Last Tuesday, All Saints’ Day, I renewed my monastic vow for two years. I hadn’t anticipated what an emotional experience it would be. I figured that I had made the big commitment the year before and that renewing that vow was a bit pro forma. But like all things having to do with God and vows, this action of mine mattered. I was aware as I read out and signed the vow for the second time that I was, perhaps even more than the first time, surrendering my whole life to God in the monastic context.
Since my retreat in Glendalough a few weeks ago, I’ve been aware of a new and more expansive freedom in my interior life. My intuition tells me that that retreat brought to an end a 10 or 12 year period of searching and healing in my life. It isn’t that there’s not more internal work to do, more freedom to walk into, more healing and transformation to undergo. There always is. But I can say that I am freer than I have ever been, that I have forgiven many of the hurts from childhood, that I have let go resentments that have followed me for many years.
When you have more freedom, there’s more of you available to make a vow, more of you to surrender, more of your heart willing to love and be loved. In that light, the renewal of my vow may actually have been more profound than the making of that vow for the first time.
My spiritual director recently reminded me that we’re never invited into freedom for freedom’s sake alone. God works to heal us so that there is more of us free to give away in love for the healing of the world. Freedom in God is always freedom for love, not freedom simply to enjoy myself (though enjoyment is certainly a welcome effect of freedom).
I wrote a few weeks ago about my desire to be a father and a husband, a desire I’ve long pushed to the side from a sense that, because of who I am, that life isn’t as real or possible as the celibate monastic life. Standing inside this freedom, I can see that that statement, whatever its affective quality may have been in the past, is simply false. I would be a good father and a good husband. I am as free now to choose that life as I am to choose the monastic life.
Yes, said my spiritual director. That freedom is something to celebrate and embrace. And, he reminded me, discernment is not only about the kind of personal affective connections I want to have. It’s also, perhaps even primarily, about what transformational work God is calling me into and what context will both support and form me for that work. That’s the thing about freedom–the freer I am, the more I understand and celebrate the fact that my life is not my own.
I heard his words like a punch to the gut and also like the opening of a vista after the confines of the woodland. I recognize the truth of this wisdom in my body.
If all things were equal…but things are never equal. We cannot undo the past. We cannot untangle ourselves from the commitments we have made. We cannot even know the extent to which those commitments and the contexts they create for our lives are lungs that take in oxygen and release poisons and in so doing make our lives possible.
In the midst of these reflections, I was struck by this passage from Thomas Berry’s The Dream of the Earth:
Unfortunately Western religious traditions have been so occupied with redemptive healing of a flawed world that they tend to ignore creation as it is experienced in our times. Consequently one of the basic difficulties of the modern West is its division into a secular scientific community, which is concerned with creative energies, and a religious community, which is concerned with redemptive energies. So concerned are we with redemptive healing that once healed, we look to be more healed. We seldom get to our functional role within the creative intentions of the universe. (25)
When do we have enough healing? At least enough for now? Enough to feel satisfied and to redirect some of the energy we’ve put toward healing into functioning in a creative and productive way for the good of the whole?
I’m aware that Berry’s division of creative and redemptive energy may be too simplistic. Healing is, of course, creative. And living into our creative potential is both a product of and a contributor to our healing. Still, there is a time consciously and freely to move into discernment of my functional role within the creative intentions of the universe. That time is now.
What is the work that God has prepared for me? The work that I am uniquely positioned, because of my past hurts, because of the healing and freedom that I have moved into, because of my longings and inclinations, to take up?
It isn’t that the supposed contradiction of my life (the fatherhood/monk divide) has somehow lifted. But rather, I find myself placing that contradiction in a different context, a context in which it actually begins to seem less like a contradiction and more like a feature of the landscape or the climate, like the way it will sometimes rain with the sun shining.
I feel as if the paved footpath I had been on has come to an end I wasn’t anticipating. A new path into the forest beckons, and my intuition tells me all the walking I’ve done has been preparing me, though I didn’t know it, for this new walk. I just don’t know where the path leads or what it entails. I suppose that is always true. You never know where the path leads. And yet, I always knew before that it led to complete healing. I suppose it still does, but that healing isn’t ultimately the point. For now, I have enough healing.