when we are out of balance that we live out of a state of being fractured.
Our discussion proceeded to how modern society over-values activity and what is achieved as a result of that activity: "we believe that for us there can be no peace except in a life filled up with movement and activity, with speech, news, communication, recreation, distraction. We seek the meaning of our life in activity for its own sake, activity without objective, efficacy without fruit,... The life of frantic activity is invested with the noblest of qualities as if it were the whole end and happiness of man or rather as if the life of man has no inherent meaning whatever and that it had to be given a meaning from some external source,from a society engaged in a gigantic communal effort to raise us above ourselves." This led us into discussing how society seems to make us obsessed with proving or establishing our worthiness. That, unless we achieve something of external significance, we are somehow less worthy or valuable. A significant point was made that we can even get caught up in excess study or activity associated with our spiritual lives, in which we seek to become more worthy for God. This business of and our involvement in efforts of excessive study (trying to find God in words or ideas) and activity (looking to find God in our action) actually closes us to being in God's presence.
We ended our evening talking about the Inner Work/Struggle to live contemplatively and remain free from getting caught up in endless distraction. We shared how distractions result from society's expectation that we be busy but also from our own hesitancy to be present to and alone with ourselves. Facing ourselves, it can be difficult to admit who we are; not only our failings and shortcomings, but also our own goodness which is sometimes more easily recognized by others around us. It seems to me that the result of inner work may be to accept ourselves just as we truly are; a complex mixture of feelings, motivations, actions and thoughts and for us to realize that God loves us anyway. It seem that the degree to which we accept ourselves and God's love for us, is the degree with which we can return that love to God and to others.
I'll end by sharing the short quote from Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault's Wisdom Jesus which I read at our 10/23 session and which I believe remains applicable to all we have been discussing:
There is nothing to be renounced or resisted.
Everything can be embraced, but the catch is to cling to nothing.
You let it go. You go through life like a knife goes through a done cake, picking up nothing, clinging to nothing, sticking to nothing.
And grounded in that fundamental chastity of your being, you can then throw yourself out, pour yourself out, being able to give it all back, even giving back life itself.
Very, very simple. It only costs everything.