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Healthy Boundaries

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Everything Belongs: Week 2

Healthy Boundaries
Sunday, December 4, 2016

God is always bigger than the boxes we build for God, so we should not waste too much time protecting our always too small boxes. It is very hard for people to enjoy their objective, pre-existing union with God until they have an adequate sense of identity, boundaries, and at least the first beginnings of a sense of awe and humility. Basically, they need a container to hold such precious contents. The Ark of the Covenant is a metaphor for the sacred seat of God’s presence; the Israelites went to great lengths to construct it perfectly and carry it wherever they went (Exodus 25:10ff).

Those who rush to artificially concoct their identity often end up with hardened and overly defended edges. They are easily offended and may become racists, overly patriotic, or remain entirely tribal—afraid of the “other.” Often they become codependent and counter-dependent, living only in reaction to someone or something else. Being over and against is a lot easier than being in love. If your prayer is not enticing you outside your comfort zones, if your Christ is not an occasional “threat,” you probably need to do some growing in the ways of love.

Many others give up their boundaries before they have them, seeking their identity in another group, experience, possession, or person. Beliefs like “She will make me happy,” “He will take away my loneliness,” or “This group will make me feel important” become a substitute for doing the hard work of growing up ourselves. Those who firm up their own edges and identity too glibly without finding their center in God and in themselves will normally be the enemies of real community, all ecumenism, forgiveness, vulnerability, or basic dialogue. You have to develop an ego before you can let go of it. Maybe that is why Jesus just lived thirty years before he started teaching.

Others let go of their edges too easily in the name of being tolerant and open-minded, but even here “discernment of spirits” is necessary. There is indeed a tolerance in true contemplatives because they have experienced the One Absolute, their own finite minds, and the passing character of all things. This is the virtue of humility or maybe even patience. But there is another tolerance today which is simply a refusal to stand up for anything, an actual lack of proper boundaries.

Traveling the road of healthy religion and true contemplation will lead to calmly held boundaries, which need neither to be defended constantly nor abdicated in the name of “friendship.” This road is a “narrow road that few travel upon” (Matthew 7:14). It is the “Third Way” or tertium quid that emerges only when you hold the tension of opposites. Note that holding does not usually mean completely reconciling the differences.

The gift that true contemplatives offer to themselves and society is that they know themselves as a part of a much larger Story, a much larger Self. In that sense, centered people are profoundly conservative, knowing that they stand on the shoulders of their ancestors and the Perennial Tradition.

Yet true contemplatives are paradoxically risk-takers and reformists, precisely because they have no private agendas to protect. Their security and identity are founded in God. These people can move beyond self-interest and fear in order to do the Big Work and to cooperate with others who are doing the Big Work. Because they have learned to live from their center in God, they know which boundaries are worth maintaining and which can be surrendered, although it is this very struggle that often constitutes their deepest “dark nights.”

Gateway to Silence:
All things work together for good. —Romans 8:28

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 21-25.

Image credit: Photograph by Domenico Salvagnin, Springtime II (detail), taken near Padua, Italy,
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