Sunday my mother and I took a trip to Hudson, New York, “the SoHo of the north,” as some are calling it. Over coffee, I was reading through a brochure we picked up from an upscale spa. The spa assured you that their revolutionary facial treatments would not only rejuvenate your tired skin but would also transform you. I was amazed–transformation for $150! What a deal!
As I read I started laughing at the absurdity of the world we live in, where you can buy transformation. I was reminded of the ad that one of my brothers recently saw for a gym. An Adonis stretches out his legs to the camera, wearing little more than a smile, surmounted by the words “Commit to something. It’s not fitness–it’s life.” Only commit yourself to looking like a model, and all your woes will disappear. Somehow I don’t think this is the “life that really is life” that St. Paul was talking about. While I am a strong proponent of a body-centered spirituality, these claims to the ultimate nature of physical beauty speak to a disordered approach to the material that is endemic to our society.
What I find more troubling than these ads, though, are the ways that these attitudes of perfection and superficiality have invaded our spirituality. My spiritual director is always saying that perfectionism is the greatest enemy of true spirituality. God didn’t take on flesh in order that we might become perfect in some existential sense. God took on clay form to reveal to us the divinity already alive within that clay. In other words, we don’t need to become better. We need to surrender more and more fully to who we already are, trusting that out of the dark and teeming abyss within us, God is also moving, also drawing to the surface whatever is needed for this time and this place.
In his extraordinary book Anam Cara, John O’Donohue says that we have no need of spiritual programs. He quotes Meister Eckhart’s assertion that there’s no such thing as a spiritual journey, and if there were it would only be a quarter of an inch long and miles and miles deep. Br. Randy picked up this theme in his Ascension sermon, in which he says that there’s no such thing as a spiritual life–there’s only life.
Our lives, just as they are, will teach us what we need to know, and will draw us deeper and deeper into the heart of God. All we require is attention. As Br. Robert reminded us yesterday in his wonderful sermon, attention is neither anxiety nor obsession. Both of these lead only to a narcissistic idolatry of self-will, as if, were I to work hard enough at attending to my own life, I would finally attain perfect bliss. Rather, attention is mostly waiting, alert to the movement within and around you, to the whisper and often the crash that is the movement of your soul’s return to God. Attention involves living your life, trusting that you are spiritual enough, and that what often seem like the agonizing contradictions in your life, are actually the creative frictions that will set you on fire.
There is no product or treatment that can transform us. There is only life. Your life, and my life, and God’s life in and among all things. The only commitment needed is to live that one, precious life.
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2 Replies to “no spiritual life”
I don’t know whether you had this in the back of your mind, but the theme of this post, and especially the last line, reminds me of Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day”: https://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/133.html.
Yes, I did have that poem in the back of my mind, but I couldn’t quite place it. Thank you for giving me the link!