Thursday, September 1, 2016

listening rather than doing...

Last night I finished Julian Barnes' new novel, The Noise of Time, a fictionalized rendering of the ups and downs of Dmitri Shostakovich. Having never read Barnes before I was curious - and not disappointed at all. It is a moving and insightful paean to an artist committed to the creation of beauty while caught in the web of communist ideology and its vicious terror. This quote called out to me:

"When truth-speaking became impossible - because it led to immediate death - it had to be disguised. In Jewish folk music, despair is disguised as the dance. And so, truth's disguise (in Soviet Russia) was irony. Because the tyrant's ear is rarely turned to hear it. The previous generation - those Old Bolsheviks who had made the Revolution - hadn't understood this, which was partly why so many of them perished. His generation had grasped it more instinctively..."

Perhaps one of the reasons I mistrust ideologues of any hue - from the current crop of Bernie Bros and Trumpites to the humorless advocates of les cause célèbres du jour - is the violence and pain they cast upon others in their relentless pursuit of peace and justice. Not that our work for healing the wounds of the world should cease. Nor do I think it futile. Not ever. But I have become clear that such engagement takes place best on a human scale like Carrie Newcomer's "three feet rule." And unless it is saturated with an abundance of humility and swimming in more than a little humor, I grow worried. Yesterday, Fr. Richard Rohr wrote about the way our best intentions are perverted by our soul's infection with affluenza:

Living in this consumer-driven world, we are all deeply infected by what some call “affluenza,” a toxic and blinding disease with the basic assumption that more is always better and more of self is always good. It is fair to say that such invisible assumptions of any culture are as toxic and as blinding as the so-called “hot sins” of drunkards and prostitutes, though they are much harder to recognize as “sin” because we are all inside the same agreed-upon bubble.

He notes that for many in the West, this is what St. John warned about when speaking of "the world." "The world" is the system - the dominant organizing ideology of our day - that shapes and breaks us all. In another passage, Rohr writes that so long as we remain addicted to or enslaved by "the system," we serve it and advance it even while attempting to change it. Like Star Trek's "Borg" pronounces:  resistance is futile... prepare to be assimilated. 

Mature spirituality creates willing people instead of willful people. We slowly unfold in response to love and grace and freedom, rather than in mere reaction to the illusions of others. Without this insight, religion largely creates rigid, unhappy, and judgmental people. When we try to take charge of our own “enlightenment,” when we try to be fully in control of our own “purity” and superiority, our attitude becomes pushing and demanding—ego assertion, even if it looks like religious ego assertion. I think is what so many people rightly dislike and mistrust about religious people: in the name of the good, will power creates a well-disguised bad. Jesus was a master and genius at recognizing this problem.

Immature religion creates people who know what they are against, but have a very poor sense of what they are for. They are against sin, always as they narrowly define it; but they are seldom for love or actually for anything except the status quo where they think they are in control. This is indeed “the world” and will never get them very far if they are trapped within it—unless they recognize this same world as pervaded with heaven. For me, this is the genius of the Gospel. The world is good in its wholeness, but our little portion of separated parts is never the whole, so we must leave our addiction to the system to discover the Empire of God. We must always let go of full control over the parts to love and accept the whole.

To embody an alternative, therefore, we begin within. Some speak of grace, others of being born from above (or again) while still others celebrate a sense of detachment and inner rest nourished through meditation. Whatever the origin, the truth remains: our core must experience and trust the new/old truth that each individual is sacred and worthy of dignity and love.  

If you do not discover this deep inherent meaning, then everything else
will finally disappoint you, driving your obsession with more. As the Twelve Steppers wisely say, “You only need more and more of what is not working.” As a Divine creation, you have an intrinsic meaning, an irreplaceable worth. Once you can fully accept that inherent dignity in yourself, your happiness is henceforth an inside job, and you will naturally hand it on to others too, because the Source is now infinite and you are finally connected to your Source.

Our inner healing - or refreshment - is essential if we're to unplug from the consumer culture.  Without this, we exist in a binary world of winners and losers.  To triumph for ourselves or our cause requires others to lose. And to stay on top guarantees that we act in ways that cause others to fail. Such is the origin of oppression, cruelty and addiction: we are not satisfied with enough but crave more and more. And here's where the upside-down wisdom tradition of the 12 Steps is illuminating. Something that is working - satisfying and enriching - does not require more. If it is pleasing, beautiful or just, we don't need a new one. "If something is already making you happy, you don’t need more of it. The fact that you need more and more and better and better of almost everything tells me that the commodity culture isn’t working." (Rohr) Until we are satisfied, content, at rest with what is within ourselves, we will wound the world - unconsciously at times, but also with intention at others - until our last breath is snuffed out by those stronger than ourselves. Such is the logic and inherent deadly contradiction of our consumer culture.

Today both Di and I are moving slowly in the beauty of this morning. We have no plans whatsoever except to rest. For at least this moment, if feels right to simply be and learn to trust this wisdom. It is not one I can embrace easily here because there is always so much to do and see. But the more I practice resting and listening to my body, the more I know God's cure for my soul is grace rather than gathering up more experiences. Time and again, the Scriptures whisper:  be still - and know that I am God.

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