One morning, a year or so ago, as I stood in the Communion line I looked up to see a person receiving the cup—a person whom I do not like and rarely agree with…on anything. As I smirked my dislike in his direction, I heard a still small voice murmur, “You’re going to spend eternity with this person; you might as well start getting over yourself now.” I was stunned, in that eternal moment at Christ’s banquet table, to hear eternity addressed in such tactless terms.
But, something began that morning, a new look at forgiving, a letting go of my dearly held irritations and an opening to reconciliation. As far as I know, the reconciliation is one sided—on my side. This person has never been anything but kind and amiable toward me, and I had never expressed my dislike of him to him, at least not consciously. I had simply harbored and coddled a private scorn. Since that morning, I have striven to let go of that smirking, smoldering insistence on unlove. I succeed at that better at some times than at others, but the struggle toward freedom has made me aware of other needs to forgive.
As Christmas promises to bring togetherness with any number of people whose presence in my life is less than comfortable, that still, small voice returns: “Get over yourself and try love.” If Jesus truly is the Son of God and the savior of the world, and if I really am his disciple, I reckon his incarnation ought to be present in my life in this most urgent of seasons. The people in my life need the love and forgiveness and reconciliation that begins with the risky, vulnerable birth in Bethlehem. Maybe they can begin to find what they need as we gather to celebrate if I allow Jesus’ risky, vulnerable birth in me.
P.S. Maybe this excerpt from Thomas Merton will clarify:
[Circular Letter, Advent-Christmas, 1967] The times are difficult. They call for courage and faith. Faith is in the end a lonely virtue. Lonely especially where a deep authentic community of love is not an accomplished fact, but a job to be begun over and over… Love is not something we get from Mother Church as a child gets milk from the breast: it also has to be given. We don’t get love if don’t give any.
Christmas, then, is not just a sweet regression to breast-feeding and infancy. It is a serious and sometimes difficult feast. Difficult especially if, for psychological reasons, we fail to grasp the indestructible kernel of hope that is in it. If we are just looking for a little consolation-we may be disappointed.
Thomas Merton. The Road to Joy, Robert E. Daggy, editor (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989): 108.
I love the image of “dearly held irritations.”
What sorts of things irritate you? I find myself capable of quite a range of irritations, though I don’t think I’m generally an irritable sort.
I dislike being around people who preach dogmatically in daily conversation–like a woman I know who tell yous how excited she is about a woman who preaches well about apocalyptic views–the very sort I find abhorrent (linking the UN and Russia to the Great Beast, etc.). I especially dislike when such persons never stop to ask: “What do you yourself think about this? How do you understand the apocalyptic language of scripture?”
I struggle generally with irritation around people who never ask others questions about themselves, with people who strike me as shallow and materialistic, with women who wear a lot of make-up, with those who make casually racist or sexist or homophobic comments. (And then I stop to ask: what fear is driving those?)
I ask what sorts of things irritate you because I think sometimes there can be something good to claim in our irritations with others, even if not in our spirit of animosity or judgmentalness.
Similar things irritate me–narrow mindedness, bigotry, one dimensional thinking, shallowness, etc. Then I realize that “there’s nobody more narrow minded than a good liberal,” and that I am guilty of bigotry toward those whose thinking, speaking and acting I tend to find fault with. My righteous(?) indignation is without fail as much or more a hindrance to relationship as any perceived fault on the part of the other person. If I am closed to relationship, how can I ever expect to have any influence toward what i think or feel or believe is the best? How can I expect to hear anything that might make for growth in my own life? Listening and openness were characteristic of Jesus’ relationships. His harshness with the pharisees and practicers of false religion was a exception in his treatment of people.
I have to honestly ask “what fear is driving me?” I can’t control the thoughts opinions and actions of others, but I can control, at least to some degree, my own bigotry, narrowness, and tendency toward shallow thinking in certain areas. That’s a leading edge of my own conversion at this point.
Thanks, Amy, for pushing me to think some more about it.
I laughed in recognition at “there’s nobody more narrow-minded than a good liberal.” I’ve joked with some of my Unitarian friends that UU folks can be among the least tolerant, most vituperative people I know. (And people from NYC and the “Coasts” can be among the most parochial.)
But I too feel that one of my own growing edges concerns an awakening to my own prejudices. In this case, not so much about liberal-conservative divides (I’m more practiced in crossing those, though perhaps largely with people open to conversation). The areas I’m more self-blind have I think to do with performances of being gendered female. I’ve always felt at home around those who are more androgynous (in appearance or mannerism), or who seem more concerned about investigating or caring for the world than about cultivating their status. But I realize that women I might have labelled as “BP” (Beautiful People) in my 20’s–women who are popular among men for their beauty and attractiveness and image-orientedness and gregariousness–I’ve often ruled out from being persons I’d like to get to know, judging that THEY will rule out ME as too frank, direct, idea-oriented, deep, unmake-upwearing, whatever. There are all sorts of dynamics here, but it’s become clearer to me that I may be doing most of the shutting out of another. I suppose fear of rejection might be animating that old habit, as well as a habit from adolescence of thinking my ways are superior (a nicely balanced see-saw: seeing oneself as either ‘way up’ or ‘way down’, but not in the thick of things with everyone else).
It is humbling how we can hold even true things in ways that are self-serving or diminishing of ourselves and others. In recent years I’ve valued opening myself to a sense of my commonality with others–including those who fit in well in mainstream culture. (Perhaps that’s why I’ve become a fan of Blackhawks hockey . . .)