Our inner Christ child is the part of us that is not wounded, that part of us that has always said “yes” to God and always will.
We need to live all of the time in a divine and creative dialogue between innocence, the first and last love of our faith, and experience, by which we learn what we need to know.
—Peter J. Gomes
Purity of heart is the recovery of divine likeness where the true self is lost in God.
The Latin word innocens means “unwounded.” Here we worship a wounded man, and we said, “in his wounds are our salvation,” and yet much of our moral concentration is on proving we’re not wounded, we’re not wrong, we’re not at all bad, we are not unworthy.
Contemplation breaks us open to ourselves. The fruit of contemplation is self-knowledge, not self-justification. “The nearer we draw to God,” Abba Mateos said, “the more we see ourselves as sinners.”
We come to God not by doing it right, but by doing it wrong. And yet the great forgiveness is to forgive ourselves for doing it wrong. That’s probably the hardest forgiveness of all: that I’m not perfect, that I’m not unwounded, I’m not innocent.
Present Over Perfect
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” —John Steinbeck, East of Eden
After spending many years seeking perfection, popular author Shauna Niequist discovered the freedom and love that can be experienced by being present to life as it is. She writes about the difference between a false perfection and a lived presence:
Let’s talk for a minute about perfect. . . . Perfect is brittle and unyielding, plastic, distant, more image than flesh. Perfect calls to mind stiffness, silicone, an aggressive and unimaginative relentlessness. Perfect and the hunt for it will ruin our lives—that’s for certain.
I’ve missed so much of my actual, human, beautiful, not-beautiful life trying to force things into perfect. But these days I’m coming to see that perfect is safe, controlled, managed. I’m finding myself drawn to mess, to darkness, to things that are loved to the point of shabbiness, or just wildly imperfect in their own gorgeous way. . . .
And so, instead: present. If perfect is plastic, present is rich, loamy soil. . . .
Present is living with your feet firmly grounded in reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem. Present is choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply in, instead of waiting for some rare miracle or fairy tale. Present means we understand that the here and now is sacred, sacramental, threaded through with divinity even in its plainness. Especially in its plainness.
Present over perfect living is real over image, connecting over comparing, meaning over mania, depth over artifice. Present over perfect living is the risky and revolutionary belief that the world God has created is beautiful and valuable on its own terms, and that it doesn’t need to be zhuzzed up and fancy in order to be wonderful.
Sink deeply into this world as it stands. Breathe in the smell of rain and the scuff of leaves as they scrape across driveways on windy nights. This is where life is, not in some imaginary, photo-shopped dreamland. Here. Now. You, just as you are. Me, just as I am. This world, just as it is. This is the good stuff. This is the best stuff there is. Perfect has nothing on truly, completely, wide-eyed, open-souled present.
Shauna Niequest, Present over Perfect: Leaving behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 129, 130.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Richard on the self-defeating path of perfection.
- Learn more about this year’s theme Nothing Stands Alone.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Claudia Retter, Lily Pond (detail), photograph, used with permission. Arthur Allen, Untitled 10 (detail), 2022, photograph, France, used with permission. Claudia Retter, Lake Wale’s Pond (detail), photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.
This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image inspiration: We see the simplicity of these black and white photos: the lines of the leaves, the focus on just one flower, one stem, one patch of grass. Innocence, in its state of simplicity and grace, is not deluded by a desire for more; it accepts what is.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.