Sunday, September 12, 2010

Big Changes

Sorry for being late this week - a combination of technical difficulties with the site and the time crunch that this produced.

Anyone who writes for public consumption gets a lot of different responses, and I have been musing this week on the content of those responses. I'm especially interested on responses to the times when I write about my own frail nature.

Like last week - I talked about having the expectation that getting home after weeks of a strenuous series of trips would be pure joy, and about how anxious I was to settle into my usual routine and to plumb the depths of it, and of finding instead that I was restless, anxious, keyed up, unable to settle and barely able to keep to my routine, and that I was just going to have to endure that until my embodied spirit got readjusted.

Some people are happy to hear a message like that. They have similar experiences and often feel guilty about them. Just like I do. They get some affirming from hearing someone else say they had the same experience, and had the same ambiguous reaction to it. They're glad to know that they aren't alone in all of this and that at least one person thinks that it's o.k. to have this experience and that it doesn't mean that they have dropped out of the spiritual path altogether.

But there are others who have quite a different experience of reading what I have written. They are usually smaller in number, but often make up in the power of their vocal reaction what may be lacking in their numbers. They have responses that range from disappointment to unbelief to real anger, and sometimes to outright fury. They can't believe that if I had an experience like this, that I would write about it. This isn't the kind of approach to spirituality that they want to hear. Over the years I have had everything from my approach to my integrity questioned.

Well, I understand both reactions. I know how deeply satisfying and supportive it can be to find that you're not alone and that you're not all wrong. I also know what it's like to build expectations that aren't met and to have those expectations challenged and to see them fall apart. I've been in both places.

I'll just say that it is important to me to recognize the realities of human nature and of the physical body, and that the limitations of both our physical and our emotional nature are part of the spiritual path. I've learned, to my delight, that it's even possible to have considerable spiritual progress come as a result of just being who I am in the body that I happen to have. I think this is an important part of an incarnational approach to my faith.

I'm remembering an article that I read some time ago written by some sociologists who went to India to do psychological testing on men and women who were recognized by their communities to be enlightened people, people of real spiritual realization and knowledge. They wanted to explore the ways in which significant spiritual development affects personal development and psychological functioning. The results of the testing were quite a surprise to them. The tests indicated very little in the way of extraordinary changes in personality structure. These paragons of spirituality couldn't actually be told from everyone else in psychological terms. They were just are neurotic as most people, and their spiritual development hadn't changed that. They were, in a word, ordinary people. What was different about them was the way in which they were able to accept themselves. They saw all sorts of faults in themselves and difficulties in the ways in which they functioned, but they also had kindness and patience with themselves, and of course as a result of this they had kindness and patience with everyone else. They also had a good deal of humor. They had a perfectly normal amount of idealism, and they also knew what it is like to live with ideals that are never achieved. They were both deeply devoted spiritual men and women and also comfortable with being ordinary people, and this made them extraordinary people.

I think that the good news of the spiritual pilgrimage is that among the things we discover in our journey is who we really are, and what what we develop includes an ability to accept and treasure who we are because it is God's gift to us. And this very discovery means big changes get made, energy gets liberated, discoveries come to us. Big things happen on our spiritual journeys, but they are almost inevitably things we weren't expecting, or even wanting.

I was told by my Novice Master years ago that the secret to discovering a vocation in the monastic life was to know that you wouldn't get any of the things that you hoped to get in this life. It was certainly true. I had to discover how unrealistic and unhelpful most of what I had hoped for was, and to let those fantasies go. The big gift in all of that was that I also discovered that what I got in this community was a whole lot better that what I wanted. My vocation has indeed been a big surprise gift. And I'm not the only one with this experience. Perhaps this is the truth of any relationship. The journey to God is like that for us all. And now that I'm getting old and have been here a long time, I'm even discovering that some of the things I wanted to begin with are beginning to come to me. They're coming in ways that I wouldn't have dreamed of and in forms that I wouldn't have wanted originally, but they're coming.

God is very surprising. And very good.

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