Sunday, September 20, 2009
Wisdom and the Way of the Divine
In today's readings for the Sunday Mass, the second reading is from the letter of James. Scholars speculate that the author of James may have been the one referred to as "the brother of the Lord," one of the pillars of the Christian community in Jerusalem, and very likely, the first bishop of that community in Jerusalem. The style of his letter is in the line of the Jewish Wisdom literature (Proverbs, Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon, etc.) in that he urges his community to "right conduct" and ethical living. From my perspective, the Wisdom literature generally challenges what we would think of as the ego driven way of life and instead suggests living harmoniously with the will of the Divine.
Here is the passage from today's reading:
Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist,
there is disorder and every foul practice.
But the wisdom from above is first of all pure,
then peaceable, gentle, compliant,
full of mercy and good fruits,
without inconstancy or insincerity.
And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace
for those who cultivate peace.
Where do the wars
and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions
that make war within your members?
You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.
You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."
The reading seems so straight forward, a bit like the above cartoon of the CEO at his desk. Would that it was so easy to put our ego under a glass and get on about our business without being selfish, vain, arrogant, envious... etc! If you're wondering what I am referring to when I use the expression "ego," I am thinking of it in both a psychological and a spiritual way. From a psychological perspective, the ego is the way that our sense of self is organized and presented to the world. Included in the organization is the need for survival, belonging, self-expression, our sense of identity gleaned from ethnicity, race, nation, religion, role, etc. It is difficult to imagine how we would get through any given day without our ego intact and fully functioning... it is our sense of "I" and "me."
At the same time, from a spiritual perspective, our sense of self is often based on a distorted or illusory perception of who we are. Often due to experiences in our early childhoods, and very often as a result of our life in society, we pick up messages about who we are, and whether we are good enough, beautiful enough, lovable enough, athletic enough... and these affect at a very deep level our sense of our identity and worth in the eyes of others. These distorted perceptions of ourselves often lead us to feel bad about ourselves in some deep way that we can barely articulate, or that we are somehow better than others because of some trait we were recognized for early on. Essentially, this distorted sense of ourselves leads us to have a kind of false conception or picture of ourselves-- for instance, the CEO who thinks he is the master of the universe and above the law. Or the woman who continues to put herself down because her sisters always got more attention than she did, even though she may have achieved more "success" in the world.
I will probably spend a few days or more reflecting on this topic because it is at the heart of the spiritual life... but in a nutshell, I believe that God is always inviting us beyond the false self that we cling to, and to discover at the core of our being our true identity. More to follow!
Let me know if this is working for you because you're pretty quiet out there, and sometimes I need a little encouragement.