Giving gifts to ourselves...

The more I wrestle with living into compassion, the more I realize how much inner compassion I need, too. The more I try to act with tenderness and understanding in the world, the more I must be open to grace within myself. In fact, without loving the hungry, naked, wounded and alone parts of myself, I bring more trouble to the world than peace. Jung made it clear that when Jesus linked intimacy with the Sacred to living acts of simple compassion in the world, the same grace and generosity we ache to share with others needs to awarded to ourselves, too:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,you did it to me.”

Parker Palmer suggests that without honoring and showering our inner paradoxes with God's grace, we will be unable to bring compassion to the world because we are trapped in dualistic thinking. That caused me to recall the day I stopped being a vegetarian. For nearly 25 years I had not eaten meat:  at first this discipline seemed like the natural consequence of being a Conscientious Objector to the Vietnam War; then it became a matter of being a good citizen of the world; and then a spiritual discipline. The guiding principle
 of my abstinence, however, was congruity: I believed that being a person of integrity required that I address - and resolve - all my inner contradictions.

Such is often the case for young and earnest souls, yes? But about the time I hit my mid-40s, two things had become all too clear:  First, no matter how hard I tried, I was always going to be confused and perplexed about most of what took place within; and second, as hard as I tried to change, it was still going to take a lifetime to make even the smallest alterations to my soul. In a word, it was dawning on me that integrity wasn't so much about forcing myself to get everything right, but rather about owning my shadow and tenderly befriending it.

So, one Christmas morning in Tucson, I woke up and declared:  I want some FISH for breakfast!  I celebrated a small, informal Eucharist on Christmas Day in those days, so my honey said, "If you still want fish when you get back, I have some catfish we can share." She was perhaps as stunned as I was at this decision.  After all, she had only known me as a vegetarian. As I drove to the Sanctuary, I couldn't quit smiling. Not only was this the Feast Day of the Incarnation - Christmas morning - but I was letting go of a discipline that no longer worked for me. It had been a friend on the journey, but now had outlived its usefullness. So feast upon fish we did when I returned.

In Krista Trippet's weekly column, she included these words from Parker Palmer this morning.  They ring very true.


If I didn't have the idea of "holding paradox" to help me understand myself and the world around me, I'd be more lost than I am! For me, holding paradox means thinking about some (but not all) things as "both-ands" instead of "either-ors." So many of our troubles, personal and political, come from either-or thinking. For example, when I'm talking with a person who holds religious or political beliefs that differ from my own, either-or thinking can create a combative situation: "I'm right, so he/she is wrong. Therefore, my job is to win this argument by any means possible." How rarely such encounters bear fruit!
But both-and thinking can lead to something much more creative: "Maybe I don't have everything right, and maybe he/she doesn't have everything wrong. Maybe both of us seepart of the truth. If I speak and listen in that spirit, we both might learn something that will expand our understanding. We might even be able to keep this relationship and conversation going."
Think of how much more civil and creative our conversations across lines of difference would be if we thought that way more often! We'd be working to create a container to hold our differences hospitably instead of trying to win an argument. Of course, like everything human, this issue begins inside of us, in how we hold our own internal paradoxes. If we can't hold our inner complexities as both-and instead of either-or, we can't possibly extend that kind of hospitality to another person.
Here's an ancient truth about being human: we cannot give gifts to
others that we are unable to give to ourselves! That's why "inner work" done well is never selfish. Ultimately, it will benefit other people.
"The Angels and the Furies" by May Sarton challenges us to do some of the inner work that can help us hold the tensions of personal and political life more creatively. As I struggle with "the angels and the furies" within me, I often re-read this poem to get re-grounded. The struggle is not easy. But I always find myself comforted by what Ms. Sarton has to say in the third and fourth stanzas about what it means to be human. I hope you'll find it as meaningful as I do...
The Angels and the Furies
by May Sarton
1
Have you not wounded yourself
And battered those you love
By sudden motions of evil,
Black rage in the blood
When the soul, premier danseur,
Springs toward a murderous fall?
The furies possess you.
2
Have you not surprised yourself
Sometimes by sudden motions
Or intimations of goodness,
When the soul, premier danseur,
Perfectly poised,
Could shower blessings
With a graceful turn of the head?
The angels are there.
3
The angels, the furies
Are never far away
While we dance, we dance,
Trying to keep a balance
To be perfectly human
(Not perfect, never perfect,
Never an end to growth and peril),
Able to bless and forgive
Ourselves.
This is what is asked of us.
4
It is light that matters,
The light of understanding.
Who has ever reached it
Who has not met the furies again and again?
Who has reached it without
Those sudden acts of grace?

Comments

Phil Ewing said…
Nice one ! Blessings for Pentecost my friend.
RJ said…
Thanks, Phil. Great to hear from you - many blessings to you, too.
ddl said…
Ah, yes. This is a difficult one. Meaningful, but very difficult, I think. On a different note/post, Congrats to your daughter (and your sentimentality) too!
RJ said…
Thanks, ddl, may blessings abound!

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