Saturday, October 24, 2009

To see myself honestly, patiently before God (Lesson #6)

“If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” Rom 8:11

The first few weeks of entering a foreign land or a different culture is fascinating and captivating. The newness and “otherness” of the place or lifestyle draws our attention and we are able to make connections and gain new insights. But gradually, novelty wanes. The freshness of the new culture and new people fades. The “otherness” ceases to be original and differences irritate rather than charm us.

If we allow ourselves to be fully immersed in a new culture, we will become more aware of our own value system, prejudices, and biases. They will bubble up. I am challenged to embrace my own greed and tendency to judge.

We live in a culture that subtly steers us toward a mindset of greed. Commercials slowly seduce us into thinking, “I need things.” I need this car, these clothes, that food, this vacation, these electronic toys. All of these things become so attractive to us. Commercials also make us feel that we are not complete until we have them. So in our desire to be happy and have all the things we need, we grab on to things. And pretty soon our whole lives can be immersed in the pursuit of things. It would be simple for me to place the blame on commercialism. But this drive “to have things” is not “out there’ in society. It is within me, often in my knee-jerk reactions and conscious mindset. Entering the world of the poor in Philippines, especially in Navotas, unmasks how greedy I can be, even as I rationalize that I need this thing or this “toy” for ministry. Whether in the form of commercialism or the insecurity of wanting a lot of things, the tentacles of greediness have taken a hold of me, more than I am ready to admit. More than ever, I am confronted by what I often caution people: “Things are meant to be used, while people are meant to be loved. Be careful not to love things and use people.”

I live with Jesuits from 7 different countries and 4 continents. We are very diverse in age, personality, training, and lived experiences. Such an international group living together in a developing country creates much opportunities and challenges. In the beginning, it was easy for me to celebrate our unique origins. Recently however, these differences grate at me. I find myself easily irritated by the way some of my brothers speak English, eat, do laundry, clean the bathrooms, comment on the Filipino culture, etc... The way they see the world, look at people, interpret cultural cues and bodily languages can annoy me. And I find myself quick to judge. Ultimately, this judgment is less about the biases and prejudices of my brother Jesuits. They are more about my own set of values, assumptions, and expectations of people, the world, God, and life. When I observe how ready I am to judge others, I am confronted by how easily I judge myself, and expect myself to be more generous, more noble, more open-minded, more free – in short, more perfect. On the one hand, I truly desire to have a heart of a child – to simply be myself before God. On the other hand, I realize how far I am from this lesson. I get impatient at myself for being such a slow student.

St Paul talks about this reality. Let me paraphrase him: “Why is it that I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want?” Whenever I strive toward good, I notice that within me the tendency to do the opposite increases? Within me are two principles at war with one another: life and death. “Who can deliver me from this miserable, mortal state? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 7:18-25)

This is a truth difficult to embrace: To see myself honestly, patiently before God. Each time we enter the world of another culture or the realm of prayer, this lesson of disguised grace unfolds.

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