Thursday, July 1, 2010

Trying to Get Myself Out of the Center

In the important areas of life like: family relationships, vocation, friendships, ethical decision-making, religious experience and expression, I keep thinking more and more about the intrusion of “the ego” in these efforts to live well.

The need to be affirmed, to prevail, to be noticed, to “be a hero,” to be respected etc. plays a role in about everyone’s living. When these needs are too extreme, we don’t “live well.” Because, we are too much about meeting our needs when we deal with others and deal with tasks in life. For example, when I go to court as a lawyer, if I can’t keep my focus on my client’s interests, but get caught up in my interests and glory, I can talk a lot of good lawyer talk, make some impressive legal maneuvers, but not get my client what he or she is really seeking. Or, in dealing with a friend, I might be spending too much time trying to convince my friend to think well of me, instead of spending time thinking well and doing well for my friend. I guess what I am talking about is getting all caught up in trying to maintain a reputation or build one. And, getting all caught up in seeking victories and the approval of others, so as to feel like someone inside – this is like trying to walk somewhere by running on a treadmill. You just don’t get there! You stay in the same place though you are running so hard.

In our contemporary culture, there is an assumption that “self-esteem” is the key to a happy life. And, on one hand, this makes some real sense. If a person feels bad inside about herself, then it is difficult for that person to live a happy life. That negative self-reflection can color all parts of life darkly. On the other hand, the assumption that one can gain “self-esteem” by focusing on oneself and working on oneself is a particularly foolish assumption. It is really when we experience our self opening to others, becoming joined with others, being part of something greater than our self-concern, that we experience a sense of peace and purpose and vitality inside. Rudolf Bultmann, a Biblical Scholar/Theologian of the 20th century said that the experience of Christian faith was experiencing ‘freedom from self-concern.’

Although it is said that you can’t esteem and care for others unless you learn to esteem and care for yourself, it could be said that you can’t esteem and care for yourself unless you learn to esteem and care for others. Or, it might be said that you can’t esteem and care for yourself and others until you have experienced yourself being esteemed and cared for by another.

In Christianity and Judaism, the core experience is the experience of being esteemed and cared for by the Holy God and Creator of all life, and this experience is individual, communal, universal. That is, faith is the experience of being cared for and esteemed as an individual, but just as deeply as part of a religious community and part of the human race. What this means is that the experience that I am cared for and esteemed by the Holy One carries at its heart experiencing my neighbor as one who is cared for and esteemed by this same Holy God.

So, in this core experience of faith, we are opened to a Holy Presence, and we are opened to each other. We are set free from our self-imprisonment. Our selves become open to communion, to sharing of life, with our Creator,with our fellow creatures. This is how we come to an inner vitality, purpose and joy. We are freed from “self-concern” as we experience the concern of others and become genuinely concerned for them. In faith, we experience God’s concern for us. At some point, in faith, we even experience concern for God and selflessly want to do something for God. That is the deepest freedom. Then God’s will infuses our will, and we become who we were meant to be – those whose hearts are fully given to God and to our neighbors.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Waiting, peace and feeling my way to something holy

Waiting is a strange thing. We wait to see how things go for those we love,whether we wait in hospital waiting rooms or in our homes or courtrooms. But, one thing we all have to do is wait.

But, we have to carry on in life while we are waiting to hear on this or that, and often on deeply important matters.

Some of us feel the burden of this waiting more than others. It seems that some people have a natural disposition that keeps them from worrying about things they can't control. That seems a very healthy and sane way to live.

I am not one of those people.

If I come to a point of waiting in a healthy and calm way, it is because of some spiritual influence that has transformed me inside. Simply put, I need some real serious help to wait well.

And, I experience this help, though I do have to struggle for it at times. And, I am glad for all those people who seem to come by it naturally. I don't begrudge them that peace of mind that seems part of their constitution. Of course, it is not my struggling that brings the peace, but when I cease struggling that it comes.

I have known these times of profound peace that have pierced my worried soul and left me calm in a presence so holy and so good that I can't describe it much beyond that.

Lately, I have been moved very deeply when alone by this overwhelming presence of God, who seems to me to be so absolutely beautiful and kind and wonderful that I am just stopped in wonder. It also hit me yesterday that God is the most simple of all beings and the most complex of all beings. God can commune with an amoeba; God can commune with the simplest person and be thoroughly and completely God. God can commune with the most complex of beings and be thoroughly God.

The one thing I am convinced that God is not: God is not cynical. Cynical beings cannot commune with the simple. They are too far above that. God is not.