Monday, May 25, 2009

Mt. Irenaeus

Last weekend I went on retreat with members of the men's spirituality group of which I am a member. We went to Mt. Irenaeus a ministry of the Friars at St. Bonaventure. The following is the final entry in my rpayer journal for that weekend.

Just back from an hour’s walk in the woods. As I walked I kept repeating to myself that I just needed to trust myself. It seems so simple. Why haven’t I done it? I began to think of all the people who saw me as fundamentally good: Grandma, Marilyn, Paula, Fran Blighton, Sr. Therese, Tim, Richard, Tom, Anola. There are so many; why didn’t I hear them? Why did I think I had to be different, had to have some kind of agenda for change? It was because of my attachments, beliefs, fears just as De Mello writes. Where did these come from and why were they and are they so powerful that I distort myself in light of them? De Mello is right in the sense that they come from culture, society, family. Sometimes these are innocent and unavoidable; sometimes they are intentional and diabolical. Why would a five year little boy think that people were trying to poison him except for the fact that he sensed there was something wrong with the way he was.

No matter how deep and how strong, these are lessons that can be unlearned but awareness and understanding. No program of change will accomplish anything other than reinforcing the attachments. Joyce’s description of a retreat in Portrait of an Artist as Young Man struck home to me and my classmates because it was exactly our experience. We were told that we were bad, yes basically bad and that we needed to change. Discipline was the key and it carried within it the seed of destruction. Nothing ever worked, at least not for very long. It could never work but it kept us in an inferior position. Unfortunately the Church has used this approach and continues to use it.

We begin in a blessed condition because of that fundamental existential relationship to the Divine. We are not sullied or wounded with original sin. The world is wounded in that way and it is the world that wounds us, not the other way around. Our struggle is to keep the world from distorting that fundamental relationship and the freedom and life that come with it. That is the human task. That is my task.

I stood before the wooden cross at the end of trail and spoke to Jesus. He knows exactly what I go through; he faced the same human condition. It is not original sin as personal but original sin in the world. He kept himself free from that or understood his circumstance in a way that freed him. It was that world that crucified him, not me and my sins as we were taught. I asked him to help me follow his same path, not by following a set of rules but by freeing myself as he freed himself, by taking up his cross which is really no cross at all but radical existential freedom. Surely this is the meaning of grace, divine life in me. I heard him tell me that he and I were in exactly the same situation. The divine life at the core of his being is the same divine life at the core of mine. I am to become like him. The divine deeply desires that I be so and sends me a superabundance of life through that relationship. All I have to do is be open to that life by freeing myself of attachments, beliefs, and fears. I have gained a deeper appreciation for the meaning of sunder warumbe.

What now? I desire to be more faithful in my prayer and reflection. An hour a day is not too much to ask of myself. I would spend the hour reading scripture and works that feed this understanding: Meister Eckhart, De Mello, Fox and others I am sure. I can do this each morning as soon as Marilyn leaves for work. It is quiet and peaceful.

All this puts the Church in a difficult position for me. It has been and continues to be a source of my problems. How can it be otherwise? It is part of this sinful world that seeks to control me and distort my view of who I really am. Have not most of those who have written in this vein been punished or excluded by the Church? How can this be? It is part of the human condition and must be seen in that light. Salvation does not lie in the Church. My involvement with the Church must be such that it sustains this life in me. Every reform movement in the Church began with similar insights, namely that the relationship with the divine is central and happens outside the structures and institutions of the church.