You Are Not That Important
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
I think there are basically two paths of spiritual transformation: prayer and suffering. The path of prayer is taken by those rare people who consciously and slowly let go of their ego boundaries, their righteousness, their specialness, their sense of being important. In the journey of prayer, as you sink into the mystery of God’s perfect love, you realize that you’re nothing in the presence of God’s goodness and greatness, and that God is working through you in spite of you. For many people, it is deep love which first allows them to pray. Authentic prayer is always a journey into love.
The path of suffering is the quicker path to transformation, but as I shared in yesterday’s meditation, men are hard-wired to block suffering. The male psyche is, by nature, defended; we have a difficult time allowing events, circumstances, or people to touch or hurt us. Such blocking may have allowed us to survive—if you want to call it survival—the endless wars of history. But it has also restricted the male capacity to change. Most men don’t change until we have to. Until economic disasters, moral or relationship failure, loss of job or health are forced upon us, our tendency is to project the incoming negative judgment somewhere else. We don’t do shadow work well, because struggling with our dark side is humiliating, and we’ve been trained to compete and to win. When winning is the only goal, we can’t admit to anything that looks like failure, or even allow basic vulnerability. We have to project weakness and failure onto others, making them the losers. Such dualistic thinking and resistance to change only guarantees more war and conflict.
Relationships, experiences, and mirroring change you much more than ideas. You cannot really do something until you have seen someone else do it. You do not know what patience is until you have met one truly patient person. You do not know what love is until you have observed how a loving person loves. We hold great power for one another—for good and for ill. Thus, rites of passage were communal, led by elders, father figures, and spiritual teachers, who could mirror the initiate instead of needing to be mirrored themselves.
Spiritual masters are not interested in social niceties or logical buildups, but in deep resonance. They say, as it were, “Deal with it. Be scandalized and shocked. Face your resistances and your egocentricity and let a greater truth unsettle you.” They lead their students into a space of transformation, but they don’t always lead them back immediately. They leave you alone, deliberately askew, without your usual mental protections—until you long for guidance and hopefully recognize that: 1) you are somehow the problem, 2) the answer is within you, and 3) you need help from a higher power.
It takes a wise master to teach you that you are not that important; otherwise, painful life situations have to dismantle you brick by brick, decade by decade. I suspect that the basic reason initiation died out is because there were not enough spiritual masters around. We had to settle for institutionalized priests and ministers, many of whom bore roles of outer authority without being people of any real inner authority. In other words, they were never initiated themselves.
Typically it is the prophets who deconstruct the ego and the group, while priests and pastors are supposed to reconstruct them into divine union. True masters, like Jeremiah and Jesus, are both prophets and pastors. As YHWH said in the inaugural vision to Jeremiah, “Your job is to take apart and demolish, and then start over building and planting anew” (see Jeremiah 1:10). The only reason masters can tell you that you are not that important is because they are also prepared to affirm your infinite and unearned importance. The prophetic charism has been out of vogue for many centuries now in Western religion, thus the ego is out of control.
Every master’s lesson, every parable or spiritual riddle, every confounding question is intended to bring up the limitations of our own wisdom, our own power, our own tiny self. Compare that, if you will, to the Western educational approach of parroting answers, passing tests, and getting grades, which make us think we do know what is important and, therefore, we are important. Information is seen as power, as opposed to the beginner’s mind, which wisdom deems absolutely necessary for enlightenment. Jesus called it “receiving the kingdom like a little child” (see Luke 18:17). To submit to being taught means accepting the wonder and largeness of truth and our own smallness in relationship to it. Eventually we must learn to hold the paradox of our finite self held within the eternal and infinite Love.
Sacred cultures could tell individuals they were not that important because they knew they were inherently and intrinsically very important. Secular cultures like ours keep telling individuals how special and wonderful they are—and they still don’t believe it—and thus have to run faster and faster! Do you see why we need some form of initiation now more than ever? We are an uninitiated society, except for those who love deeply, pray deeply, or suffer deeply.
Gateway to Silence:
From death to life
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Beloved Sons Series: Men and Grief (CAC: 2005), CD, MP3 download;
Beloved Sons Series: How Men Change (CAC: 2009), CD, DVD, MP3 download; and
Adam’s Return: The Five Promises of Male Initiation (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2004), 52-56.