Every son wants from his father to gain a sense of mission in life and receive permission from an elder male to pursue the mission; to feel a strong, loving masculine ground beneath his feet so that he will not, once he’s an adult, have to say to his wife, his children, or to strangers, “I don’t know what a man is, please teach me”; to be challenged toward a vision of faraway stars—impractical dreams and ambitions, that he may make, one day, possible; to learn what part of the sacred circle of human and spiritual life he will be responsible for; and to be mirrored by an intimate elder male and found, in that mirroring, to be a loving, wise, and powerful man. – Michael Gurian, The Wonder of Boys
“We are less aware of the harm done our feelings by these pervasive shoulds than of other damage inflicted by them. Yet it is actually the heaviest price we pay for trying to mold ourselves into perfection. Feelings are the most alive part of ourselves; if they are put under a dictatorial regime, a profound uncertainty is created in our essential being which must affect adversely our relations to everything inside and outside ourselves.” Karen Horney, Neurosis and Human Growth
John O’Donohue writes in Anam Cara, “It is destructive to interfere with the rhythm and wisdom of [the soil’s] darkness.” He writes of the importance of letting things that rise up in your soul sit for a while. If you were planting potatoes and someone told you that you needed to plant them deeper, it wouldn’t be so good to dig them up and replant them. Even worse if the next day someone else told you that you planted them too deep, so you dug them up again and planted them more shallowly. Nothing will grow if you keep scraping at your garden.
“People in our hungry modern world are always scraping at the clay of their hearts. They have a new thought, a new plan, a new syndrome, that now explains why they are the way they are.” O’Donohue mentions that trees grow both up into the light and down into the darkness. “Negative introspection damages the soul… You cannot dredge the depths of the of the soul with the meager light of self-analysis. The inner world never reveals itself cheaply. Perhaps analysis is the wrong way to approach our inner dark.”
We must be kind to ourselves. We must live the questions we have, as Reiner Maria Rilke writes, without seeking the answers too soon. (See the quote HERE) O’Donohue… “Life itself is the great sacrament through which we are wounded and healed. If we live everything, life will be faithful to us.”
I have had to learn this through so many years, thanks to good mentors, spiritual directors, and teachers and many humbling experiences. As I look back on my writing from even five or six years ago, I see how much I tried to think my way through things. Questions, problems, faults, woundings… I was always looking for some answer that would make it all ok so that I didn’t have to struggle with it anymore. The hardest thing to hear was, “Ok, I will sit with this for a while” and then not hear anything for days or weeks. Or, “Well, Nate, I want you to stop thinking about what you should or shouldn’t do and sit with what your heart wants to do…”
I appreciate hearing people remind me to be kind to myself, but how did I do that? Even now, when I know I need to be kind to myself, it isn’t easy. Hearing it over and over, though, helps it to stick. And so sometimes, in the midst of the questions and the struggles, the best thing is some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, or a morning with some really good coffee and bacon… or sometimes it is just going for a walk. If I can go to bed and remind myself, Nate, the problem will look different in the morning. Maybe better, maybe worse… but different. Let it sit and see what happens. This is how we keep from scratching too much at the surface of our souls. We live. We let up. We do something kind for ourselves. And we let our hearts and our lives grow deep into the darkness and grow up into the light.
In a recent conversation with a directee, we discussed the nature of finding one’s identity… as a self, as a child of God, and as a follower of Christ. Our conversation helped me put the following core ideas together for me.
I was reminded of Eugene Peterson‘s book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. I have not read the book, but I have heard from those who read it and I find the title alone to be a transformation of thought. I am sure that it is not Peterson’s main point, but the title speaks to me of the reality of Christ’s presence in all that is. Christ really does play in ten thousand places. Not just in the church, not just in one set of beliefs or theologies, not just in one type of person. And he plays! He is not in all things to judge, to condemn (“…and the son of God did not come to condemn the world, but to save it”), to say who’s in and who’s out… he recreates. He finds joy and delight in revealing himself in the cosmos!
I also like to think that Christ dwells in ten thousand faces. Meaning that there are so many flavors and so many individual expressions of Christ’s presence. All the people I meet… Christ. I remember Jesus, himself, saying, “Whatever you did to the least of these, you have done to me.” Not to say they all use the same language for Christ incarnate. Many have a deep chasm to cross, high hurdles to climb over, when it comes to words like “Jesus,” or communities like “Christians.” What they perceive is their experience, not perhaps the reality or the true expressions of these.
So if Christ dwells in ten thousand faces, or he plays in ten thousand places, the questions I have to ask myself are, “What is my face that I show to the world? Who am I as a beloved son or daughter of God? What is my expression?” It seems to me that until I know this truth and allow it to be real in myself, I will never see it in others. I will always be prescribing a face that I believe is the right face to others. Most likely, it will look like what I think it should look like… probably me, or my set of ideals. This was one of the most difficult yet freeing things I have ever learned… how to be myself as Christ has made me to be, not to be the “Christian” that the Christians say I should be, or the “man” that the men say I should, or even the person that I idealize myself to be. Coulda, shoulda, woulda… that’s what I like to say.
Anthony De Mello teaches,
If you want to live, you must have no permanent abode. You must have no place to rest your head. You have to flow with it. As the great Confucius said, “The one who would be constant in happiness must frequently change.” Flow. But we keep looking back, don’t we? We cling to things in the past and cling to things in the present. “When you set your hand to the plow, you cannot look back.” Do you want to enjoy a melody? Do you want to enjoy a symphony? Don’t hold on to a couple of notes. Let them pass, let them flow. The whole enjoyment of a symphony lies in your readiness to allow the notes to pass. Whereas if a particular bar took your fancy and you shouted to the orchestra, “Keep playing it again and again and again,” that wouldn’t be a symphony anymore.
My wise and beautiful wife said to me yesterday, “I’m through not loving myself. I’m done with it. I am just going to love all of myself from now on. I love myself! I even love that I am weird.” She loves the flow. We all need to love the flow. We need to find that unique face of Christ that only we bring to the world, and live it… love it. The rest flows…
“Postmodernity has had a grievous effect on our awareness of our metaphysical nature. It has wounded our spiritual boundaries. The proliferation of constructed images and experiences has caused us to place all our belief in the copy, not the original; in the mask, not the essence. The postmodern soul has lost its awareness of its unique material reciprocity with the sacred Macrocosm. It is not as if we don’t understand that life is lived through our bodies. But similar to the individual wounded by psychological dysfunction, we may hold the spiritual belief that the material body has nothing of the metaphysical presence of the Divine in it. Like the individual who lives a heady, disembodied existence, the rest of us live lives that do not flow between body, mind, and soul.
“Dualism has permeated our consciousness. In the West in particular, we have not only separated the physical body from the thinking mind, but we have also elevated rational intellect above intuitive knowledge that resides in part, in our bodily instincts. Yet we are a society obsessed with the body. Obesity and thinness both are the shadows of our dualistic separation and denigration of the body and it’s instinctual and intuitive life apart from the rational mind. With our modern sensibilities and scientific knowledge, we no longer know the miracle of the human body. When we suture the split between our bodies, our minds, and our souls, however, we will begin to remember both our unique human being-ness and our soul’s connectedness with the ultimate Essence.” Pierrete Stukes, Healing the Postmodern Soul