“Translations vary, but in our modern day, conversatio morum suorum generally means conversion of manners, a continuing and unsparing assessment and reassessment of one’s self and what is most important and valuable in life. In essence, the individual must continually ask: What is worth living for in this place at this time? And having asked, one must then seek to act in accordance with the answer discerned.”
—Paul Wilkes, Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life
This is something I would like to be plaster as wallpaper all around my home at times – both to remind me, to remind the rest of my family, to remind those who come to our home, but also to remind us to give this to others. So often our world works on this upward spiral, including in church, of getting better and better and of achieving, of reaching the goal. But this says that in fact we should understand where we are and asking what is worth living for in the now. It’s not about getting better, of having a purpose, of achieving, but of being and living.
Richard Rohr says something similar today (28th Dec 2015) :
Both God’s truest identity and our own True Self are Love. So why isn’t it obvious? How do we find what is supposedly already there? Why should we need to awaken our deepest and most profound selves? And how do we do it? By praying and meditating? By more silence, solitude, and sacraments? Yes to all of the above, but the most important way is to live and fully accept our present reality. This solution sounds so simple and innocuous that most of us fabricate all kinds of religious trappings to avoid taking up our own inglorious, mundane, and ever-present cross of the present moment.
I have been working with young people who haven’t made it in the education system and all we seem to do is trying to keep them in that holding pattern until the can leave school, which is now 18 years old. Why are we not teaching them how to make the most of where they are? Many of these kids have amazing gifts and talents, just not recognised in the modern school system, so they’ve been labelled and made to feel like they have nothing to give. Yet if we could get them to live fully in their present reality, which for many is really hard, but also to ask what is worth living for in this present moment? I think we could get them to change. I really do believe not just with these kids but with everyone if we could work out what things in this present moment are worth living fully for and how can be be fully present then things would change.
The reason why we don’t teach this? Because so very few people live it. I know I struggle to. But that is also something I’m learning and am going to take in 2016 – that if I don’t get it right today then I forgive myself and start again. I don’t even have to wait till tomorrow to start again. I can start again the moment I realise that I’ve messed up and am not fully present, not looking at what is worth living fully for at this moment.
I was trying to practise this whilst out walking with the dog this morning. Ok it was helped by the fact that there was the most gorgeous burnt copper sunrise. But I’ve got lots on my mind. Today my mum and her husband are coming to “do Christmas” with us, so there was food stuffs to think of; my son is having an operation and I want to be there for him but he leave 200 miles away; my daughter is off back to uni 100 miles away and I was trying to work out whether I could manage to take her back; and of course the big one – we’re moving. All these thoughts were crowding into my head and taking over often. As was the thing of wondering what life will be like this time next month. But whenever I realised that I was not in the moment I wouldn’t be cross with myself but would just pull myself back and go back to enjoying the sunrise and the lovely day, and watching the dog rushing about. And of course my mind would wander again and again would have to be pulled back.
Again I think this is a place where we aren’t kind to ourselves or others; we don’t cut anyone any slack. If we mess up we’ve failed. If someone does something wrong they are labelled as a certain type of person. Very rarely do we give ourselves or others the grace to just say this is a phase. I am learning with my family, husband and children, to try to just let it be and say this is what it is for now. Do I force them to change? No that would be wrong because what do I know about what is best for them. Many times I’m not sure what is best for me until I’ve tried it, and then sometimes its best of then but not later on. I am a fluid evolving being and so are those around me. To truly accept this growth and change and living in the moment we must trust that all will be well.
Or as it said is Star Wars: The Force Awakens “The Light — It’s always been there. It’ll guide you.” And also “As long as the sun is there we have hope”
On Wednesday we watch Inside Out, the new Pixar movie. I will try not to give too much away, though my movie blogs should always come with a spoiler-alert. Anyway suffice to say that one cannot be happy all the time, and all the memories we have come with a healthy mix of happiness and sadness, and this in fact leads us to become much rounder people. If we all tried to be happy all the time then we would miss out on so much. Interestingly this revelation was followed by a family relationship meltdown; lots of shouting, misunderstanding, mistakes made, and a need for some space. I look back on many days, many memories and it is very rare that they are just happy. There is generally a mix of sadness, anxiety, misunderstanding, as well as happiness.
Out walking the dog the other day I was amazed that one of our favourite fields was glowing golden; an amazing mix of oranges, reds and golds with the highlighting it. It turned out that the farmer had covered it in some form of weed killer and was going to plough it in and change the whole look of the field. A mix of wonder but also trauma and change.
