March 8, 2019
Reflection for the First Week of Lent
We are busy people. Multitaskers. On our cellphones, iPads, and computers. Always connected it seems. After office hours and on week ends and even on holidays. The need to be connected. Our attention always drawn somewhere.
More and more people are connected 24/7. Yet, too often disconnected from what is really important? A young professor, one of my former students, said it well in an email. “I am very busy; but I often think I am not really connected to reality. I keep waiting for the big moment when I can relax and say now my life makes sense.”
I was thinking last week about the old play that, some years ago, had a big impact on me and my reflections about theology and life: Samuel Becket’s “Waiting for Godot.” Two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait for the arrival of someone named Godot. When he doesn’t arrive, they get a rope and even contemplate suicide. But then decide to wait yet another day. And on it goes. When the play ends, Godot has still not arrived.
There are many interpretations of what Becket was trying to say, but my interpretation, back then, was that it was about people waiting for their experience of God. I guess I was as well…..back then….but my perspective changed and my vision of reality changed. I began to understand that we have the real and the Real.
I came to realize that one cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally IN the presence of God. What’s absent so often is awareness. It’s a matter of perspective. For busy people it is a contemporary problem. In a post last week, fellow blogger Joris Heise expressed it very well: too many people today have “spiritual glaucoma.”
It is a problem of vision and awareness; and part of that problem is that organized religion is often too concerned about itself and too often skims over the surface of human realities. It tends to prefer and protect either the comfortable status quo or the supposedly wonderful past. What we now see in numerous sexual abuse reports about high-placed religious leaders is that their religion, too often, simply preserved their own power and privilege.
God is deeper than religion. Good religion, however, reveals the Sacred with depth and awareness.
There are certain basic questions that all human beings must come to terms with if they are to take their life experiences seriously: looking and seeing with greater depth and awareness. Questions such as life, death, the meaning of human existence, and the place of God in that existence.
I read last week that toward the end of his career Carl Jung (1875-1961), the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, said that he was not aware of a single one of his patients in the second half of their lives whose problem could not have been solved by contact with the “numinous” or the Absolute Center. The “numinous” for Jung, who was estranged from organized religion, meant the presence of Divinity, of the Holy, of the Sacred.
We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living. We live ourselves into a new way of thinking. Contemplation.
Unfortunately, the contemplative mind, over the last five hundred years, has been put on the sidelines. We have become pragmatic and productive. With the “Enlightenment” Western Christianity almost abandoned contemplation in favor of its own form of “rational” thought: we ended up confusing information with enlightenment and confusing thinking with experiencing. People settled for quick and easy doctrinal answers instead of deep perception, which they left to poets, artists, musicians, and philosophers. Yet depth and breadth of perception should have been and should always be the primary focus for all authentic religion. How else could one possibly find God?
Thomas Merton (1915-1968), the American Trappist monk, mystic, and social activist, felt, toward the end and of his life, that even monastic life had lost the contemplative mindset. He observed that monks just “said prayers.” Frankly, I would suggest that without the contemplative mind — honest and humble perception — religion risks becoming a dangerous enterprise. It does happen.
There are many forms of contemplation such as a reflective walk in stillness without your cellphone, quiet meditation, keeping a daily journal: contemplative writing, yoga, wandering in nature, expressing your feelings in art, or returning to regular reflective Scripture reading.
During Lent, try a practice and stay with it for some time, making it a normal part of your day. Put your phone on airplane mode. Tune in to your inner self and the depth of Reality around you.
“There are not sacred and profane things, places, and moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places, and moments — and it is we alone who desecrate them by our blindness and lack of reverence. It is one sacred universe, and we are all a part of it.” — Richard Rohr