Night songs and grace...

Well, no more about the "peace train" right now, ok? Let's shift to a related commitment: contemplation. Fr. Thomas Keating, father of the "centering prayer" renewal in the west after Vatican II, has noted that contemplation is "divine therapy." That is, with grace and patience, it integrates our shadow into our consciousness so that we can live "fully alive." It does not mean that we are "healed" or "released" from our shadow - the shadow is with us in this realm forever - but it does mean we can be aware of it - and with love and humility embrace it.

Richard Rohr suggests embracing our shadow consciously into our lives is what sets us free from the obsessions of addiction. In Breathing Under Water he writes that living under the influence is life without consciousness. We are enslaved to our addiction whatever it may be: we deny it, we hide from it, we fight it and we are bound to it in shame. But resting in the presence of God - trusting that God's love is greater than our wounds and actions - can both embrace our shadow so that we live with it consciously, and, lead us into the way of gentle humility. How did the old TV show, The Outer Limits, put it?

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to: The Outer Limits.

In other words, when we commitment to resting in God's grace, God does the rest. We cannot control "the divine therapy." We cannot change or transform our wounds. We can, however, accept in trust that the love far greater than ourselves, who set creation into motion, can do this. Not only does God want to bring us into a fully alive consciousness, but God offers multiple invitations to grace. In a recent blog post about St. Francis of Assisi, Rohr wrote:

"You can show your love to others by not wishing that they should be better Christians. We must bear patiently not being good . . . and not being thought good." 
Francis of Assisi

Yes, the quotes above are correct. The first quote was considered untrue and impossible that Francis would write such a thing, that for centuries the word "not" was deleted from his text. The point seems to have largely been ignored or denied until the very same sentiment was taught in the 19th century by St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In both quotes, I purposely italicized the word "not" to emphasize that our instinct would have been to do the same. The piously corrected versions provide us with an illusion about our own superiority that very much appeals to the ego, especially the religious ego. Francis' statement comes out of a highly enlightened awareness and the humility of honest self-observation.

It seems counter-intuitive that God uses and finds necessary what we fear, avoid, deny, and deem unworthy. This is what I mean by the "integration of the negative." I believe this is the core of Jesus' revolutionary Good News, Paul's deep experience, and the central insight that guided Francis and Clare with such simple elegance. They made what most would call negative or disadvantageshimmer and shine by their delight in what we ordinarily oppose, deny, and fear--such as being small, poor, or disparaged; being outside the system of power and status; weakness in any form.

The integration of the negative still has the power to create "people who are turning the
whole world upside down" (Acts 17:6), as was said of the early Christians gathered at Jason's house. Now some therapists call this pattern "embracing your shadow," which makes it into a "golden shadow" with gifts for us to receive. Such surrendering of superiority, or even a need for such superiority, is central to any authentic enlightenment. Without it, we are blind ourselves (John 9:39-41) and blind guides for others.

I think he is right: so long as we hate our imperfections, wounds and sins they remain our masters. We stay locked in bondage and addictions. And no matter how much we hate our broken self, it is not going any place. So either we remain trapped in shame, denial, fear and anger; or, we come to own our shadows as a real and ever changing part of our whole self. As Rohr writes elsewhere: 

In a spirituality of imperfection, we have a universal basis for how God "saves" humanity - and perhaps also a clear naming of what God saves us from - which is mainly from ourselves and our own feared and rejected "unworthiness." We find it hard to love imperfect things so we imagine God is just as small as we are. One of the most helpful pieces of advice I ever received from Francis is found in the seventh chapter of the Rule of the Friars Minor. Here he tells us not to be surprised or upset by the sins or mistakes of others (and I would add, by our own sins and mistakes) because, he says, "such anger and annoyance make it difficult to be charitable." His analysis is that simple, that hard, and that true. If we expect or need things (including ourselves) to be perfect or even "to our liking," we have created a certain plan for a very unhappy life.

There are so many times I go to sleep fretting over my shadow - dreading it in shame, fighting it for control - but nothing changes. Last night I moved towards sleep first wrestling with all the parts of my shadow that I hate. Then, in a moment I can only name as grace, I heard myself consciously saying, "And this shadow ain't going no where. It, too, is part of who you are along with the joy and the blessings. What's more, God even loves your ugly, broken shadow. So be still and let God love you." Then I fell asleep. Three hours later I awoke and fretted some more about the same old shit. And in time that same gracefilled word of integration visited again - and I went back to sleep for another seven hours.

When I awoke, it took me a moment to realize there was a song singing in my head. It was: "In the presence of God's people" a verse of which I was praying deeply - even in my unconscious: "Let us celebrate your goodness and your steadfast love. May your name be exalted, enthroned on the praise of Israel." And I was at peace. 


James D. Findlay said…
Thanks so much for this! It is open-hearted, sensitive, insightful, and very helpful for my own journey into awareness. I'm sure it will be for others as well. Accepting and living with imperfection -- the path to wholeness! Bless you, dear Brother James!
RJ said…
Right back at you, dear man. Thank you.

Popular Posts