One of the greatest dangers in the spiritual life is self-rejection. When we say, “If people really knew me, they wouldn’t love me,” we choose the road toward darkness. Often we are made to believe that self-deprecation is a virtue, called humility. But humility is in reality the opposite of self-deprecation. It is the grateful recognition that we are precious in God’s eyes and that all we are is pure gift. To grow beyond self-rejection we must have the courage to listen to the voice calling us God’s beloved sons and daughters, and the determination always to live our lives according to this truth.
My favorite band, the North Mississippi Allstars, performs Soldier. Why is this spiritual? Well, watch the video and you’ll see and hear. The song is from their album Hernando. If you’re wondering whether you need this album, the answer is: if you’re reading this blog — yes.
If you’re in the mood for some spiritual reading, then you’ll want to peruse Plough Publishing’s selection of free articles and e-books. The e-book that caught my eye is The Gospel in Dostoyevsky. I haven’t read it yet, but the title sounds promising. And you can’t beat the price.
The golden rule is not to do unto others as they do unto you. It’s to do to others as you want them to do unto you. E.g. Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31. This means that the other person’s actions toward you do not determine your actions toward that other person. Put another way, you’re not a slave to others’ treatment of you. You treat friend and foe the same.
How can we choose love when we have experienced so little of it? We choose love by taking small steps of love every time there is an opportunity. A smile, a handshake, a word of encouragement, a phone call, a card, an embrace, a kind greeting, a gesture of support, a moment of attention, a helping hand, a present, a financial contribution, a visit ... all these are little steps toward love.
Each step is like a candle burning in the night. It does not take the darkness away, but it guides us through the darkness. When we look back after many small steps of love, we will discover that we have made a long and beautiful journey.
The most recent issue of Litigation (available to members of the ABA Litigation Section) has a terrific article by Gerry Spence: Persuading Yourself You Can Win. Its purpose is to convince inexperienced lawyers that they really can win at trial, no matter who the opponent is or how experienced the opponent may be. Along the way, he imparts wisdom for all of us:
I tell lawyers that it all begins with you. Let me repeat it: It all begins with you. Yet we have been convinced from our earliest times that we do not measure up. We are not as bright as our older brother; we are not as beautiful as our younger sister. We are dumped into school where we are sorted and graded like cattle at the killing pens, according to the standards of teachers and administrators who have no idea about who we are—or, for that matter, who they are either.
But the truth? The truth is each of us is unique! Each of us is the only person in the world like us. There has never been a person like us—not from the beginning of time. Never. Our beauty is distinct and singular. Our worth is incomparable. Moreover, there will never be another like us. No, never! Not if the human race endures forever.
Why, then, would you want to discard your own beauty to concoct a poor imitation of someone else’s? Why would you even want to be like someone else rather than celebrating your own one-of-a-kind self? The fact that we are unique and therefore incomparably beautiful is a truth we have not been permitted to see. It is as if our eyes for our own beauty have been burned from our piteous skulls, and so far as seeing ourselves, we are blind.
Gerry Spence, Persuading Yourself You Can Win, 36 Litigation 14, 15 (Winter 2010).
See, my servant will prosper, he shall be lifted up, exalted, rise to great heights.
As the crowds were appalled on seeing him —so disfigured did he look that he seemed no longer human— so will the crowds be astonished at him, and kings stand speechless before him;for they shall see something never told and witness something never heard before: ‘Who could believe what we have heard, and to whom has the power of Yahweh been revealed?’ Like a sapling he grew up in front of us, like a root in arid ground. Without beauty, without majesty (we saw him), no looks to attract our eyes; a thing despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering, a man to make people screen their faces; he was despised and we took no account of him.
And yet ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried. But we thought of him as someone punished, struck by God, and brought low. Yet he was pierced through for our faults, crushed for our sins. On him lies a punishment that brings us peace, and through his wounds we are healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep, each taking his own way, and Yahweh burdened him with the sins of all of us. Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly, he never opened his mouth, like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers never opening its mouth.
By force and by law he was taken; would anyone plead his cause? Yes, he was torn away from the land of the living; for our faults struck down in death. They gave him a grave with the wicked, a tomb with evildoers, though he had done no wrong and there had been no perjury in his mouth.
Yahweh has been pleased to crush him with suffering. If he offers his life in atonement, he shall see his heirs, he shall have a long life and through him what Yahweh wishes will be done.
His soul's anguish over he shall see the light and be content. By his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself.
Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute, he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, for surrendering himself to death and letting himself be taken for a sinner, while he was bearing the faults of many and praying all the time for sinners.
To me, Holy Thursday is the most poignant day on the Church calendar, the intersection of sorrow, joy, anticipation, and dread. I hope no one minds my sharing a little story about one of the things that happened on this night roughly 2,000 years ago:
It was before the festival of the Passover, and Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to pass from this world to the Father. He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was.
They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up from the table, removed his outer garment and, taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist; he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing.
When he had washed their feet and put on his clothes again he went back to the table. “Do you understand” he said “what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you.”