The Selfless Self

Following is a piece I wrote in my journal in 1990. It is a quote from Laurence Freeman’s book The Selfless Self.

“To be truly interior is complete opposite of being introverted. In the awareness of the indwelling presence our consciousness is turned around, converted, so that we no are longer, as we have habitually been doing, looking at ourselves, anticipating or remembering feelings, reactions, desires, ideas or day-dreamings…(the) challenge is to become other-centered. Becoming other-centered requires discipline (and) later becomes habit (and) authentic.

“Discipline (is) needed to turn our attention off ourselves. We tend to equate growth, fulfillment and development with self-analysis and conscious up-building of a positive self-image. But…we must leave ourselves behind to be whole. Then we find ourselves in everything around us, in every person, every situation, each successive moment.”

I recorded the above in my journal in 1990. I think the turn from self- consciousness to other-consciousness is as difficult as reversing of a large cruise ship to head in the opposite direction. We ford ahead in our habit of swirling around inside our head, looking at all that goes on as it impacts us. Freeman is suggesting a total reversal. I don’t know if I have ever met anyone who is so selfless.

I say “is selfless” as though it is a state of being, but I really know better. One is always becoming something, never arriving. I myself have been becoming more selfless each year of my life. I’d say that my family has required it of me. This may be what the Creator had in mind when he created families: to move us from focus on ourselves to focus on others. In doing so, we become his servants in the world.

THOMAS KEATING ON CONTEMPLATION

In 1990, I was reflecting on words by Thomas Keating. I can’t tell in my journal whether I was quoting Keating directly or paraphrasing:

Contemplation is an exercise in being rather than doing. You will be able to accomplish what you have to do with much greater effectiveness and joy. Much of the time we run on cylinders that are out of oil or a bit rusty. Our power is pretty much used up by noon on most days. Contemplative prayer opens you to the power of the Spirit. Your capacity to keep giving all day long will increase. You will be able to adjust to difficult circumstances and even to live with impossible situations.

I was 46 years old when I recorded Keating’s words, the age close to where my children are at now. My life was full of the kinds of concerns they have now, struggling through the lives of teens, financial and career choices to make that effect self and family, and day-to-day inner frustrations and doubts that accompany a particular stage of development called mid-life. My 46 year old self found a great deal of comfort in the words “by noon on most days”.My energy depletion was normal.

It is the other piece of Keating’s message that touches the 75 year old me today. “Your capacity to keep giving all day will increase. You will be able to adjust to difficult circumstances and even live with impossible situations.” On the surface, one would assume Keating saying that prayer is like going to a filling station to get the gas needed to so go further. But I believe he was talking about something else. He says, “You will be open to the power of the Spirit.” Perhaps the idea of running on fumes paints a better picture. As I have grown spiritually, I find myself plodding through situations that used to unglue me. I am less apt to lose my temper when road blocks present themselves and I am more able to manage clear thinking even though it may take more time to put the facts together in my head. This seems to be the case even when I am operating on little sleep or I am suffering from exhaustion from an overloaded schedule. Fear and resentments rarely get hold of me and they certainly don’t control my actions as they once did. I don’t contribute this at all to a gust of physical energy. Rather, it is the power of the Spirit, as Keating says.

The power of spirit is not like body energy. Sometimes I get through a difficult situation maintaining a feeling of exhaustion all the way. But I know even in the midst of it, that I am doing all right. I am holding my own and when it is over, I have no regrets.

I am not always on top of things. But even when I fail, the Spirit lets me ride through the feeling of disappointment in myself gracefully. I am empowered to make amends as needed, to fix what I can and leave the rest without guilt.

This new place is the contemplation Keating is talking about. It is living in the center. Finding center takes time and work. It seems I have been at this work since my mid-years. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

JOHN WESLEY – “LIBERAL” OF THE 18TH CENTURY

Posted today on Facebook is a JohnWesley’s Manifesto. Wesley was an 18th century religious leader, founder of the Methodist movement which grew into the Methodist Church. Take a look:

1. Reduce the gap between rich people and poor people.

2. Help everyone to have a job.

3. Help the poorest, including introducing a minimum wage.

4. Offer the best possible education.

5. Help everyone to feel they can make a difference.

6. Promote tolerance.

7. Promote equal treatment for women.

8. Create a society based on values and not on profit and consumerism.

9. End all forms of slavery.

10. Avoid getting into wars.

11. Share the love of God with others.

12. Care for the environment.

These words today would be considered a “liberal” point of view and rejected by those who consider the conservative view of a higher spiritual value. But Wesley was living in the 18th century under monarchical rule. If “conservative” tends to be back-looking, Wesley is pretty far back. From my perspective the above is not liberal or conservative but universal as a practical way of being a respecter of all as equal in the sight of God. Everyone….everyone…is my brother or sister. All the advantages I have I will work for them to have as well. Being a Christian, I see the above as a practical way of Jesus’ teachings being lived out in the world today.

So why are these ideas so adamantly rejected today by so many, even people of faith? I struggle.

FACT AND TRUTH

Reading David Hawkin’s book, Reality, Spirituality and Modern Man, got me thinking about the Fact and Truth. I always thought they were somewhat the same. But I no longer think that they are. Here is how I see it:

Fact is about an actually occurring event. There was a red car in the parking lot of Coborn’s grocery store at 4 pm yesterday afternoon. Such a fact can’t really be disputed unless one is doubting the honesty or recollection capacity of the person reporting it. But no matter. Either the car was there at that time or it wasn’t. If someone happened to take a picture with their phone, that can be a good way to prove fact as long as there is no tampering going on.

