Rolheiser, Ron. Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality. Doubleday, NY. 1999.
“What does God’s power look like? How does it feel to feel as God in this world?
If you have ever been overpowered physically and been helpless in that, if you have ever been hit or slapped by someone and been powerless to defend yourself or fight back, then you have felt how God feels in this world.
If you have ever dreamed a dream and found that every effort you made was hopeless and that your dream could never be realized, if you have cried tears and felt shame at your own inadequacy, then you have felt how God feels in this world.
If you have ever been shamed in your enthusiasm and not given a chance to explain yourself, if you have ever been cursed for your goodness by people who misunderstood you and were powerless to make them see things in your way, then you have felt how God feels in this world.
If you have ever tried to make yourself attractive to someone and were incapable of it, if you have ever loved someone and wanted desperately to somehow make him or her notice you and found yourself hopelessly unable to do so, then you have felt how God feels in this world.
If you have ever felt yourself aging and losing both the health and tautness of a young body and the opportunities that come with that and been powerless to turn back the clock, if you have ever felt the world slipping away from you as you grow older and ever more marginalized, then you have felt how God feels in this world.
If you have ever felt like a minority of one before the group hysteria of a crowd gone mad, if you have ever felt, firsthand, the sick evil of gang rape, then you have felt how God feels in this world . . . and how Jesus felt on Good Friday.
God never overpowers. God’s power in this world is never the power of muscle, a speed, a physical attractiveness, a brilliance, or a grace which (as the contemporary expression has it) blows you away and makes you shout: “Yes! Yes! There is a God!” The world’s power tries to work that way. God’s power though is more muted, more helpless, more shamed, and more marginalized. But it lies at a deeper level, at the ultimate base of things, and will, in the end, gently have the final say.
To work for justice and peace in this world is not to move from being Mother Teresa to being Rambo or Batman. The God who undergirds justice and peace beats up no one and His or Her cause is not furthered when we do.”
Here I must say… I see very readily the kind of unbridled restlessness that pervades our world. If I were to speak of all three of these Kill Joys as false gods, or idols I would name them this way:
First, Narcissism – the god of “self”
Second, Pragmatism – the god of the empirical.
And third, unbridled restless – the god of experience.
Our flesh thirsts, hungers, longs for experience. And our culture provides an over-abundance of experiences on which we may gorge our appetites to the point of exhaustion. We have allowed ourselves to be put in an environment of constant over stimulation. All of our senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch are given so much stimuli that we become numb to the “ordinary” and special occasions of heightened senses cease to be special occasions.
The way we eat. For many of us, most of us, myself included, hunger is never a real threat. We have refined everything … every taste … from the bitter … to the sweet … to the sour … to the savory. It is all intensified and has even in its most concentrated forms, become mundane. Our addictions to caffeine have moved us from coffee, to soda, to No Doz pills, and now energy drinks that contain unnecessary amounts of caffeine. And it isn’t just caffiene. It’s sweeteners. It’s movies that once satisfied us in black and white, now color, now high definition, now three dimensions. What is next, one wonders? And when will today’s thrillers be tomorrow’s sleepers?
The result of all this “experience” is that we are left with an unbridled restlessness. We simply cannot get enough experience. We cannot see enough, hear enough, eat enough, smell enough or touch enough. So we eat more, listen more, feel more, touch more… and find the emptiness of our lives leaving us desperate for something we cannot even name.
I think Rolhieser has it right when he says that the answer to the restless soul is contemplation. In fact, for those who are at least nominally Christian and would follow after the discipline of Christ himself… contemplation is a must.
For us to remove from the “high places” our gods of self, empiricism and experience, we must shut them out and consider how our very lives as temples of the Holy Spirit are aligned with the heavenly tabernacle… the true temple in which Christ is seated at the right hand of God. That is, by definition, what contemplation is. . . an aligning of temples. The inward temple with the heavenly.
I encourage you to stop pursing self, to stop relying solely on what “works,” to cease from “experience” long enough to examine the Holy Place. To consider the heaven in which Christ sits with all authority over heaven and earth… and from that place acquire (or to inquire of God for) an alignment for the soul.
