Warning – Steep and Deep Waters ahead – only for the courageous
Richard Rohr’s last published book, Immortal Diamond, has been formative in my heart and life over the past weeks. As many of you know, I spent much of the Lenten season in 2013 reading and re-reading Rohr’s work. Last week, we started a new devotional series using this powerful, spiritual resource. Over the coming weeks, our devotionals will continue to be reflections on some of the things that made a difference in my life! I pray you are blessed and encouraged.
A month ago, when we were preparing for Easter, I spent an evening in our faith community’s worship gathering talking about “McGuffins.” Sounds odd, doesn't it? What is a “McGuffin?” A “McGuffin” is a movie or story “technique” that attempts to, not only involve, but also be that which draws a viewer or reader into the story. A “McGuffin” is that which needs to be attained by the protagonist…it is “getting the girl”, stopping the bomb from exploding, finding the cache of riches buried in some ancient location, in other words, it is that which DRIVES the main character to find personal fulfillment. Every good story not only has a “villain” or some sort of conflict that the story’s progression depends upon but has this gnawing sense that SOMETHING HUGE must be attained or accomplished. And don’t think this doesn’t occur in your daily life or mine. If you think about it, we are all “after” something in life. Deep within our souls, everyone has that which they feel and believe will bring personal fulfillment. In many respects, just like that of a good novel or movie, our “McGuffin” comes in a variety of forms from possessions, to people, or a dream of temporal success (to name just a few). Yet, most of us ALSO KNOW that none of those things bring true fulfillment. Yes, “McGuffins” make for good movies and good “reads” but NEVER a good life!
As Rohr states in the Immortal Diamond,
“Conservatives look for absolute truth; liberals look for something real and authentic. Spouses look for a marriage that will last ‘til death does us part. Believers look for a God who will never fail them; scientists look for a universal theory. They are all on the same quest. We are all looking for an immortal diamond: something utterly reliable, something loyal and true, something we can always depend on, something unforgettable and shining.”
Psychologists, theologians, counselors, pretty much all self-aware and truth-seeking individuals know that this search is real. The REAL ISSUE is where we seek and where we eventually stop the search and find the peace our soul so longs to experience. In seeking the truth, Richard Rohr says, we enter our hearts. The “heart” has long and deep biblical roots. Scripture refers to the heart as that part of our lives that is more than the physical organ circulating blood throughout our bodies, but that aspect of our lives that taps the deepest sense of who we are. The heart is the center of our identity. Because of that, we need to understand what we eventually discover when we search for fulfillment. MOST of us understand that that which is outside of our being (possessions, relationships, accomplishments, etc.) won’t bring us ultimate meaning yet, interestingly enough, when we DO go to our heart we end up looking for exactly that! We search for a satisfying of our EGO and not our SPIRIT.
Confused? Let me explain:
Most of us live out two distinct identities over the course of our lives – that which we build from the very beginning of our self-awareness; that which is focused on accomplishments, degrees, awards, recognition, roles all of which promise to bring a sense of importance, and other factors that stoke the fires of our EGO. Don’t misunderstand me here…the EGO isn’t bad or even wrong. WHAT IT IS, IS MISGUIDED. The “ego” is, to use a Rohr-ian phrase, our “small self,” that which we know about from our daily experience. Rohr goes so far as to say that the “small self, false self” is OUR common default in life. You know what I mean by “default?” Permit me to explain: for example, our “default” in the morning is tiredness, a need for food, coffee and, in some cases, a good make-up session or teeth brushing. We don't wake up ready for the day…our default is MUCH different. It is the same with the ego. Our default position in life (some theologians, including myself, would call this “original sin”) is that which seeks individualistic fulfillment via a host of outward works that convince our hearts that we are significant. Unfortunately, our default never delivers. Sooner or later people’s praise or our materialistic rewards or other “props” that we accumulate in life to make ourselves feel good about ourselves end up running out of gas. And, what are we left with? Ourselves and a lack of fulfillment and peace.
Even for those who have a professed “spiritual journey”, it often is the same dynamic at work with a religious mask. In other words, those of us who claim we believe in God and trust that relationship to bring us ultimate meaning and purpose in life will often create and arbitrarily manufacture spiritual hoops to jump through SO THAT WE CAN PROVE TO OURSELVES AND OTHERS that we have “made it.” We separate ourselves into that which is moral and godly and that which isn’t…we reason that if we can gather God’s attention as, at least, being a person who is “trying” to get life right that we will have attained life’s ultimate goal. It doesn’t even matter, in most respects, what these arbitrary rules do to us and others (I don’t know if you have noticed this but few people really keep personal, moral rules to themselves…they end of measuring, or better yet, “judging” the world by that same criteria), the proof (God’s love and affirmation) is in the “pudding.” You see, when we deny our identity as that which is encompassed in our hearts (or souls), that which is proclaimed by God to be “loved, a child of God, a saint whom is gifted by grace”, all we have left are rules and hoops, all of which net us nothing but frustration, anger and meaninglessness. When we make FAITH into “hoops” and not about love, then everything within ourselves and in our relationships and world because that which crushes our TRUE identity IN Jesus.
Here’s where we need to end this devotional – “when you and me have found our absolute reference point that is both utterly within you and utterly beyond you at the very same time,” that is the reality that grounds our being and soul. A historical figure in Christianity, St. Catherine of Genoa shouted as she ran through the streets of her town hundreds of years ago, “my deepest me is God!” Oh, to find at the very heart of whom we are and how we live God and God’s presence and love? NOW, that can change a life!