Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Trasfiguration into Goodness
My life has been unalterably changed by Archbishop Tutu's little new book called Made for Goodness. It is a small volume- I read it in almost one sitting on a recent trip and have had to re-read it twice since. It has lots of yellow highlighter in it and lots of black ink in margins with exclamation marks and asterisks and notes to myself of things to consider in my times of prayer and my time of re-collection (the daily three questions: what went well, what went poorly and what could I have done differently or do differently in the future.)
The book is hard to read because I must look hard at where I have chosen evil rather than good. Tutu makes the point that we are all made for goodness; that "goodness is not just our impulse. It is our essence" which is why evil so bothers us when we are paying attention and are centered in life.
As the child of alcoholics and powerful manipulators, I have learned some unfortunate ways of being a human and my conversion into becoming God's hope for me is not the glorious transfiguration of Jesus as much as it is a long, slow hot shower: the steam opening the pours, the dirt of life coming off so slowly, the tar from the pathways vigorously clinging to my ankles and my tense, self-protecting muscles relaxing under the spray of hot water- acknowledging even if reluctantly, that God will keep me safe but not always cheerful.
I find it easier to see the evil in others than the evil in myself. But when I am willing to forgive myself - when the hot Jesus-shower is working its magic, then I am able to forgive myself enough to be less judgmental of those around me.
This icon, pictured above, was written by a friend in 2000 on Mount Athos, Greece. The image of the Transfiguration of Jesus shows Jesus in all His glory with a bodily nimbus of turquoise which extends deep into the future and the past simultaneously behind him and around him. The geometric shapes are a trick of the eye to show the pray-er that Jesus is of and into eternity. The characters around him on the earth- Peter, James and John are in the image on the left as pre-story, on the right as post-story and beneath Jesus as story - a jumbled mass of quivering fears and gelatinous strength; completely unable to accomplish anything except perhaps staying with the terror and wetting themselves.
Life feels a lot like that for me most of the time. I am afraid and generally feel unprepared to accomplish much; but am willing to follow Jesus on the condition that we both recognize that I am mostly a jiggling mass of fear in as much need to a therapist as of a priest. Jesus seems to be OK with that. Personally, it does not seem like a good management model. I would have chosen a better quality of followers if I were trying to change the world. But God seems to do God's best work when we are weak and willing - and we seem to mess up God's best work when we are righteous and competent. Whatever!
In this life - this "little school of Jesus" as a past, great spiritual director would say; in this life we are being transfigured as we choose goodness.
Tutu says in the opening chapter of his book the following:
"Goodness changes everything. If we are at core selfish, cruel, heartless creatures, we need to fight these inclinations at every turn and often need strong systems of control to prevent us from revealing our true (and quite ugly) selves. But if we are fundamentally good, we simply need to rediscover this true nature and act accordingly. This insight into our essential goodness has shifted how I interact with other people, it has even shaken how I read the Bible." (page 7, Made for Goodness, by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu.
Tutu goes on to say that "Each kindness enhances the quality of life. Each cruelty diminishes it."
I am deeply grieved when I re-collect on my life or even just my day, and see where I have lied, manipulated, taken what was not mine, used people to get what I want, confused wants and needs, hidden and projected a false image of who I really am, etc., etc. But there seems always to be hope. There seems always the invitation to turn around. There seems always the invitation to choose Goodness. There seems always the invitation to start afresh and follow Jesus by choosing goodness for our own lives.
I used to think that my job was to try to get within the light Jesus was shining - to try to crawl and scamper into a lower corner of His light - to get some of His light on me. But as I live in this "little school" whose classes often feel too advanced for my skill level, I begin to see that the light of the transfiguration is not outside of us but rather inside us. As I make fewer choices for evil, I make more choices for goodness. And as I do that, the hot water of this long, hot shower we are in - this conversion experience we call life - is washing enough of the grime off my soul that it is beginning to emit some light. Not my light but THE light. Not a beacon of hope. But perhaps a candle. We do not need to become beacons of hope. That job is taken. We only need one saviour. But we do need - each of us - to shine "this little light of mine" as the old hymn sings.
As we expose the candle within each of us, heaven's light will no longer obscure a dark world because the light planted inside each of us will glow brighter as the panes of our lanterns are cleaned of the mud, yeah...let's call it mud, in which we have been rolling.
I am 46 years old. I wish I had read Tutu's book earlier in my life. But it was not yet written and I did not have the ability to see that I needed it. Oh well. What I can do now is to choose goodness when I have the strength and to live in such a way that the strength is more likely present to me. Good food. Lots of sleep. Plenty of gentle, humblefriends. Good wine and bread. A good dog near as an example for me to live by. Hard work so that I am too busy to get up to mischief. Life on a farm on a dirt road where I can live a right-sized life.