May we be a people who can contemplate (with temple). May we align our inward Spiritual House for God with the place in which he resides heavenly. May the spirit within us cry out along with the seraphs and the cherubim…. “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty. Who was, and who is, and who is to come!”
It’s not much of an overstatement to say that Americans worship the God of “pragmatism.” If it works, do it. Rolheiser believes, and I think accurately, that our drive for effectiveness and efficiency is pulling joy out of our lives. Here’s my take.
I have been a first hand victim of pragmatism. I’ve seen it at play in my life both from a financial standpoint, but more importantly relationally. I think that is where it effects us most. It’s difficult to live in a relational world. That is, I think, intentional on God’s part. I think he means for life to be difficult but certainly not impossible when it comes to relationships. It is through the very struggle of relating to others that we grow stronger as human beings, and ultimately as spiritual beings.
If pragmatism is god… and relationships are where pragmatism is most practiced… then I think the use of anger is one of the most exalted altars on which we make our heathen sacrifices. Think of the ways people use anger to get things done… and we do it because, quite frankly, it works.
Violence, passive aggression, manipulation. All pragmatic expressions. Getting what we want through emotional manipulation.
The result is that we miss out on the joy of being who God intended us to be at peace. We also miss out on the joy of letting others be who God made them to be. I have to admit, between narcissism, this one (pragmatism) and what I’ll address in the third post (unbridled restlessness), I think pragmatism has me hammered more than the others.
What about you? How have you seen pragmatism at work in your world? What would life be like if we let God be God instead of “what works”?
First of all, I have to admit, I don’t know how to spell absorbsion. My spell check wants me to “absorb ions”. But I’m feeling electrically neutral today so there will be no ion absorbsion. I’ll just switch to narcisism. Okay… apparently, I can’t spell that either… it’s also got the red line of idiocy. So let’s go with self-focus. There we go. No red line.
Okay. . . Kill Joy # 1 is self focus… or self obsession. (goody! no red lines there either).
I can actually think of about three different things that prove the point … at the same time providing motivation for us to do something besides think about ourselves.
1). “Make my joy complete.” Absorb the full section of Scripture here: then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Php. 2:2-5). See? Paul’s joy is complete not by being absorbed with himself but by being absorbed with the body and the attitude of Christ. He is joyful when he is like-minded with the body, when he shares the same love, when he is unified in purpose and spirit with other believers. He is joyful when his motives are not selfish, ambitious or empty. He is joyful when he considers others above himself. He is joyful when he looking to the interests of others.
2) Augustine once said that we will never be at rest until we are at rest in him. Is this not what Jesus meant when he said “If you obey my commands, myself and the Father will come and abide with you.” And what is his command but that we “love one another.” The logic is solid. If we love each other, then the love of God himself resides in us. And where love resides, we also find ourselves at joy.
The Christmas season proves this… so does nesting season after a child is born into this world. I remember when my kids were first born and Ginger and I were spending time in the hospital. There were no agenda items, no to-do’s more important than just abiding. And abide we did. We were filled with the interest of our new baby and we were at peace. We were at joy. The same with Christmas. Christmas is a time to just abide in Christ… to abide with one another. There is no need to be somewhere, to hurry, to focus on self. And for a day or two or three, the world is joyful.
By the way… I did a study on suicides over the holidays. During Christmas itself, suicides actually go DOWN! It’s only after the holidays are OVER that people get back to their life consuming depression.
3) Personal experience as a counselor. I don’t do much counseling anymore. Okay, let me rephrase. I don’t do counseling anymore. Crossroads is blessed with Kevin Guffey…. a man with a passion for counseling. Unfortunately, when I do counseling with people, they tend to leave my office crying. And I’m left with an expression on my face that says simply, “What?” However, one of the things I do know is that in those few occasions when I have been able to successfully counsel someone I have helped direct them to some form of service for someone else.
I guess I would say we just don’t have time to have problems of our own when we’re focused on helping someone else. That’s my counsel for the day.
If we stop being so focused on ourselves, we’ll be more likely to find the joy we’ve been missing.
Preview… The three things I am going to address are 1) self-obsession, and then in parts two and three — Pragmatism and Restlessness. And, by the way, I blatantly stole these ideas from Ronald Rolheiser’s book “Holy Longing.” See you next time.