I have to admit— I’m totally fine with putting 2016 out of its misery. Not only did we lose Prince and George Michael, I also changed jobs. Honestly, it was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. I don’t regret it, but like any decision it has been, at times, a bit unsettling. I’m at that stage of life when a person starts to take notice of things—where I’ve been and where things seem to be headed—so making drastic changes has led to a bit of “Who am I and how did I get here?” syndrome. Seeking spiritual wisdom, I decided to listen to Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward in which he distinguishes between what he calls the two halves of life. The first half is when we make something of ourselves, we establish an identity and carve out a path; the second half is when we come to the realization that all the “making” and “carving” doesn’t get us anywhere. During the first half we chase success, frantically climbing the ladder in an attempt to conquer the world; the second half is when we finally make peace with our imperfection, we embrace our finitude and bask in the undeserved moments of grace and beauty. What struck me about this discussion is the important role that suffering plays in moving from one to the other. Ultimately, life is not about protecting our interests through control or fear; instead, the meaning of life is discovered when we finally give up our striving, when we stop building our towers, and, like Odysseus, we bury our shovels in the ground, finally able to go home. As Rohr puts it, we cannot have resurrection without crucifixion, we cannot gain our true life, as Jesus says, without “taking up our cross”—without suffering .
So why the vulgarity?— I’ve been listening to another book with a seemingly un-spiritual title: The Art of Not Giving a [email protected]. Ok, I was curious, I had a free audio book coming, so I downloaded it. Much to my surprise the crass worldly wisdom I heard sounded eerily familiar. The author writes, “Our culture today is obsessively focused on unrealistically positive expectations: Be happier. Be healthier. Be the best, better than the rest. Be smarter, faster, richer, sexier, more popular, more productive, more envied, more admired…Ironically, this fixation on the positive—on what’s better, what’s superior—only serves to remind us over and over again of what we are not, of what we lack, of what we should have been but failed to be.” In response, he suggests that we embrace our finite humanity, learn to embrace the struggle, so we can finally realize that happiness isn’t about what we don’t have, or what we haven’t accomplished, it’s about being grateful for every moment of our stupid lives (to channel American Beauty). According to this author, life is about knowing when we should give a fahrvergnugen, and when we shouldn’t. True Wisdom is in knowing the difference.
So this morning I’m grateful for spiritual wisdom from both expected and unexpected places. It is wisdom that helps us see how spiritual maturity is not found by chasing after some unattainable ideal, it is, instead, a gift that comes with letting go, by embracing our finite humanity, warts and all. This is the good news of Christmas: in the frail baby born in the manger we see God’s love, not for an ideal humanity, but for real flesh and blood human beings.