Tuesday, June 19, 2012


OUR INNER GARMENT Many things divide us: language, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, politics, ideology, culture, personal history, temperament, private wounds, moral judgment, it’s hard, in the face of all this, to see people who are different from us as brothers and sisters, as equally important citizens of this world, and as loved and valued by God in the same way we are. And so we often live a certain distrust of each other. Sadly too often demonize each other, seeing danger where there is only difference. We then either actively oppose someone or simply steer clear of him/her and caution our loved ones to stay clear as well. Consequently, we are staying in the world, where various groups stay from each other: liberals Vs the conservatives, protestants Vs Catholics, Jews Vs Arabs, Arabs Vs Christians, Moslems Vs Buddhists, blacks Vs white races, pro-life Vs pro-choice groups, feminists Vs traditionalists etc. what we fail to understand is that these are all differences that represent outer garments, things which are at the end incidental to our real selves. We wear more than physical clothing to cover our nakedness too with a specific ethnicity, language, religions, identity, culture, political affiliations, ideology, set of moral judgments, and a whole garment of private wounds and indignation. These are in essence our outer garments. But we also have an inner garment, our real substance identity and capacity to act with larger hearts lies underneath. What lies beneath our outer garment? In the gospel of John 13:2-5 when he describes Jesus taking off his outer garment, it means more than just the stripping of some physical clothing, some outer sash that might have gotten in the way of his stooping down and washing someone’s feet. In order to let go of the pride that blocks all human beings from stooping down to wash the feet of someone’s different than oneself, Jesus had to strip off a lot of outer things (pride, moral judgments, superiority, ideology, and personal dignity so as to wear only his inner garment). What was his inner garment? As john poetically describes it, his inner garment was precisely his knowledge that he had come from God, was going to God, and that therefore all things were possible for him, and including his washing the feet of someone whom he already knew had betrayed him. That is also our true inner garment, the reality that has deeper beneath our race, gender, religion, language, and personal history (with all its wounds and false pride) What is most real is that deep down beneath these other outer, things we nurse the dark memory, the imprint the brand of love and truth, the inchoate knowledge that like Jesus, we too have come from God, and therefore are capable of doing anything, including loving and washing someone else’ feet different from us. Our inner garment is the image and likeness of God inside of us. Its only if we realize this that liberals and conservatives, Arabs and Muslims and Christians, black and white wounded in different ways can begin to stop demonizing each other, begin to reach across to each other, begin to feel sympathy for each other, and begin, together, to build for the common good beyond our wounds and differences. Mostly it’s only in the face of mutual helplessness and sorrow, at funeral, that we are capable of forgetting our differences, putting away our outer garments and seeing each other as brothers and sisters. In the biblical story of job, we see that it’s only when job is completely down and out, when he is shown of every outer thing that he can cling to, that he finally sheds his outer garment and utters the timeless line: “Naked I came from mother’s womb, and naked I go back!”We need to be careful what kind of clothing we put on so that the pain of job is not required to remove it. Coping with divine fire within Our life is short sometime in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment. There is a quality of sadness that pervades all the moments of our life. It seems there is no such a thing as clear-cut pure, even in the most happy moments of our existence we sense a tinge of sadness. In every satisfaction there is an awareness of limitations. In every success, there is fear of jealousy. Behind every smile, there is a tear. In every embrace, there is loneliness, in every friendship, distance. And in all forms of light, there is the knowledge of surrounding darkness. We have to look forward to the day when hearts will be filled with perfect joy that no one shall take away from us. Henri Nouwen wrote that the older we get the more we experience its truth. In this life there is nothing such as a clear cut pure joy, but doesn’t make our lives less-worth living, it simply changes our perspective. Karl Rahner said “in the torment of insufficiency of everything attainable, we learn that here in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished” we aren’t restful creatures who occasionally get restless, fulfilled people who. Occasionally are dissatisfied, serene, people who occasionally experience disquiet. We are restless people who occasionally find rest, dissatisfied people who occasionally find fulfilment, our headaches and emotional feelings, heartaches have their roots in what is best in us than in what is worst in us. It’s difficult to live in this world and be satisfied, humble, chaste, and not jealous of others. No wonder they are so many wars, jealousies in this planet, we often many times see others as rivals, given in rage and murder each other. It is not a simple thing to carry infinity in a finite body and finite world. Augustine summarized it all. We are restless Lord, until our hearts rest in thee.


