Tag Archives: being human

With a Double Heart

Am I two-faced?

Psalms 12:1-2

Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.

They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.

We say one thing – and then we do another. We say that we believe in something – and then we give all of our actions and attention to something other. If we who profess a creed, if we who weekly attend worship services and make charitable donations and pray every day, if we cannot then speak kindly of others, with compassion and love, then who can? If we who believe in the eternal value of virtue do not consciously practice patience, then who will? If we, who laud the mercy of God our maker and sing the praises of forgiveness, cannot, in the spirit and action of forgiveness, work toward reconciliation of conflicts… if not us, then who?

We see the great turmoils in the world and the faults and failings that result in sufferings and troubles – and we believe that someone should do something about it. Someone with integrity and courage should step up and do what needs to be done. Someone should seek always to do the right thing and speak the truth with the gentle assurance of truth. But… do we? Do we?

Do I?

In the living of my every day, do I have integrity? Do my actions flow from my deeply held beliefs? I believe that in my heart, the core of my being, the Infinite/Eternal dwells with me – the core of my being, the heart of my existence, is union with the divine, with all that is holy, all that is good, true, and beautiful. To this I am wed… and the two hearts shall become as one.

To understand my words, you need to first understand who Christ is. Yes, Christ is Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary. And yes, Christ is Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God. Christ is the Word of God made flesh – who, “by the Holy Spirit, was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became Man.” Christ Jesus is the divine Logos made Man. He is fully human and fully divine in the great Mystery of the Incarnation and hypostatic union. He is the incarnation of the Divine, God Incarnate.  And, so, Christ is truth itself. Goodness itself. Love itself.

Because of His Paschal Mystery (through Christ’s Incarnation, life, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension) Christ is Truth, Goodness, Love – Divinity – in union with sanctified and redeemed humanity. In union with me. For I have been sanctified and redeemed by Christ Jesus and, now, God the Holy Spirit dwells in me… with me. My human heart is beating ever more closely in rhythm with the Sacred Heart of Jesus by the power of God – our two hearts are being made as one.

But is this how I live?

Am I letting this come to pass?

There are ways of finding out.

Am I two-faced? Do I knowingly smile and flatter someone even as they are being unkind or spreading gossip? Yes. Do I overly criticize someone for being overly critical? Yes. Do I want to squirm out of difficult situations where there is conflict and the difficulty of dealing with the truth – and then later complain on paper how no one has the courage to stand up for the truth? Yes. I could have helped the person who was struggling with living up to the Christian standards. Instead of giving a half smile and backing away from the words of complaint, I could have come forward with gentle guidance, loving correction, and steadfast assurance in the blessings of the ways of God. But… sadly… I did not.

My human heart alone, my fallen heart, takes over and I march to its fickle and failing beat. I do not seek out and listen to the heartbeat of my Beloved. I do not lay my head upon the bosom of the Creator who loves me enough to become a Creature like me in order to save me and transform me into a divine being like Him. No. I return to the merely physical, the way of dust and ashes, not letting the Breath of God fully and truly animate me so that I may, in, with, and through Christ, be a redeemed and sanctified human being with God’s law written in my heart of divine love. I want to be that holy person!  … Don’t I?

If I do, if I want the Sacred Heart of Jesus to be the beat and power and flow of my life, then I must seek out what I desire. If I believe that I am being transformed when in a state of grace, then I must seek to live in grace and speak and think and act and move in grace. It is not I who will be virtuously kind, it is not I who will change the world, but God through me. In Christ, my Lord.

No more speaking and acting from my fallen heart, the heart that was blind, deaf, and dumb – no, I have been saved, I am being saved, and I believe that I will be saved because God has transformed my heart like unto His Own. It is with His heart, the heart of love, the heart of goodness, the heart of truth, that I, body and soul, have life, true life, abundant life.

So may I live.

© 2014 Christina Chase

The Error of His Ways

Who am I to judge?

James 5:20

Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.

“Judge not, lest you be judged,”[1] we are told directly from the Bible. And yet, we are also told that we should correct people when they are wrong and work with the Holy Spirit to convert sinners. But… how do we know if someone is wrong or a sinner in need of conversion if we aren’t supposed to judge? The conflict here, I believe, arises from a confusion in language – not a confusion in moral guidelines.

First of all, what does it mean to be a sinner?

And, second of all, what does it mean to judge?

Every one of us is a sinner. How do I know? Because we are human – not divine. We have been divinely created with the gift of free will and that means that, sometimes, we choose poorly. To sin is to miss the mark of our full potentials, of the ideal – to choose poorly. Now, sometimes, we can choose poorly by making an innocent mistake and, in this case, our “sin” is less severe and we are less culpable for it (it’s easier to get back on the right path.) But, then, there are other times when we know that we shouldn’t do something (because it isn’t good for us or for someone else) and, yet, we choose to do it anyway. This second scenario is certainly more serious, but in both cases, we are committing sins by heading in the wrong direction – away from truth, away from love, away from goodness… and, so, away from God. If we continue making decisions that take us down inferior paths, straying further and further from who we are created to be, further and further away from God who is truth, love, and goodness itself, then we will have failed our souls, the very essence of we are. And that’s not good.

