“Fear him, do not sin; ponder on your bed and be still. Make justice your sacrifice and trust in the Lord.” — Psalm 4
“Nothing is apt to mask the face of God as religion.” — Martin Buber
Once upon a time two aunts lived together on top of an emotional volcano of mutual hostility. At dinner, one aunt so belittled the other that there was a scene. She demeaned her sister to the point that her sibling threw the contents of a glass of water in the offending sister’s face. Dripping with water and indignation, she walked over to the piano and began to play and sing at the top of her voice: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”
I once knew an otherwise mature monk who bravely disclosed that during services when he would look up and catch sight of one of the more preciously pious brethren in the pews, he would feel literally nauseous with disgust. “The shadow knows . . .” when religiosity serves to mask underlying perfectionism, ambition, and intolerance (in both monks). High moral principles combined with righteous vindictiveness is a particular toxic equation that can lead to the kind of abuse or cruelty we see perpetuated by “believers.”
These examples illustrate a basic mistake made in the name of conversion and spiritual surrender: the effort to abdicate the ego instead of demoting it to an executive function, rather than having presidential status or a royal role in the psyche. The attempt to foster a religious identity as a work-around of woundedness is the very antithesis of the Christian transmission, and leads to premature transcendence, spiritual bypass, or high-level denial. Much personal imbalance and interpersonal destructiveness is the result.
We are invited to be still, step down from our high horses, and live in the bigger story of our faith journey. Does that mean an abused wife of an alcoholic husband doesn’t draw the line with firm limit-setting and leave-taking if the domestic violence continues? Does a corporate employee harrassed by a boss not file a grievance? Does a team manager not charge out of the baseball dugout to “get in the face” of an umpire over a bad call? No, of course not.
As well as practising mercy, forgiveness, and compassion with others, we also have to be able to stand up to them and stand apart from them when necessary.
So what does it mean, then, to make justice our sacrifice? First of all, that line is from the night prayer to help let go of worldly cares and get to sleep! Secondly, we are responsible for our Spirit-led discernment, not how it fits into the divine plan. Thirdly, as soon as we adopt modern consciousness and acknowledge more than one Bible or holy book as truthful, we are working with pieces of the puzzle. We understand that our picture of justice or any other absolute will never be the whole picture; therefore after we have stood up and been counted, we can ponder on our beds and be still, knowing we are not in control.
“I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as clinical supervisor of e-counselling for a major employee & family assistance program, and creative director, InnerView Guidance International (IGI). He also directs a documentary series titled GuideLives for the Journey: Ordinary Persons, Extraordinary Pathfinders. http://www.guidelives.ca/ Connect with Cedric on https://www.facebook.com/cms94 or via email@example.com