“Have patience with all things, but chiefly with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections, but instantly set about remedying them every day. Begin the task anew.” — Francis De Sales
“The process of growth is, it seems, the art of falling down. Growth is measured by the gentleness and awareness with which we once again pick ourselves up, the lightness with which we dust ourselves off, the openness with which we continue and take the next unknown step, beyond our edge, beyond our holding, into the remarkable mystery of being.” — Stephen Levine
Spiritual teachings can come from anywhere, when we're open and alert to all the unlikely sources (like a God who came down to our level rather than demand from on high that we improve our qualifications). In a café recently I saw a little boy joyously running toward his mom when he stumbled and fell flat on his face. There was a moment of collective adult concern all round, before the expected storm of injured tears, if not wailing, at the injustice of the cruel hardwood floor. Instead, the boy jumped up faster than he had fallen and clapped his right hand off his left in the same motion hockey referees use to indicate a puck is out of play without any delay of game penalty.
One of my lifelong mottos (a necessary antidote to self-indulgence) is that “mastery consists of never giving in to self-pity.” In that apparently random episode, the little boy was my “guru,” reminding me of what resilience is all about. There's nothing like the spontaneity of children to bring us back to basics.
There is an epigram inscribed above the gateway leading into the legendary Orthodox monastery of Mount Athos. It reads, “If you die before you die then you won't die when you die.” There's the basic Christian vision said succinctly. Dying is a daily discipline in terms of relinquishing self-will, as well as facing momentous events in which all our attachments are wrapped up in the big losses of life. Yet, “What have I ever lost by dying?” Rumi asks. Only the self-cherishing and self-idealization that we need to lose if we are to gain eternal life, which is a kind of code term for the essence of what cannot be possessed.
With this being the last instalment of the Outlooks columns I've been privileged to contribute to the Prairie Messenger, let's conclude with all the forms of “death freely accepted,” which prepare us for new life.
Let us die to perfectionism. We forgive ourselves and each other, because we are still quite corruptible creatures, and God is God, not us (witness song by Joan Baez) and yet with God all things are possible.
As Richard Rohr reminds us: God does not love you because you are good. You are good because God loves you. So let us die to the sense of self-worth derived from moral standards and worldly successes. Grace is indeed amazing in its gratuity and does not abide by the performance principle.
Let us die to the effort to be special, as if that could be an antidote to shame. Those are two sides of the same coin, namely self-absorption. Let us then die to dependence on the approval and validation of others. Divine love doesn't make the distinctions between persons the way we do, based on an admirable list of qualities and merits.
Let us die to self-reliance as our god and, finally, let us paradoxically die to avoiding suffering and loss.
Those are gifts when fully opened.
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as an author, subject matter expert for e-therapy, clinical consultant and director of InnerView Guidance International (IGI). https://www.innerviewguidance.com