MOVING BEYOND BAD HABITS We all have our faults, weaknesses, places where we short-circuit morally, dark spots, secret and not-so-secret addictions. When we're honest, we know how universally true St. Paul’s words are when he writes: "The good thing I want to do, I never do; the evil thing that I do not want to do - that is what I do." None of us are whole, saints through and through. There's always something we are struggling with: anger, bitterness, vengefulness, selfishness, laziness, or lack of self-control (major or minor) with sex, food, drink, or entertainment. And for most of us, experience has taught us that the bad habits we have are very difficult to break. Indeed, many times we cannot even find the heart to want to break them, so deep have they become engrained in us. We bring the same things to our confessor year after year, just as we break the same New Year's resolutions year after year. And each year we tell our doctor that this year will finally be the year that we lose weight, exercise more, and stick to a healthier diet. Somehow it never works because our habits, as Aristotle said, become our second nature - and nature is not easily changed. So how do we change? How do we move beyond deeply engrained bad habits? John of the Cross, the Spanish mystic, suggests two paths that can be helpful. Both take seriously our human weakness and the unyielding strength of a bad habit inside us His first advice is this: It is very hard to root out a bad habit by trying to attack it directly. When we do this we often end up unhealthily focused on the habit itself, discouraged by its intransigence, and in danger of worsening its effect in our lives. The better strategy is to "cauterize" our bad habits (his words) by focusing on what is good in our lives and growing our virtues to the point where they "burn out" our bad habits. That's more than a pious metaphor; it's a strategy for health. It works this way: Imagine, for example, that you are struggling with pettiness and anger whenever you feel slighted. Every sincere resolution in the world has not been able to stop you from giving in to that inclination and your confessor or spiritual director, instead of having you focus on breaking that habit, has you focus instead on further developing one of your moral strengths; for example, your generosity. The more you grow in generosity, the more too will your heart grow in size and goodness until you reach a point in your life where there simply won't be room in your life for pettiness and childish sulking. Your generosity will eventually cauterize your pettiness. The same strategy can be helpful for every one of our faults and addictions. John's second counsel is this: Try to set the instinct that lies behind your bad habit into a higher love. What's meant by that? We begin to set an instinct behind a bad habit into a higher love by asking ourselves the question: Why? Why, ultimately, am I drawn this way? Why, ultimately, am I feeling this vengefulness, this pettiness, this anger, this lust, this laziness, or this need to eat or drink excessively? In what, ultimately, is this propensity rooted? The answer might surprise us. Invariably the deepest root undergirding the propensity for a bad habit is love. The instinct is almost always rooted in love. Just analyze your daydreams. There we are mostly noble, good, generous, big-hearted, whole - and loving, even when in our actual lives we are sometimes petty, bitter, selfish, self-indulgent, and nursing various addictions. We have these bad attitudes and habits not because we aren't motivated by love but because, at this particular place, our love is disordered, wounded, bitter, undisciplined, or self-centered. But it's still love, the best of all energies, the very fire of the image and likeness of God within us. And so we move to uproot a bad habit in our lives by, first of all, recognizing and honouring the energy that lies beneath it and inflames it. Then we need to reset this energy into a higher framework of love, a wider, less selfish, more respectful, more-ordered perspective. And that's a very different thing than denigration or repression of that instinct. When we denigrate or repress an instinct this only increases its power in us and, most often, allows it to wreak even a worse havoc in our lives. Moreover, when we denigrate or repress an instinct that's undergirding a bad habit we are in fact acting against our own health and we will then struggle, perhaps only unconsciously but without exception, to even find the heart to eradicate that bad habit. Energy must be honoured, even as we struggle to discipline it and set into a healthier framework. So how do we finally break our bad habits? We do so by honouring the energies that enflame them and by reordering those energies into a higher love.

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