True Perfection Is the Ability to Include Imperfection — Center for Action and Contemplation

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See the schedule and event session details for the final CONSPIRE conference (Sep. 24 – 26)

True Perfection Is the Ability to Include Imperfection

The Franciscan Genius: Integration of the Negative

True Perfection Is the Ability to Include Imperfection
Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Facing our shadow self and our addictions is almost the heart of modern psychiatry and therapy. Religion had best catch up with the other disciplines and relearn the absolute centrality of what should have been its own original message, but we got into “sin management” instead of the healing ministry that we see so clearly in Jesus. Too often, qualities like honest self-knowledge, shadow work, spiritual direction, many therapies, and tools like the Myers-Briggs typology or Enneagram are dismissed with hostility and fear by many fervent believers. It makes me wonder, “Is their Christ really that small and insecure?” They disdain such work as “mere psychology.” A true believer is never grounded in fear. If honest self-knowledge is not good and important, then Job, Jesus, the desert fathers and mothers, Augustine, the Philokalia, Hildegard, Thomas Aquinas, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Ávila were on the wrong track. Fr. Thomas Keating calls contemplation “the divine therapy.” Surely it was God’s way to offer healing to people who existed before modern behavioral sciences, and to the poor in every age who cannot afford a therapist.

We all have our biases, and all we can do is be aware of them and account for them. There is no such thing as a totally bias-free position, as even good scientists now admit. As a “One” on the Enneagram—the type that strives for the ideal and the perfect—I know the necessary healing power of integrating the negative in my own life. Without it, I can find something to change in almost everything!  It is really a horrible way to live. You can imagine, then, why I deeply love Francis of Assisi and Thérèse of Lisieux, who both taught the integration of imperfection so beautifully. They saved me! They both realized that any upward-bound spirituality is only spiritual careerism and well disguised narcissism. Their way was the way down, not up, and they learned this, quite simply, from Jesus. The amazing thing is that so many Christians did not; that is what happens when you too quickly make Jesus into a God to be worshipped instead of Someone to follow.

In a spirituality of imperfection, we have a universal basis for how God “saves” humanity, and perhaps also a clear naming of what God saves us from—which is mainly from ourselves and our own feared and rejected “unworthiness.” We find it hard to love imperfect things so we imagine God is just as small as we are. One of the most helpful pieces of advice I ever received from Francis is found in the seventh chapter of the Rule of the Friars Minor. Here he tells us not to be surprised or upset by the sins or mistakes of others (and I would add, by our own sins and mistakes) because, he says, “such anger and annoyance make it difficult to be charitable.” His analysis is that simple, that hard, and that true. If we expect or need things (including ourselves) to be perfect or even “to our liking,” we have created a certain plan for a very unhappy life.

Gateway to Silence:
We must bear patiently not being good . . . and not being thought good. —Francis of Assisi

Adapted from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, pp. 106, 110

Image credit: Scenes from the Life of Saint Francis: Trial by Fire of St. Francis of Assisi before the Sultan of Egypt (fresco detail), c. 1320, Giotto di Bondone, Santa Croce, Florence, Italy.
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