Facts can be about non-physical things as well. They can be about words, for example. If you thanked your Aunt Martha for socks she gave you for Christmas it is a fact. If Aunt Martha says you didn’t, either she has forgotten, she didn’t hear you, or she is lying to get you in trouble. But none of these assertions take away from the fact of your spoken words.

Thoughts can be factual, too, though these can’t really be known by anyone but the person who thought them. Let’s say your Aunt Martha conceded that you said thank you, but insists that you didn’t really mean it. She can’t really know what your intent was because intention is something you think.

Facts can be distorted or lost in a mess of non facts. Exaggeration is an example. To say that fifty people came to your party when there were only 31 is exaggerating the fact. Thirty-one people attending is the fact, the other nineteen is not. We let this slide. People don’t take the time to count or notice the time or day when they tell stories. We don’t call them liars. We say they are telling the truth even when all of their facts aren’t really facts.

Truth is something different. It is like the space around facts. Truth includes all that came before and after a happening. Truth includes the “why” of things or the preconditions that led up to or enabled an event. It even includes the environment, the community in which an event happens. When the Amish send their teens away into the world, they aren’t rejecting them, they are inviting them to take their commitment to the community more seriously. Truth is much bigger than fact.

Sometimes things doesn’t need facts in order to be true. Noone expects the events in folk tales to have actually happened in time and space, but they know truth when they see it. Parables are true in the same way. Jesus liked using them because he was intent in teaching truth.

If one is a seeker of truth, they need to know that fact and truth are not the same. Truth surrounds events, even permeates. I think of Truth as sort of incarnating in fact and story. One has to listen with the heart to know Truth.

One more aspect of truth is that it is eternal, or without bounds. You can think you know the truth about something only to find out later that you were wrong or only had a partial truth. This discovery of something more continues. We never fully know the ultimate truth about anything…that is only for God to know.

COMING HOME TO WORDS OF WAR

I was on a retreat this weekend and left with an amazing sense of peace. Home again, I unpacked and took a much needed nap before I checked the news on my computer. I saw words about threats and bombings and even WWIII.

Here is what I want to say about this news:

War never leads to peace.

War and killing are never God’s will.

God never takes sides in a conflict.

Any leader who claims that he is speaking for God is a manipulator and liar.

I am not allowing these events to mess with my peace. The peace I feel is a gift. Jesus said, “I give you peace,” but he added lest his followers should misunderstand, “The peace I give is not what the world gives.”

SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT

On the table to the left of my computer is a small plaque that reads: “Seek Peace and Pursue it.” St. Benedict wrote these words for his community way back when. This afternoon I head out to St. John’s campus where I will be attending a retreat with friends who are members of the same contemplative body as I. St. John’s University was founded by the Benedictines and the retreats I attend there always have a Benedictine flavor. It is one of those things I go along with even though I am a Franciscan in my heart. I am also a Quaker in my heart, but that is another story.

The overlapping of my coming across Benedict’s quote and the retreat is a coincidence I should probably pay attention to, but I would rather note the overlap between Benedict and this blog. The title I chose ten years ago when it was launched is “My Thoughts on Peace.” At the time, I was a student of Peace Pilgrim, a woman who walked several times across the nation for peace around the time of the Vietnam War. She taught me that peace in country and peace in one’s self are basically the same thing. In fact, the path to peace in the world, she taught, begins with peace within.

I am thinking about Peace today as I watch the new and the solution that Peace offers me as I head out this afternoon. Peace within doesn’t come easy to me. I have to work at it. My spiritual director calls the practice of meditation work. Indeed it is. I have to work at it every day to make peace stick.

Another way to get peace to stick is to associate with others trying to do the same thing. That is what the retreat is about.

PEACE!

I WANT TO BE PART OF SOMETHING BIG

“I want to be part of something big”, These are words I found written in my journal in 1990. I had just started a new job at a church in St. Cloud, MN. I was an idealist. I had a passion for social justice. I loved the kids put in my care. I was doing work that had the potential to break forth into something big. I had the good fortune to meet face to face people who were making a distinct mark on the world. Here is the total of what I wrote that February day 30 years ago:

I want to be part of something big – to be aware of the fact that what I do has meaning. This is why I keep reflecting on the concept of “building the Kingdom of God” – knowing that a mighty work is being done and the work I do in my little corner is part of that work…gives value to all I do.

I never lost the passion. What has changed is that I have found “my little corner” more acceptable. I have learned that this little corner is part of the Kingdom. It is the place where I breath and move and where my senses do their magic. It is true that there are children in the world who need a meal today, but there is also a grandchild that needs to know he is loved and I will be calling him today. I think that when I wrote this I was thinking about my work. But it was never about work.

You may think that the reason you go to work each day is so that you will be given a paycheck to put food on the table and clothes on your back. But I believe that your job is about building the Kingdom of God. So is shopping and going to the doctor’s office and stopping to talk to your neighbor who is getting his mail as you pull out of your driveway. If you hate your job and dread the neighbor who talks way too much, then be aware that the you are a part of the building that my need some work.

There was a young man, John Huebsch, who was an inspiration for my book, The Memorial of Jesus. He co-founded Common Hope, an organization that helps families in Guatemala. John was admired by those of us who went to Guatemala to volunteer our services. Most of us felt that we could never do for the world the great things he was doing. But he liked to say, “Just take care of your little corner of the world.”

I am full of gratitude today for the big thing thing I am part of, the building of the Kingdom. The new year isn’t about starting new things but about continuing the work. It is a work we all share.