If someone really does not care whether they live or die it is hard to threaten them. If our identity lies in whose we are, and not just who we are, then even loss of reputation will only be a temporary setback. The need to be someone, to have clout, to command respect, to have prestige or position, these are shackles every bit as strong as those of materialism.
To be seen as holy, or spiritually mature, someone of depth, having a quiet authority: are these not also ambitions, or bolsters of our status?
If we can only reach the true poverty and yieldedness of not “needing to be” anything (even a humble nothing), then we will be truly invisible. We will be unable to be bought by any pressure.
–Celtic Daily Prayer
Today’s reading from Celtic Daily Prayer offers us several lessons about our spiritual lives. I taught a class Sunday on one of the primary threats to our relationship with God: fear. When we turn onto the highway of fear, we find that it’s full of toll roads. Fear may be our Ancient Enemy’s most powerful weapon. When I look back on the worst mistakes I’ve made in my life, I find that they were motivated by a common denominator: I was afraid.
Fear can manifest itself in a number of ways. The more our wealth increases, the more we fear that we might lose it: through thieves, market fluctuations, taxation, or that it just might not be enough. Thus, Jesus regularly cautioned us about letting go of our wealth.
Today’s reading, however, cautions us about another kind of fear: the need to be well thought of, to command respect, and achieve spiritual advancement. It’s a caution that I take to heart. From a very early age, I wanted to be “the smartest guy in the room.” And for those of us in the religious life, our fear can push us into a fear of spiritual disrespect. It’s a very special kind of pride, which can manifest itself in a particular type of fear. We wonder, “What if they don’t listen? What if they think I’m shallow?”
And yet, Jesus taught us that the kingdom of heaven would belong to the poor in spirit. Matt. 5:3. What does spiritual poverty mean to us? The notion reminds me of Job, who lost everything there was to lose. (Coincidentally, the readings from the Daily Office are focussing on Job. The icon above is a very old icon of Job.) Every last bit of pride was stripped from him. And yet, Job never abandoned the Source of his life. In many ways, I think the Book of Job is one of the most Christian books of the Old Testament.
The trick, I think, lies in remembering (as Celtic Daily Prayer reminds us) not so much who we are as whose we are. We are beloved children of God and we belong only to Him. Nothing else matters so much as that. And when we come to that realization, like Job, we find comfort in the knowledge that “my Redeemer lives.” Job 19:25.
May the peace of Christ disturb you profoundly,
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis