by Charles LaFond
Jesus rarely really looked back. He strides, and he looks forward (“face set towards Jerusalem”) but never really looks back. In fact, neither does he look back at any of his disciples or the people he heals or even the Pharisees. He will reference the prophets etc. but he never really talks to the disciples or the crowds much about yesterday or last week or last month when… or his childhood. Jesus remains, as the Buddhists would say, “in the present moment.” The now. This time. This moment. Welcoming it and never fighting with it.
Jesus is in no way passive. He is very active – calling out injustice, speaking the truth – cost what it will and lead where it may. And it leads to torture, humiliation and death. Often. And it does for us too if we are courageous enough to be leaders and not sycophants.
To welcome what comes as simply “the new now” is a great and hard task of the spiritual life -a masters class. So many are so sure about so much – and that causes them so much suffering. This present moment – how shall I greet it? I know so many – me sometimes – who greet what life brings with an ego-driven shaking fist. “It should not be this way!” ..but why not? And since it “is,” why look back even a few seconds to “If I had only.if he had only… if it had only…if God had only…if nature had only…” Why not accept reality and move from this next second of time into the next best choice possible in the moment, and of the capacity you have? I suppose I am not allowed to believe in karma (canonical charges include so much paper-work, one really has no time for it all) and yet I see karma all the time. Or the Holy Spirit. Or the Hand of God, or, or, or.
It is so painful to realize that God is either omniscient or important. There is no middle ground. We must decide. And this awareness tosses God into deep vulnerability with us, making him so often seem so shy in our scriptures.
Kathy, one of my great advisors in life – reminds me that when I feel that great and quiet “whoosh-down” inside me, which arrives from behind, and moves through my body, from the nape of my neck to my groin, like a wave crashing from the celestial surf behind me- through me, – it is, biologically speaking – nothing more than the blood rushing from my gut to my limbs for “fight and flight.” It is my body greeting an anxious thought the only way its nervous system knows how. This is further complicated by the neurological reality that the area of our brain in which Eros and violence sit side-by-side like Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee has them overlapping by 20%…
Pray? Love? Fear? Run? Fight?
And our thoughts are so mixed up. At least mine are. Thoughts come and then others come and the anxious ones bring the “whoosh-down” which sends me into a fear or shame storm. Or worse, I experience the “whoosh-up” when I rise in indignation and from insecurity to punch or bash or dominate some perceived (or very real) enemy – my ego like a tyrannical little napoleon, stomping around, pretending to be big and tall and looking all the smaller for my stomping.
But what Jesus models is neither “whoosh-down” nor “whoosh-up.” Jesus just prays. Jesus just walks. Jesus just stands there taking the sucker-punch of humanity in the hopes that humanity will feel less vulnerable, less scared, less angry from the suffering life brings.
One of the early things life shows a priest is that there will always be people in any congregation, diocese or Church who love you, give to you, compliment you and support you. And those are legion for kind clergy. And, similarly, there will always be terribly hurt, emotionally unintelligent or insecure people who will do quite the opposite. A good priest quietly takes the punch in the hope that it will one day, is one day, redeemed by a God busily making all things new. A good priest or person simply observes themselves…”hmm…I wonder what I will do next?”
“This should not happen!” “That should not happen!” “He should not say that to you!” “She should not do that to you.” “She should not say that about you!” “You should not have to suffer like this or like that.” …Really? People will hurt us. People will lie about us, betray us and manipulate us and even punch at us in various ways.
“This should not happen.” Really? But it is happening. Does happen.
When we hear kindness from those who love us, and are trying to protect us, or when we hear those words in our own thoughts or from others bent on our harm, it is easy to “whoosh-up” with indignation or “whoosh-down” with grief, shame, loss or victimization. But it is a very good thing to learn to greet suffering simply with feet slightly apart, hands loose at one’s side and a deep breath into which we whisper to ourselves “God has me. All shall be as it will be. Move from this moment. Do not be afraid.” Or, the Holy Spirit whispers for us when we simply cannot.
This is 401 Spirituality – advanced, in this school we call life. And powerful. And simple. Many lay people know it. Some clergy know it too. And it is very difficult to learn. And like anything, practice gets us there. And calluses are inevitable.