There are so many incidents when we really think about them that are a mishmash of things, and yet we spend good money trying to be happy as much as possible. And what happens? Well people are disappointed, feel let down and actually are sadder for it. If one could be content in all circumstances then that would be so much better. I could use my anxiety to try to change things, my misunderstandings into working out where I go wrong and to make me a deeper rounder person. Again that is an interesting one because so often we think we should get better, but actually as I grow I want to become deeper not better. I am ok as I am but I can become more of what I am. Yes I want to be able to understand my family to a deeper extent, but as someone said to me today I need to learn what my boundaries are too to be willing to let them have theirs. That means I am deeper and rounder but not better.
As a Christian I know God loves me as I am but that doesn’t mean I want to stay as I am, or even that God wants me to stay as I am. I love my children as they are, but I also want to support and help them mature, and want to see other people in their lives supporting and helping them. I not sure if God is like this but I know as a parent what I really would love is for my children to have other people in their lives supporting and helping them to grow because then they would become deeper and rounder. If they only have me then they will actually be very much like me. Though I suppose with God He is much rounder and deeper than I’ll ever be, which makes you wonder why we want to try to make Him able to be understood. Wouldn’t faith be so much more if we let people connect with the unfathomable God rather than the God that a church leader can give the explanation of???? 🙂
I’m a practical person and I get fed up when I hear a sermon or talk and there is no practical application, but then I realised I’d sent out a piece that talked of “doing life” and having the right attitude but didn’t really say how to. And ok one can say that actually we all need to work out our own path to finding a right attitude, but all these self-help books wouldn’t sell so well if it was just about us working it out in our own heads. So here’s my attempt at “how to do life?”
As a Christian I do go back to the Bible and to what Jesus says about things. I believe as well as being the Son of God – wholly God and wholly human – Jesus was also a great teacher so I think it’s good to hear what he has to say on things. Jesus said “with me you can have life and life to its fullness.” This was doing life and life in all its completeness. I don’t think Jesus was saying there wouldn’t be any hassles, any deaths, cancers, loses to grieve over, hard times to walk thougth but I do think he that what he is saying is that we can have life in its fullness even in those hard time. But how do we tap into this?
Well Brian McLaren in “We make the path by walking” says we need to look at the story behind the miracles Jesus did. In the story of where Jesus turns water
into wine (John 2) we get so caught up in the details of this story that we can miss what could be the underlying message. Jesus uses the jars that were for ceremonial washing and messes things up. McLaren says that Jesus is showing that it doesn’t matter if this are clean or unclean but that it is all about super-abundance and super-celebration. Here was too much wine for one small Galilean village to drink in a week let alone in a day! And also they could no longer ceremonially wash their crockery or hands. The need to be religious had gone and it was time to enjoy life. This didn’t mean they stopped farming, doing business deals (and a wedding was a place where many business deals were carried out), caring for children, elderly parents, those who were sick. The things of life would go on but the religiosity was gone. Again McLaren talks of a healing Jesus did on the Sabbath. And the sermon is always based on the fact that Jesus did his healing on the Sabbath. My daughter has always struggled with this saying that Jesus was being deliberately obtuse and surely that’s wrong. But actually what Jesus again was doing was saying let go of your anxiety and fear of getting it right, stop being paranoid and look at me.
We watched “The Theory of Everything” and in that saw a man who could have so easily been pitied and achieved nothing, and I am sure people with lesser disabilities do give up but not just Stephen Hawking, but his wife Jane and many of their friends “did life”. In fact there are so many quotes for Hawking that I don’t know where to being. The film finishes with him saying “where there is life there is hope” and there is:
Look up at the stars and down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder what makes the universe exist. Be curious.
However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.
Hawking doesn’t have much choice where he looks because of not being able to control his muscles but he does have a choice of how he views life. Often we can choose where we look but choose to look at our feet. As Oscar Wilde said:
We’re all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars
To “do life” means we choose where we look and how we view the world. We can choose to look at the stars and be curious or we can choose to look at our feet and our circumstances. We can choose whether we accept what we are told or be curious at what is going on. Hawking and especially his wife Jane, refused to accept what they were told and look at the difference he made to the world. My friend who started me on this quest regarding “doing life” refused to let cancer beat him. I have other friends who refuse to accept what the world says about how their story should be played out and are “doing life” in the craziest of ways.
I’m not sure how practical this has been but to be it is about having faith, being curious, getting rid of fear and paranoia and looking at the stars, at the what could be if only … And then, I believe, not just going for it but helping, supporting, encouraging and loving each other to get there too.