Thursday, February 26, 2009

True confessions

"For this reason I say, if one is whole, one will be filled with light, but if one is fragmented, one will be filled with darkness." Thomas: 61

Yesterday, of course, was Ash Wednesday; my friend Mary and I attended the evening service at Grace. It was much easier to walk through the litany of penitence this year, easier to accept the truth of failures and the possibility of redemption; a relatively peaceful time, in fact, despite the inevitable coming to grips with our own shortcomings that happens in that service.

But just at the end, before the final prayer, a pack of coyotes somewhere out in the field beyond the church began to howl. And though our priest laughed and said they were singing, what I heard sounded more like the agonies of the damned in Hell.

It was definitely eerie, and I wondered as I drove home why I heard it that way. Probably just the language of that service; you can't help but feel a sense of condemnation as you listen to all the ways you have failed to serve humanity with honesty and compassion. And then this morning we woke to a huge shift in the weather -- cold wind out of the north, several inches of snow -- very unseasonable. And I thought, oh, that's why the coyotes were crying; they could feel the weather coming.

And then, this morning, I embarked again on my reading in the Gospel of Thomas to find the words quoted above. What does that mean, to be fragmented? I found one possible answer (and there are many; this is just the one that resonated for me today) in my reading of Laurence Freeman this morning. Freeman writes:

"Early in life the gap begins to widen between experience and concept as we think about what we are learning. Under the pressure of social conformity, feeling and thought lose their spontaneous and natural correspondence. We pretend to feel what we do not feel but what we think we should. We say what we don't mean. Even beliefs we may vigorously defend or promote may never have been felt to be true. Religious emotions such as gratitude and joy can be faked or formalised. For many people today, as the gap between the idea and the experience of God yawns wider, their sense of alienation from institutional religion increases also."

Reading this, I see that, for me, fragmentation occurs when I am in a space where I must either deny what I know to be true, or declare something to be true that I don't actually feel. It's a bit like this picture, taken on our excursion into the land of Twilight (and how appropriate is that?), in which my daughter appears to be in two places at once. The juxtaposition of the figures is jarring, and once you realize that one bit of untruth, you begin to question whether she was actually there at all.

And so, in the spirit of Lent, I need to look at the places in my life where I feel fragmented, and see if I can assess where the truth lies and be honest about what I see. The first and most obvious place, I think, is this whole issue of unity. I do honestly believe that we are all one, that God is One and we are One in God. But I don't see that belief being FELT in me yet, in my whole being. Because, whatever I believe, the fact remains that I still have my prejudices, I still do the tribal thing, I still judge, and compete, and envy, and resent, and all those other sinful thoughts and feelings that spring from a sense of otherness and separation.

I'm working on it, and it's getting better, but that's partly because meditation makes me more aware of all the ways I fail to live up to my professed ideals. And, inevitably, Lent has a way of reminding me I still have a long way to go. It's one of those "the more you know, the more you know you don't know" situations; I guess I'll have to trust that there is some progress and keep working toward that unitive state of mind/being.

Psychology tells us we often hate most in others what we like least -- or find most shameful -- in ourselves. So it makes sense that the hypocrisy of organized religion -- that disconnect between professed and felt belief that Freeman articulates above -- would drive me crazy, even drive me out of the church at times. Because, of course, it's my own sore spot, a wound that, like my dog, I keep licking noisily, but it never quite seems to heal.


karengberger said...

I've started to think that there are wounds that may never heal. We learn to live with them, integrate them into our being, instead of fighting them or forcing them. Giving up on the ideal of "perfection," and allowing "wholeness" to mean something different, may be part of Lent this year, for me. Accepting & including the parts that don't fit with my ideal of "perfectly formed," or "perfected" being, is a BIG stretch; maybe this is the sacrifice for me to attempt this year...

Painter of Blue said...

I appreciate your comments about beliefs, things we know are true, but somehow do not feel to be true. The knowledge that we are all one in God is different from the experience of it. I have had moments where I feel the truth of that statement, where the world has seemed a beautiful connected place, but then it slips away. It's easy to get caught up in our own fragmentation. I guess that might be a definition of enlightenment, seeing that we are all one in God and seeing and accepting our own fragmentation simultaneously.

Contemplative Photographer said...

Thank you both for reminding me that we are as God made us; that God accepts us, even in our fragmented state, and created us that way for a purpose; that in wrestling with our imperfections we may somehow come to serve more fully.