Spirit Matters: Being honest with ourselves spiritually

For better or for worse, our lives speak loud and clear to the world around us.

Before I go any further: Unless we are already saints, which I’m quite sure none of us walking on the soil outside our doors are, we are each a complex conglomeration of darkness and light, good and bad.

None of us are completely good, or completely bad, although I guess there could be an argument made either way for some people we know personally, and on the world stage, both past and present.

Most of us have looked upon a person or situation we don’t like, and think to ourselves “I’m so happy I’m not like that.”

I’ve done it. More times than I care to admit. And even though I’m not a gambler, I’m betting everyone reading this now has done the same.

The reality is we are probably much “like that,” at least in some corner of our existence, however, small and hidden.

We just ignore it and pretend it’s not there, or, not even take the time to do a good self-evaluation to recognize our weaknesses, and our strengths, too.

My childhood spiritual education was pretty black-and-white. If you were good, and did good things, you were fine. If you were bad, and did bad things, you better prepare for an eternity of fire and suffering. It didn’t seem there was anything in between.

Those good things and bad things had already been clearly delineated by the powers-that-be. It seemed there were more bad things than there were good things. Or maybe it was just you were so afraid of doing a bad thing, even the good things became bad. But you just didn’t know for sure, so you erred on the side of safety, telling yourself whatever it was you did was bad, confessed it to a priest, and got a “brand new soul, and a cross of gold” as Billy Joel so eloquently put it.

While that kind of spiritual thought was, is and always will be damaging, these days, it seems the pendulum has shifted completely in the other direction, where there are no guidelines at all, and anything goes.

As sorely imperfect the delivery of my childhood spiritual education was, there was some real benefit to it too.

It taught me the concept of performing an “examination of conscience” on myself, based on The Ten Commandments. And, I’ve tried to carry that concept into my adulthood, without the scrupulosity. Today, I examine my life and my behavior according to The Eight Beatitudes Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount, and to try to align myself with the behavior Jesus modeled in his daily life … where he welcomed outcasts, dined with known “sinners,” extravagantly forgave, and engaged with every individual as the unique and unrepeatable soul they were.

That is the real litmus test for anyone who purports to call themselves Christian: Whether they actually live and behave the way Jesus did, as opposed to the current Collective Christian Consciousness, which often seems profoundly judgmental and intolerant, two things Jesus was not. (To be fair, this current Collective Christian Consciousness about which I speak, might be weighted toward what we see on the news, which regardless of the source, is almost always in some way biased.)

In fact, it seems many of those who model the dark side of Christianity, are probably not engaging in that regular examination of their lives and behaviors. Or, as Jesus said, “taking the log out of their own eye before they remove the splinter from someone else’s.”

There is profound wisdom in regularly looking at ourselves, our lives and our behaviors to see where we are behaving according to the Gospel of Love, and where we are not. It’s a matter of holding ourselves accountable and honestly acknowledging where we fall short, while at the same time recognizing the good things we have done too. Sadly, it seems, many young and not-as-young people have not been educated in this practice.

At one retreat I attended, the priest who led it said he always asks people who come to him for confession (now referred to as the Sacrament of Reconciliation), to begin with at least one GOOD thing they did since their last time receiving the sacrament. Or, one good QUALITY they possess.

He recognized people are often very hard on themselves, and realized the need for a more balanced approach in examining their lives.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of our spiritual leaders looked at it this way?

We become what we focus on.

If we are always trying to be perfect, we will never truly grow into the loving, forgiving people The Divine Intelligence wants us to be. After all, if we can’t forgive ourselves, how can we possibly forgive and accept others?

On the other hand, if we are able to acknowledge our faults — and pray for the grace to overcome them, our spiritual lives are far more likely to flourish and bear an abundance of fruit for the “kingdom of God,” among us.

  • SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines experiences common to the human spirit. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.