Reflection – March 2020
Cyprian Smith, Benedictine monk, writes in The Way of Paradox: “When we talk about ‘human nature’ we usually mean our weakness, frailties and inconsistencies.” Smith follows that comment with what the German mystic Meister Eckhart meant when he used the term human nature: “that which we are when we are our best and truest.”
I have no doubt that I am capable of sin, of “missing the mark” as some theologians define it, but I grow weary of being told that I am “a sinner.” All I have to do is review my day to see how and where I fail to be my best and truest, to know that I could be more than I now am. The same is true in looking at the larger world – I cannot deny the existence of evil. Even so, as I grow older I approach Lent as a time of doing something positive to reveal more of the best and truest of myself, instead of lamenting my wrongdoings.
Tell a person repeatedly that she is not good and that message eventually takes over her reality. She will deny, forget, or submerge her inherent value and become consumed with her “badness.” I would like to go forth from a worship service inspired by the message that there’s so much good residing in me that it longs to spill over into what I do. What a marvelous gift it would be, if instead of being told to “remember our sins” at the opening of a Eucharistic liturgy, we were invited to pause and remember our basic holiness: “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Holy Spirit dwells in you?” (1Cor3:16)
Being told I am a sinner leaves me spiritually limp and does not encourage me to bring forth more of my latent virtues. Oftentimes it is the witness of others that motivates me to be my best and truest. Their kindness, courage, and unselfish giving is what inspires me to act better than I now do. Archbishop Desmond Tutu commented, “The world is hungry for goodness and recognizes it when it sees it… When we glimpse it in people we applaud them for it. We long to be just a little like them.”
A recent story in Sojourners magazine about the Guatemalan poet and peace advocate, Julia Esquivel, resurrected the part of myself that holds the potential to be self-giving and to do more to change conditions for those living on the margins of life. Esquivel gave up so much of her personal life and comfort in an attempt to change the situation of people living with desperate poverty and the constant fear of a regime promoting ruthless killings. Because of this she received vile death threats and eventually had to flee into exile. Esquivel always lived simply and continually kept her heart close to those in destitution. As I read about this, my love immediately wanted to grow larger. I mused, “My life seems a small pebble next to hers.” Then I made a resolution to be more conscious of people shoved to the edges of society, to be less self-oriented and do what I can to ease their distress.
Two days later I went for a walk and noticed a car nearby filled to the brim with lumpy, personal belongings. “Living in their car,” I thought, and went over to speak to the depressed-looking, disheveled couple sitting inside. There it was: an opportunity for me to be self-giving, an invitation to activate another aspect of my best and truest.
This column is published with direct permission from Joyce Rupp to Jeanne Wall.