Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah” (see Luke 11:29; Matthew 12:39, 16:4). Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing. (from Richard Rohr’s reflection this morning 21-October-2018)
Last year was a blur. Losing so many close to me — brother, mother, brother-in-law as well as one of my dogs (who had been part of my life for more than 12 years) — sent me to a place where I felt I had no control, no reassurance that the sun would rise. I wouldn’t plan anything of consequence. It seemed I had no chance to begin processing one loss before another occurred. My sister thinks I’ve handled it better than she has. Perhaps this is true, but it came only after surrendering to the grief, walking through it and basically remembering one of the lessons of Cursillo: Let go and let God. Or maybe sinking into Julian of Norwich’s “All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.” Or the signs on walls while walking the Camino: in the end, all will be good. If it’s not all good, then it’s not the end!
The belly of the whale is dark and uncomfortable. At times the darkness might be more comfortable than the light. When one has been taken care of by the belly of the whale, then one can walk in the light again.
A couple of days ago, the daily reflection from CAC (Richard Rohr and crew) included the following:
Parker Palmer, a Quaker teacher and activist whom I deeply trust, reflects on his own “further journey”:
[There are] moments when it is clear—if I have the eyes to see—that the life I am living is not the same as the life that wants to live in me. In those moments I sometimes catch a glimpse of my true life, a life hidden like the river beneath the ice. And . . . I wonder: What am I meant to do? Who am I meant to be?
That stopped me cold. Parker Palmer put in to words something that has pushed at the edges of my consciousness for forever. I have so often felt that internal struggle where I am trying so hard to live a good, proper, useful life and fit into a vision I have set up while knowing that there is actually another path that calls. Life has gotten more peaceful as I have been able to listen a bit more to the life that wants to live in me.
It’s not easy to let go of those actions and things that make me feel secure. However, those moments where I can look inside and just accept the one who is struggling to be born in me that life starts to emerge. In evangelical terms, I am born again… or maybe I just continue the process of being born again, over and over, little by little.
Some written prayers repeatedly find their way into my site and my consciousness. This one has been in my heart of late:
Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself that I am growing older and will someday be old. Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs. Make me thoughtful but not moody. Helpful, but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom—it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point swiftly. Seal my lips on my aches and pains. They are increasing, and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of others’ pains, but help me to endure them with patience. I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet; I do not want to be a sour old person—some of them are so hard to live with and each one a crowning work of the devil. Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And, give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so.
I admit that I struggle with “the Church” and with the apparent ideologies of parts of the church that I deal with… like the Cursillo Movement. I admit that I struggle to be inclusive, to remember and love these entities that I struggle with, even when we diverge on interpretation, or when I feel like I have moved on and I have shed some of these ideas. I admit that at times I do think I am more advanced or a bit superior. I’m not, when I look closely and honestly at myself, but I do struggle with those tendencies.
Last night I listened to a couple of talks at a Cursillo School of Leaders. These were well done, and well researched. The women who happened to be talking had put time, effort and thought into these presentations, and both admitted that the preparation had caused a change of mind and/or heart in themselves.
I listened to the words and a couple of things struck me: First, I was hearing with different ears. Same words, but very different meanings to me. That means I heard things I had never heard before, even if I had heard the same words proclaimed. One of the ideas that has been voiced is about being fully human. I’ve mouthed those words, but mostly they were a mystery to me. I hear words about “something superior to this world” and I bristle… until I begin to understand that what I seek is superior in as much as it is more, beyond, a unity of the physical world we see (and touch and hear) and the Spirit or power that animates not only humans but all the world. A unity in the universe.
The other thing that struck me was the simplicity of “method” talk and how the speaker shared her journey toward a better understanding of “the method.” She talked about “Make a friend, be a friend, bring that friend to Christ” and how the goal was “Bring a friend to Christ” not “Bring a friend to Cursillo.” That might happen that one would bring a friend to a Cursillo weekend, and that would probably be a good thing, but that is not the goal. Even before that, she reflected on what it means to make a friend and be a friend. I kept hearing the words to an old song “What a friend we have in Jesus…” as she spoke.
I’m listening with new ears. I’m hearing the same words and moving to a different understanding. If I truly believe that God is everywhere and in everything/person/creature/plant/situation, and that the same holds for the Body of Christ, then I’m approaching this idea of sharing the Good News differently. I only need to witness to the Love that is Lord of Heaven and earth and be led by that light. I don’t need to judge. I don’t need to worry that someone else is responding incorrectly. I can let go of the need to be “right.” I am free to evaluate the results of actions without judging the person.
Maybe those are the ears Jesus was referring to… for now, I’m going with that.
Not long ago the Sunday Gospel was the Transfiguration — Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain where they see Jesus as he truly his. The gospel says “transfigured”, but in many ways it seems to be transformation or metamorphosis. Like the resurrection where Jesus becomes the Christ.
The interesting term to me is “metamorphosis” — that would be the Greek variant. Most of us are familiar with a couple of regular metamorphosis events: Caterpillars wrap themselves in a cocoon and emerge as a butterfly (or moth or some other lovely winged creature) and tadpoles grow legs and lungs and absorbs their tails and become frogs. In each case, it is movement from what is to what was always meant to be. Each creature is growing into its “true self.” That caterpillar was always meant to be the butterfly, the tadpole was always meant to be the frog, Jesus was always meant to be the Christ and, I believe, each person is meant to be a part of the Body of Christ.
How that happens is different for different creatures: the caterpillar wraps itself in a cocoon, goes into hiding and if I understand correctly, in that cocoon is an intermediate stage, a pupa, that in its time transforms into a butterfly. The transformation is made in the dark of the cocoon… and when the butterfly emerges, it must do it on it’s on. If someone tries to help it, or do it for the butterfly, then the butterfly generally dies.
That tadpole is a bit more transparent. You can safely watch as legs begin to grow. You can see the tail being absorbed. You can watch each step as it happens.
Some of us are caterpillars while others are tadpoles. Both are becoming what they are meant to be. The butterfly doesn’t get to say to the frog “Hey — you did it all wrong!”; the tadpole doesn’t get to say to the caterpillar — “Hey! You can’t hid while this transformation/metamorphosis is happening.” And Jesus didn’t say “My particular cross is the only cross…”
Let each one be transformed/metamorphosed/transfigured in the way that works. And rejoice in the many paths to the True Self.