Living with Myself

Antoni-de-melo

Anthony de Mello (1931-1937)

Living with myself is hard sometimes. Almost as hard as it is to live with me. I need lots of help to be a better person.

This morning, Anthony de Mello‘s and Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s reflections featured in William Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readings brought me up short.

Saʿdī of Shiraz tells this story about himself: “When I was a child I was a pious boy, fervent in prayer and devotion. One night I was keeping vigil with my father, the Holy Koran on my lap. Everyone else in the room began to slumber, and soon was sound asleep. So I said to my father: ‘None of these sleepers opens his eyes or raises his heart to say his prayers. You would think that they were all dead.’ My father replied, ‘My beloved son, I would rather you were asleep like them than slandering.’” (Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird)

My own father and Saʿdī’s father were much the same. I can’t help wondering what Dad might say today of all the slandering and the sleeping.

To my unredeemed slandering heart and mind, the sleepers (those who refuse to stay awake to what is happening in America) are readily identifiable by their choice of a news channel. The sleepers, I say to myself, are not awake…like me. Oops! The voices of Saʿdī’s father and mine alert me to my habitual slandering. They call me to a lead a more gracious, fuller, life.

Bundesarchiv_Bild_146-1987-074-16,_Dietrich_Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

But the way of living with myself and others consciously and respectfully seems impossible. It’s not simple. Slander is a sin of commission. Consenting to evil is the sin of omission. One is still called to act, but without slandering.

“Who stands firm?” asked Dietrich Bonhoeffer from his German prison cell following a failed plot to assassinate Hitler to end World War II. “Only the one for whom the final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all these, when in faith and sole allegiance to God he is called to obedient and responsible action: the responsible person, whose life will be nothing but an answer to God’s question and call” (Letters and Papers from Prison).

While the masses had fallen asleep to the horror of the German Third Reich, Bonhoeffer “stood firm” and paid the ultimate price — state execution — for committing the sin of commission: resistance to Hitler and mass madness and slaughter. One might suppose that a man like Bonhoeffer’s disdained the character of those who fell asleep. But it was this same Bonhoeffer who instructed the students of his underground seminary the lesson Saʿdī’ father and mine tried to teach us.

“By judging others, we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace to which others are just as entitled as we are” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship).

It’s hard to live with myself! I need all the help I can get. Bill Britton’s Wisdom from the Margins: Daily Readings is a hidden treasure worth the price for anyone feeling the need to “stand up” without slandering.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, on the wetland with the Trumpeter Swans, September 12, 2018.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Sixty years ago I learned to speak inclusively of God. God is not a He any more than He’s a She. God is beyond gender. Or, as Paul Tillich, described it, the Ground-of-Being, or Being-Itself, includes male and female and is beyond male and female. Since being awakened to the danger of gender-specific religious language, I’ve done my best to shed the male pronouns  and images on which I was raised. 

But there has been a sense of loss that has been harder to define — a less immediate, less intimate, more distant relationship in prayer and meditation. As I have come to reflect on it over the years, other things also have troubled me, not the least of which is my haughtiness, my sense of superiority to those who still use the old pronouns. More than that, however, has been a re-examination of the nature of religious language. Is some religious language good and others bad; some enlightened and others unenlightened; one right and another wrong?

And what to do with the old biblical chestnuts: “The Lord is my shepherd…He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters; He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.” (Psalm 23)? 

Then, several months ago, along came a publisher’s invitation to endorse William G. Britton’s Wisdom from the Margin: Daily Readings, that includes voices from a wider spectrum of religious language than the circle in which I live. Britton’s collection includes writers who speak of He and Him. Names like Dallas Willard, Paul Pearsall, and Peter Scazzero are new to me. Others, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Soren Kierkegaard, Kathleen Norris, and Thomas Merton are part of my daily bread, but even excerpts from their writings remind me that they were not as cautious as I in their language for God. They understood that the genre of prayer is psalmic poetry, the language of the heart. “He leadeth me… beyond the closed circles of righteousness.”

In what turned out to be the book’s only endorsement, I wrote:

Wisdom from the Margins is what it says it is. It’s that rare collection of readings from the wisest voices, like a menu of gourmet small bites in the quick-fix fast food world where wisdom is made homeless. Each small bite will stay with you throughout the day. If the current American religious landscape is giving you a stomach ache, Wisdom from the Margins is for you.

The publisher mistakenly attributed the endorsement to “Gordon Stewart, producer and co-host of ‘Lug Nutzz Radio’”. Click Gordon ‘Lug Nutzz’ Stewart for the mistaken identity.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, July 18, 2018