At our most recent Oblate meeting, our group discussed the meaning of a certain paragraph we found intriguing in the book The Road to Eternal Life: Reflections on the Prologue of Benedict’s Rule by Michael Casey.
As we explored our thoughts together, my mind dwelt on the idea that negative traits in ourselves often come to light when we spend more of our time in quiet contemplation. I could see how this might sound odd at first, but I also recognized how easily I related to these words.
Why does quieting the self help one to identify one’s negative characteristics with such clarity? I kept pondering this question long after our Oblate meeting concluded. As I meditated on this idea, I realized how often I busy myself with daily tasks, weekly assignments, and year-long “To Do” lists that I never seem to complete. I am often stressed physically, if not emotionally, spiritually, mentally, or any combination of those. When I keep myself so busy all the time, I think I “don’t have time” for quiet contemplation. In my busyness, I allow myself the great excuse to slack off in the area of bettering myself where I need improvement. The problem is, this excuse is not a helpful or positive one, rather it’s only “great” in the sense that it is a big and very common excuse for my lack of spiritual development (or mental, or physical, or emotional progress).
As I continually reflected on my need for daily contemplation, I discovered I’m more afraid of calming myself than I like to admit. In the act of calming myself and quieting my ever-wandering mind, I find problems within me that haven’t been addressed due to my being “too busy” to address them. Once I find these areas and characteristics that I have neglected working on, I know I ought not ignore them any longer and I become convicted to start working on/correcting them. When I feel convicted to change, however, I easily become discouraged by my numerous errors and flaws. This might lead me to ignore my problems in the hopes that I’ll forget them and feel less guilty for my imperfections. But then, I find myself right back where I started: stressing in busyness, making no time to quiet myself, and suppressing my negative characteristics. The vicious cycle feels so overwhelming when I’m enveloped in it.
Thankfully, Jesus provides us a loving example of maintaining a busy life while carving out special moments for quiet and prayer. Today, being Good Friday, I am reminded of the time when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the midst of his imminent suffering, Jesus specifically took time for solitude, quiet, prayer, and meditation. Jesus prayed, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me.” Jesus qualifies his request further by adding, “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). What God revealed to Jesus in the garden was the difficult reality of Jesus’ death by crucifixion. In the quiet of Jesus’ prayer and meditation, he was not relieved of the painful task at hand. Nevertheless, Jesus’ suffering and death would be done for the greater good of salvation for all. This fact did not take away from the enormity of his death in his present moment, but Jesus could be reassured by the knowledge of God’s will being done through him.
As we Christians mourn Jesus’ death this day, we, too, can be encouraged as we look forward to Jesus’ coming resurrection and his salvation for all. By Jesus’ example, I confidently create moments of calm and reflection in spite of my busyness. Instead of being intimidated by what’s wrong and lacking in my character, I am renewed by God’s grace and love as He wills for me that which is greater than my current circumstances. Even if my cup of suffering remains with me presently, I know that God’s will extends beyond what I can see in the here and now. There is a time, someday, for new life and resurrection, when my sins will be no more.