Saturday, April 12, 2014

"To Die and So to Grow"

Here at The Wild Reed I have a tradition of sharing a special Holy Week series of posts (see, for example, here, here, here, here, and here). This year I'll be sharing excerpts from one of the books I've brought with me on my current visit home to Australia from my other home in the U.S. This book is John Neafsey's A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience, about which the following has been said:

Both younger and older adults will find in John Neafsey's thoughtful, often moving, and inspiring excavation of vocation, social conscience, and the prophetic tradition a compelling tug to the Center – an awakening to the cry of those who bear most of the social cost and to the sacred within, among, and beyond us.

– Sharon Daloz Parks, author,
Big Questions, Worthy Dreams

A gentle, winsome reflection on the call of God. . . . This book will serve well those who hope for and engage an alternative way in the world.

– Walter Brueggemann

Drawing widely on the wisdom of saints and sages, John Neafsey describes a path to living in the place, as Frederick Buechner has put it, "where our deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

– Orbis Books

The part of A Sacred Voice is Calling that I'll be drawing from for this year's Holy Week series focuses on suffering – which is, of course, a predominant and important theme of Holy Week. And I believe it is such an important theme because it's an important reality of human experience, including Jesus' experience.

I start today with Neafrey's thoughts on the call to authentic personhood and, in particular, the commitment to continual growth and change and the associated willingness to undergo emotional and spiritual pain and discomfort that such a call involves.

"Life is difficult" is the first line of M. Scott Peck's popular and influential book The Road Less Traveled. the "road" to which he is referring is the path of emotional and spiritual growth. The title implies that most of us prefer to take the easy way because the path to genuine growth and maturity can sometimes be so rough, so rugged, so difficult. It is not easy to change and grow, to honestly face our problems, to be loving and authentic persons in an egocentric, artificial culture.

Because of our egocentrism, all of us are inclined to resist the process of growth. Something in us doesn't want to change, and so we cling to the known and familiar rather than take the risk of following the Voice into the unknown. This is completely natural and understandable because there are no guarantees that we won't end up hurt and disappointed when we allow ourselves to be led into the new or the different. Sometimes letting go of an old way of being so that something new can come into being is so painful it feels like dying. This, I think, is what Goethe is talking about in his poem "The Holy Longing": And so long as you haven't experienced this: / To die and so grow, / You are only a troubled guest / On the dark earth.

The call to authentic personhood involves a commitment to continual growth and change, which requires a willingness to undergo the emotional and spiritual pain and discomfort that are a necessary and inevitable part of the process of coming to know ourselves. Self-protective, defensive efforts to avoid the pain of self-knowledge almost always end up bringing us other kinds of trouble. "Neurosis," says Jung, "is always a substitute for legitimate suffering." The neurotic misery of an inauthentic existence, it seems, is the price we pay for refusing to embrace the pain and risk of living an authentic life. We end up living as "troubled guests" on the earth, spending our precious time and energy anxiously trying to escape from the risky business of becoming the persons we are meant to be.

The call to love also entails pain and risk. We experience growing pains with every step we take in the direction of becoming more loving persons, with every increase in our capacity to give and receive genuine love. Mature love requires that we find the energy and will to make the moral effort to extend ourselves on behalf of others – even when we don't feel like it. "I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you," says Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov, "for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams."

– John Neafsey
A Sacred Voice is Calling
Pp. 110-111

For the The Wild Reed's 2013 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Albert Nolan’s book Jesus Before Christianity, accompanied by images of Jesus that some might call "unconventional"), see:
Jesus: The Upside-down Messiah
Jesus: Mystic and Prophet
Jesus and the Art of Letting Go
Within the Mystery, a Strange and Empty State od Suspension
Jesus: The Revelation of Oneness

For the The Wild Reed's 2012 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Cynthia Bourgeault's book The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – A New Perspective on Christ and His Message), see:
The Passion: "A Sacred Path of Liberation"
Beyond Anger and Guilt
Judas and Peter
No Deeper Darkness
When Love Entered Hell
The Resurrected Jesus . . .

For The Wild Reed's 2011 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Albert Nolan’s book Jesus Before Christianity, accompanied by images of various cinematic depictions of Jesus), see:
"Who Is This Man?"
A Uniquely Liberated Man
An Expression of Human Solidarity
No Other Way
Two Betrayals
And What of Resurrection?
Jesus: The Breakthrough in the History of Humanity
To Believe in Jesus

For The Wild Reed’s 2010 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Andrew Harvey’s book Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ), see:
Jesus: Path-Blazer of Radical Transformation
The Essential Christ
One Symbolic Iconoclastic Act
One Overwhelming Fire of Love
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
Resurrection: Beyond Words, Dogmas and All Possible Theological Formulations
The Cosmic Christ: Brother, Lover, Friend, Divine and Tender Guide

For The Wild Reed’s 2009 Holy Week series (featuring the artwork of Doug Blanchard and the writings of Marcus Borg, James and Evelyn Whitehead, John Dominic Crossan, Andrew Harvey, Francis Webb, Dianna Ortiz, Uta Ranke-Heinemann and Paula Fredriksen), see:
The Passion of Christ (Part 1) – Jesus Enters the City
The Passion of Christ (Part 2) – Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers
The Passion of Christ (Part 3) – Last Supper
The Passion of Christ (Part 4) – Jesus Prays Alone
The Passion of Christ (Part 5) – Jesus Before the People
The Passion of Christ (Part 6) – Jesus Before the Soldiers
The Passion of Christ (Part 7) – Jesus Goes to His Execution
The Passion of Christ (Part 8) – Jesus is Nailed the Cross
The Passion of Christ (Part 9) – Jesus Dies
The Passion of Christ (Part 10) – Jesus Among the Dead
The Passion of Christ (Part 11) – Jesus Appears to Mary
The Passion of Christ (Part 12) – Jesus Appears to His Friends

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