Godtalk: Spiritual maintenance
WE ALL struggle in different ways. Sometimes we struggle simply to maintain ourselves, to stay healthy and stable, to stay normal, not fall apart, and not have our lives unravel into chaos and depression.
But, even as this is going on, another part of us is forever reaching upwards, struggling to grow, to achieve higher things, not waste our gifts, to live a life that is more altruistic.
At other times we may have to struggle with a threatening darkness that surrounds us. The complexities of life can overwhelm us leaving us feeling diminished, insignificant. For this reason, a part of us is forever conscious that we stand just one breakdown, one lost relationship, one lost job, one death of a loved one, or one thing that we cannot even foresee, away from a descent into depression, a chaos that we cannot control.
In short, we struggle to maintain ourselves, to keep depression at bay. Since we may have to cope with any of these levels, we need several sorts of relevant spiritualities in our lives.
At one level, we need a spirituality of maintenance, a spirituality that helps us to maintain our normal health, stability, and ordinariness. Too often spiritual teachings simply challenge us to be better persons, better Christians. That’s good, but it takes for granted that we are already strong enough to be challenged. And, as we know, many times this isn’t the case.
There are times in our lives, when the best we can do is to simply get one foot in front of the next, and trying to regain some stability and strength. At these times, we need divine permission to feel
what we’re feeling, we need to be given a helping hand to draw us back towards health and strength. The challenge to grow can wait.
That challenge comes with an invitation towards a spirituality of the ascent. We need to grow beyond our immaturities, and the shallowness of our culture. The emphasis here is always to reach beyond, towards what more altruistic, compassionate, more loving.
Much of Christian spirituality is a spirituality of the ascent, an invitation to something higher, an invitation to be true to what is deepest inside of us, namely, the image and likeness of God. Pope Francis uses this effectively in his appeal to young people, challenging them not to settle for second-best, but to look always for something higher to give their lives to.
But the challenge to growth also needs a spirituality of descent, a set of disciplines that point us towards the setting sun as well as the rising one. We need a spirituality that doesn’t deny the complexities of life, the forces beyond us, the losses and depressions in life, and the looming reality of sickness.
Sometimes we can only grow by descending into that awesome reality, where, like Jesus, we undergo a transformation by facing darkness, diminishment and death. In some ancient cultures this was called “sitting in the ashes.” As Christians we call this undergoing the paschal mystery
Life reveals itself above us and below us, and on the flat level of everyday ordinariness. None of these may be ignored. So we need always to maintain and steady ourselves, even as we reach upwards and sometimes allow ourselves to descend into darkness.
And there’s still time to do this.