Tuesday, November 13, 2007
A Running Reflection on the Self
This book was recommended by my spiritual director, and he was generous enough to loan it to me as part of my spiritual reading. The point of the book is to really move away from the typical "how to" approach to "finding God's will" and focusing on opening ourselves to God's love and will instead.
One example of someone he knew struck me into self-reflection, about a Christian man he got to know well called Michael:
"Discipline characterized every aspect of his life. He was a highly competitive runner who rain--snow, rain or shine--four days a week for at least two hours each day. He was also fastidious in maintaining his spiritual disciplines of daily prayer and Bible reading, allocating from 5:10 to 5:30 each morning for his soul before heading off to take care of his body...
But all that discipline made him proud. He went through his day comparing himself to others, always with a favorable result. He felt enormous secret pride about extremely insignificant things. He confessed, for example, that he prided himself on being able to go to the bathroom less often than others. He also took a private delight in what he judged to be the superiority of his ability to judge the passage of time--periodically glancing at his watch throughout the day to test himself...
Not surprisingly, Michael's secret pride was matched by an equally secret contempt for anyone who lacked discipline. This included people who were overweight, disheveled in appearance, poor, inarticulate, lacking in intelligence or in any way lacking in competence and success."
I guess as I read about Michael, I could see some of those same attitudes that creep in with my own "disciplines" in reading Scripture and running, etc. It's almost like once you begin to get something under your belt, you forget how much of a failure you were in the past and start to believe your own press and effort. And you find yourself wondering why others can't be as competent as you...
Getting to the heart of the deep issue with Michael, the author continues:
"Pride alienates us from others. It also spawns an illusory sense of self-sufficiency...Psychologically, Michael's willpower served as a defense against his deep longings for intimacy and dependence. His reliance on himself was an exaggerated expression of the opposite of what he was really desiring and feeling. Under his bluster of independence and self-sufficiency was a little boy who longed for someone to take care of him. He desperately wanted to give up having to be so competent. He wanted to need someone, not simply others need him."
I guess this example has helped me to see more clearly how I have used such good disciplines like running and daily Scripture reading as shields from a true and living relationship with God and others. I posit that there's always a secret Pharisee inside every Christian. For Michael, he was able in time to change for the better--that's encouraging to know since I see so many pieces of Michael in me now (well, minus the bathroom and time obsession :P)!
The sum up:
"A reliance on willpower blocks love until will learns to surrender to love. Unless our will is softened by love, it strangles life. Until our spiritual disciplines are motivated by love of God, they will block love of God. Unless our personal disciplines are shaped by our love of others, they feed our narcissism."