Thursday, July 31, 2008

Observation

"What seems to you bad within you will grow purer from the very fact of your observing it in yourself."  

--Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov

 I am so indoctrinated by our culture's presentation of reality that such statements sound almost absurd. Am I actually being told not to harness a supernatural, masculine strength and beat my sinful self into submission? Am I really to believe that my sins will disappear through the simple act of observation—looking, seeing, noticing? My aversion to such a statement is rooted in a fascination with ambition, a tricky thing that requires close observation like a young, mischievous child that, if left unattended, will spoil dinner by discovering the candy in mom’s purse. It can often be as much the desire to achieve holiness as the selfishness behind the sins one desires freedom or separation from. Anthony de Mello says it better: 

All you can achieve by your effort is repression, not genuine change and growth. Change is only brought about by awareness and understanding. Understand your unhappiness and it will disappear—what results is the state of happiness. Understand your pride and it will drop—what results will be humility. Understand your fears and they will melt—the resultant state is love. Understand your attachments and they will vanish—the consequence is freedom.

Reorienting one’s position toward sin, guilt, and ambition will require a couple of things which I think contemplative practices cultivate over time: intention and an acceptance of God’s grace. Replacing ambition with intention releases the need to have possession or ownership of the outcome.  Intention, in this sense, is a desire to become Christ (or Christ-like, if you prefer) and to identify less with oneself and one’s accomplishments. To what degree or how quickly this is achieved should be of little concern to the individual, provided the goal or intention stays the same. What remains is an acceptance of God’s grace and a desire to incarnate the same in relationships with others.

 I am reminded of an anecdote I read a few days ago from Anne Lamott. After taking matters into her own hands, failing miserably (as we all do), and realizing her need for God’s love and forgiveness, she testifies: “Grace arrived, like the big, loopy stitches with which a grandmotherly stranger might baste your hem temporarily." Her experience describes what I desire: the humility to confess failure and ambition, the selflessness to fix my intention on Christ, and the buoyancy to accept His perfect grace in the condition of imperfection and foolishness. This, I believe, is the simple act of observation. In the end, as long as I’m not holding on, I’m available to welcome the work of Christ in the present moment.

--Daniel Sartin

7 comments:

RC said...

Daniel, thank you for sharing these wise and helpful insights in such a lovely reflective way. I greatly enjoyed reading your post and I was "edified" and encouraged in my own spiritual walk. It's very exciting that we can do this for one another!
--RC

living stones said...

Daniel, I agree with Dr. Cotton. Your reflections are absolutely edifying. I particularly like your question" Am I actually being told not to harness a supernatural, masculine strength and beat my sinful self into submission?" Wow and Amen. I've been thinking lately about God's priority of sins. Reading the new testament with fresh eyes, I see that it is not "drinking, smoking, and sleeping around" that God most consistently speaks against. Instead, it seems that admonitions against "sin" are usually contextualized by discussions about "hating your brother or sister" or conversely by discussions of, say, patience and love. If these, then, are God's priorities concerning sinning and not sinning--rather than particular odious practices--it is easy to see how attention and awareness are more important than "repression." (By the way, I love the Anthony de Mello quote: especially that first sentence.) Thanks for sharing. --Paul

drewplaysdrums said...

wow. posts like this make me hopeful. great, great stuff.

living stones said...

Daniel, You wrote about desiring the "buoyancy to accept His perfect grace in the condition of imperfection and foolishless." I loved your word choice--buoyancy. I picture being held up or kept from drowning. Thank you for writing this helpful reflection. Blessings--Anna

Susan Price said...

This post, Daniel, is right on the track of where I have been walking for some weeks. What do we not understand about "Without Me, you can do nothing"? Too often "holiness" is separated out when we need to just yield to the work of Christ in us.

Your post was a blessing. Thank you.

John Orzechowski said...

Beautiful reflection and series of quotes. It reminds me of this one someone shared at lectio quite a while ago now from Paul Tillich: "Grace strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection does not appear."

Daniel Sartin said...

I want to say thanks to all for such positive feedback and encouragement! It speaks volumes to me about our friendships and the heart of this community.

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