Softening the soul...

"Softening the soul..." isn't that a lovely expression? It is a term used by Robert Wicks to describe treating ourselves with gentle grace and authentic patience.  He writes: "We all make mistakes - sometimes big ones - but there is always an opportunity for love to grow from these regrettable acts when we are open to letting the Lord teach us. But there are two questions we must answer: will we clearly recognize our faults and through God's love let a freeing, renewing grace come to us? Can we have patience and be as compassionate with ourselves as we are or need to become with others?"

Right there is the conundrum of the spiritual journey: being honest and letting God take charge of our failures and sins, and, allowing grace to wash over and nourish us for the long haul rather than giving in to fear, judgement or shame. One of my favorite U2 songs, "Dirty Days" articulates and expresses what it feels like to me to be honest about myself - sins and all.  I hear a heavy-hearted Bono lament the brokenness that resonates inside and out for most adults beyond a certain age, yes?

I don't know you and you don't know the half of it
I had a starring role
I was the bad guy who walked out
They said be careful where you aim
'cause where you aim you just might hit
You can hold onto something so tight
You've already lost it

Dragging me down
That's not the way it used to be
You can't even remember
What I'm trying to forget
It was a dirty day
Dirty day

You're looking for explanations
I don't even understand
If you need someone to blame
Throw a rock in the air
You'll hit someone guilty... 

And just to make sure there is no ambiguity, he ends the song with a chant that is a truth all too real:  these days, days, days run away like horses over the hill.  Life is short - and often cruel - without a sense of honesty and grace it becomes brutal.  This isn't self-pity or delusion - nor is it narcissistic injury - as he seems aware of the paradox of honesty: it hurts and also sets us free. Like Anne Lamott writes: sometimes my mind is like a bad neighborhood and I don't want to go there all by myself!

What I particularly like about this song - and most of the tunes from this period - is their stunning lack of sentimentality.  U2 doesn't try to force a pretty ending on this confession. They just let it sit there and fade away with the Edge's piercing guitar. Another song points to the second part of the equation - patience and trusting that grace is greater than sin - in the form of "Until the End of the World."

It is, of course, Judas singing to Jesus (although that is not clear at first.)  The set-up could be a forgotten or spurned lover...

I took the money
I spiked your drink
You miss too much these days if you stop to think
You lead me on with those innocent eyes
You know I love the element of surprise
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You...you were acting like it was
The end of the world

(Love...love...)

In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You...you said you'd wait
'til the end of the world
This reminds me of the Sufi story of Jesus looking and looking, pacing in consternation, as creation comes to a close. Finally, the Father asks the Son what is the matter? "I am still waiting - and searching - for Judas..." Grace trumps karma as they sing in another time and place. I found a recent posting by Fr. Richard Rohr addressed much the same thing in his observation about Jesus.  The key is grounded in uniting these two truths so that they soften our souls.

He made the two into one, breaking down the barrier keeping them apart. . . . He destroyed in his own person the hostility . . . to create one single New Humanity . . . restoring peace through the cross, to unite them in a single Body and reconcile all things into God. — Ephesians 2:14-16

What an absolutely amazing passage this is! It is an utterly new agenda for humanity which has never largely been followed. It demands a rather high level of consciousness and conscience.

In the mystery of paradox, if you try to rest on one side and forget the other, you always lose the Bigger Truth. The “Four Square Gospel,” revealed on the cross, is always Yes/And. As many sages have said, the opposite of every profound truth is normally another profound truth, and they must listen to one another for wisdom to emerge.

We’ve seen, for example, Christian cultures, like much of Latin America, Russia, and Europe, that are entirely centered on a pious, individualistic notion of the Cross, while losing any real sense of Resurrection for history or others. Justice for the poor, for animals, or for the earth was not even in the conversation. In the USA, on the other hand, we created a convenient prosperity gospel—trumped-up resurrection for a few and almost no reference to the pain and suffering of the world. Much of American evangelical Christianity up to now has had little capacity for self-criticism, and tries to get to resurrection without any acknowledgment of the cross that most of the world must carry. They limit Christ’s salvation to a very individualistic notion, and their “Christ” ends up being very small and stingy.

Jesus was hung on—and held together—the cosmic collision of opposites (revealed in the very geometric sign of the cross). He let it destroy him, as his two nailed hands held all the great opposites safely together as one: the good and the bad thief, heaven and earth, matter and spirit, both sinners and saints gathered at his feet, a traditional Jew revealing a very revolutionary message to his and all religion, a naked male body revealing an utterly feminine soul. On the cross, Jesus becomes the Cosmic Christ.

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