We think that we are a living thing that is already created, finished, done, but that is not what we are. Oh yes, the body is here, but who I really am emerges from within and is composed of the meaning I give to my life through my decisions, words, and actions, how I live out and order my thoughts and feelings. Who I am can’t come under my own observation, because it’s the transcendent “happening of being” where God breathes life into me and where I am one with God, from whom I flow and to whom I am returning. It is from this transcendent level of being that I can observe the rest of me in all its levels and parts, none of which really constitute who I am of themselves, either separately or together.
Those other levels and parts have a lot happening in them, they all have their own structures and ways of operating, and their interconnectedness is very complex, but in terms of spiritual development – my own and that of others – how do I identify myself? How does my identity truly come into being? The spiritual realm constitutes our identity as surely as the other realms do, (physical, emotional, psychological, social, intellectual, etc.) because we are related to a transcendent Source, but it also has the capacity to unify all the others in an integrated sense of who I am. Actually realizing this is a long (life time), difficult process, and a crucial factor is what my treasure is: that to which I give most of my attention, where my heart invests itself, and how it distributes my life force and energy.
Giving all our attention to sin – temptation, actually sinning, and torment over having sinned – is how we come to identify with sin and constitute our identity around sin. This only tends to lock us into producing more fruit of sin and injury as we get caught up with networks of social reinforcement. Jesus refused to take part in the complicities around sin, judging, and retribution but instead gave all his attention to his Father and the Father’s love, forgiving people in order to set them free from the traps of sin for the freedom of the children of God; so that they/we might freely receive love and in turn give ourselves in love like Jesus. Still, we struggle to accept God’s forgiveness and to then in turn offer it to others, in part because we are so invested in keeping track of our hurts and the offences of others.
Like the Pharisees, a fair amount of our identity has formed around distinguishing ourselves as different from or better than others. The Pharisees had a lot invested around the rituals of purification from sin and ritual uncleanness. Without sinners, the
Restitution can give a sense of the damage caused by sin, penance can purify or burn away my sense of identification with my sin, and seeking a firm purpose of amendment brings me to face the decision to turn my attention away from sin and give it to God, others, and spirit. God’s love lets me face the fear of being exposed by his light of truth as a sinner, and in forgiving me, shares with me his power to turn to others with forgiveness. God’s limitless mercy and grace frees me from Pharisee stingy impulses to control and ration forgiveness.
In life, God’s Word opens up this territory of forgiveness, theology and theological reflection - like the pondering in the heart that Mary was always doing - maps the territory of forgiveness out, and spirituality walks the path and practices forgiveness. These three - God's Word, theological reflection or pondering, and practical spirituality - are three essential disciplines for the Christian life. We cannot live our faith in Christ as Lord and follow Him as his disciples without practicing these. God is always there and is always lovingly bent over us, like a loving and doting parent, but like children, we are not always or constantly aware of or appreciative of this loving presence and attention of our Father.
Although I don’t recall ever articulating that every human being is at a certain level always in union with God; as I reflect on it, I sense that I have always believed that this is so, but could not say it in clear terms. Over time, I have gone from a static view of creation (like the universe, we were created all at once and are a finished product) to a dynamic one, where we are ever growing and developing and God is constantly holding us in being by his will and breathing his own Spirit into us. Jesus brought home to us the intimacy of this relation and the gratuity of the freedom with which the Father calls us to enter into this life more deliberately through love for God and of every other human person. In sin we cease breathing in and out the life and love offered us by God, and stop receiving and giving ourselves in love - we begin to die. The great joy of reconciliation wells up from our restoration to being loved and loving. So, am I filled with joy today?
to be continued....