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  • cmcsullivan
The Gospel accepts the essentially tragic nature of human existence; it is willing to bear the contradictions that are imprinted on all of reality. …It is contact with Reality that finally heals us. And contemplation, quite simply, is meeting reality in its most simple, immediate, and paradoxical forms. It is the resolving of those seeming contradictions that characterizes the mystics, the saints, the prophets, and all those who pray.

Many of us have sat together in direction and reckoned with these exact questions in the particular contexts of our personal circumstances. We confront our experience of reality as paradoxical. We suffer the tragedy that is human existence – ours and others’ – while simultaneously experiencing, remembering, or hoping for joy, tenderness, beauty, mercy, and love.

Spiritual direction is a practice of contemplation. We name reality as we have come to know it so far. We wonder together over its contradictions. We journey toward discovery of how reality – which we might rightly call the Christ – lives in and through and for us. We explore how the Christ-mystery – the incarnation of God, life itself, suffering, death, and, at long last, resurrection life – is the shape of our own ordinary extra-ordinary lives.

♥ What are some of the contradictions that you are wresting with in your life? How do you understand God today, in light of these contradictions?

♥ What wisdom or insight or grace do you desire? Might you be willing to sit still in the invisible presence of God with your own simple, immediate, paradoxical reality, and see what arises in you?

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  • cmcsullivan

Is inclusivity a tacit endorsement of “sinful” behavior? Does Jesus’ command to “love one another, as I have loved you” include within the definition of love the application of particular, timeless moral judgments?

These are not simple questions, though they are often presented by Christians as though they are. With the implication that these ideas are authoritatively and unquestionably true, church leaders and teachers tell us that to love means, sometimes to judge and to exclude.

I don’t buy it.

I’ve tried.

I would rather not admit it, but I have tried to accept this line of reasoning as it presents itself – that is, as the inevitable conclusion of rational argumentation. I could follow the line of thought: Certain actions are inherently “sinful.” One cannot condone “sin” as a good Christian. Therefore the “loving” thing to do is to condemn those actions regardless of the harm that such condemnation might cause the person whose actions they are. Q.E.D.

It’s the latter bit that I could never live with, that caused me, again and again, to wonder where the argument went off the rails, because, if its “truth” includes the sort of deep soul-harm that I have seen it cause, it isn’t the Truth. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him,” says John 3:17.

What I have come to discover is that it is the premises of the argument that are wrong. That is, it’s a case that’s misguided its core.

What is sin anyway? This is not as straightforward as Christian teachers make it sound. We who have been churched have been given laundry lists of behaviors – some taken from passages in the Bible, others from later sources – that, if engaged in, make us “sinners.” But is that how the people who wrote the Bible, how Jesus from within his Jewish tradition, understood sin?

Sinners in the world of Jesus were those who were or who had become estranged from the nation of Israel. That meant all gentiles and any Jew who had, by violating the law in some way, been excluded from the larger community. Good Jews were only to associate with other good Jews.

Jesus challenged all that. It’s on every page of the gospels. He touches lepers. He eats with tax collectors. He gathers around himself the rejected and excluded, including women, children, and a fellow named Simon who, in meeting Jesus, exclaims, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” This is the same guy whom Jesus will later call his rock.

We never see Jesus imposing a set of moral guidelines for people to follow before he includes them in his embrace of love. Quite the opposite. Instead, Jesus creates a new “Israel” that is open to everyone who wants to belong, who wants to be welcomed and included and loved. Paul affirms this too: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).

I may not be a Bible scholar nor a bishop, but I know this – there’s no way that I am more loving than God. As Jesus himself says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” We Christians claim that the greatest gift of all is the love of God in Christ. Who has a right to claim on that love as her own? Who gets to decide?

Invitation to practice

Be honest. This is only for your own awareness: Who are the people in our world who you think of as “sinners” or who you would exclude from community? Consider the possibility that God wants to include everyone. How do you feel about that?

Do you ever feel yourself condemned as a “sinner”? How would you want to be loved into wholeness as part of a universal human community? What would you need in order to receive that kind of love?

What do you think it would mean for you to extend love to “sinners” – maybe including yourself?

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  • cmcsullivan

The headline of a story in our local diocesan paper reads, “Gratitude: A Moral Obligation.” Where to begin? The church is fond of declaring certain practices obligatory. I am troubled every time I see that word, obligation, imposed in a spiritual setting. Institutional power can oblige us, but by doing so, it cannot compel our hearts.

When I act out of obligation only, I can, sometimes, build a wanted habit. That is not nothing, but it is only an entry-level commitment. It may lay a foundation for deeper commitment, or it may, alternatively, form the basis of resentment and rebellion.

In some ways, acting out of obligation is easier. Just do it. Send the thank you card. Show up for Sunday mass. It does not require any intention beyond the doing. It does nothing in itself to engage the mind and the heart with the act of will. Such acts can be done for show only. Who could tell from the outside? Show up. That’s enough. The obligation appears to be fulfilled.

I want more for myself and for my directees – and for all of us. Gratitude is a good thing. Practicing gratitude can serve us and our communities in myriad ways, turning our attention from not-enough to plenty. When I experience gratitude, it can change me.

Experiencing gratitude, as opposed to making the proper show, requires inner work. I have to wake up and pay attention. I have to listen to my life. Where is there abundance, even in the midst of want? Healing in the midst of hurt? Hope in the midst of struggle? This is a taller order than fulfilling the mandate of obligation. It requires time and effort to sit with these and other such questions and wait for God to move our hearts. Do I experience gratitude or am I simply going through the motions?

Invitation to practice

What are the "ought to's" in your life? In what ways do you act from a sense of obligation? In what ways have these actions helped you to build good habits? In what ways have they created a sense of guilt or of "faking it"?

For what are you grateful? Don't be too quick to answer. Take time to sit with the question and let the answers well up. Where do you experience a deeper sense of gratitude, rather than settling for acknowledging just the things for which you "should" be grateful?

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