So… what if we see someone that we love making bad decisions and straying further and further away from love and goodness? Do we throw up our hands saying, “Who am I to judge?” Or do we try to help them? So many times, Christians are accused of being judgmental. The Catholic religion is sometimes seen as a system of harsh judgments imposed on people. But the people who think this way simply don’t understand the true meaning of Christian correction. Of course, there will be people in every religion who are, no doubt, overly critical and condemning, but I want to look at the Christian religion as a whole.

In Christianity, the right kind of “judging” is a prayerful and compassionate discerning of God’s ways – in our actions as well as the actions of others. Who among us would judge the murder of a child as the right thing to do, as what God wants us to do? Is it loving? Is it kind? (You know… as I’m writing this, I’m thinking that I should have written “the murder of a healthy child”, since some claim an act of mercy when putting a disabled child “out of her misery” – and I think that I will probably have to also add “the murder of a healthy child who has already been born”. How sad is it that I’m having a hard time phrasing this bad act so that everyone can agree that it’s bad?!) Is the willful, systematic torturing of a four-year-old a good thing? Can’t we, at least, all come together on this and judge – yes, judge – it as a bad act that should not be committed? Who are we to judge? We are human beings. We are compassionate human beings who want to help those who are suffering. So, we should judge the bad act and remove the victim from the control of the perpetrator, and we should protect other children by making sure that the perpetrator doesn’t hurt anyone else. As good Christians, we should also give the perpetrator the help that he or she needs in order to make better choices and to stop cruelly missing the mark of love. Yes, our “judgments” must be designed to help. We are to love one another. And we cannot love one another if we let each other stray and stumble down dark and dismal paths without breathing one word of warning or correction.

To put in a simple way…

You love your child. Do you let your child run out into traffic to play? Your child is happily and willingly running out into the middle of the street – what do you do? Do you spoil your child’s fun by yelling out “Don’t!”? Or, do you let your child figure things out for herself – after all, who are you to say what should or should not be done? You make mistakes, often, yourself.

Of course, if you truly love your child, then you will instruct your child not to run out into the middle of the street. You will inform your children about the dangers of cars and traffic so that they will know what NOT to do. And, if they forget or ignore your wisdom, you will correct them – even if that means yelling so that you can be heard or pulling them by the arm so that they don’t get hit by an oncoming vehicle. You do these things because you love.

Applying this to the larger world, to society, I can hear the argument that this is good for a child. But, adults need to be allowed to make their own decisions, right or wrong. Well… I have a friend who smokes cigarettes. She also has allergies and asthma that requires an inhaler. She knows that she shouldn’t smoke – but she does it anyway. Should I agree with her when she says that one cigarette a day isn’t that bad? If she is truly my friend, and I lovingly care about her, then I will not agree to that. No, I’m not going to bash her over the head with her poor decision again and again every time I see her – but I am going to gently remind her, every time she is wheezing or coughing, how much better she would feel without smoking and how much healthier she would be. Sometimes, with just a loving and pitying look. She knows.

Everyone needs help. If I see a man in the street talking to his wife as if she’s nothing but dirt and then hitting her, will I just stand by, mute, thinking, “Who am I to judge?” Or will I take action to help both the wife and the abusive man? I am certainly not doing God’s work, I am certainly not being a kind person, if I do absolutely nothing to help. I need to make a judgment. I need to take action. If I don’t… well, then, I am not a good Christian. I am a wuss. And worse, I am an enabler of violence.

So, what is Christianity to do in the world? We, as people in a society, regardless of religion, should be able to identify bad acts that are hurtful to people and do what we can to help. But, we don’t always. We trip over ourselves trying not to offend anyone, trying not to be too “judgmental”. And the bad acts multiply. The Church wants to be clear. There are paths that people can walk upon that are destructive – not only to others, but also to the people walking along them. And the Church wants to do everything possible to help people get off of the paths of destruction and get onto the path of life. Although we can say that full conversion would be conversion to Christianity, the first conversion, very often, must be to humanity. Recognize when people are straying from the fullness of being human – from love, goodness, decency, compassion, kindness – and help them back to the fullness. Help them to see the error of their ways, to reconcile relationships broken and damaged by bad behavior, and to deal with emotions and past experiences in a constructive way that will lead to healing and wholeness. This is what Christ teaches. (This is who Christ is.) And anyone who wants to live the Christian life must take up the mission of Christ and not shrug shoulders in a completely misplaced idea of mercy that is actually only apathy.

While we are helping others, we must make sure that we, ourselves, are keeping to the path of love and goodness – that we are always acting in selfless compassion, strong in the truth, strong in love, ever kind, ever generous, and always gentle when needed. Full conversion comes when we bring Christ to people who are suffering (and who among us isn’t suffering in some way?) bringing Christ by being like Christ. And when those who need help witness and experience the joyful, loving way in which we give help… well, that is the path of the Holy Spirit and, as we follow Christ, we will lead by example. That’s what Christianity is and does.

© 2014 Christina Chase

[1] Matthew 7:1

Servant

I want to be of some use. But I don’t want to be used.

Matthew 20:27

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

We don’t want to be anyone’s fool. We won’t let anyone put one over on us or walk all over us.  We are strong.  We are independent.  We can think for ourselves, thank you very much, and don’t need anyone telling us what to do — or what not to do.  If one of us is asked to do some menial task, we think that such a thing is beneath us and say to the person asking, “I’m not your servant!”

We will not be used.

But…

Are we of any use to anyone but ourselves? What happens when we are the ones using ourselves for fruitless pursuits, enslaving ourselves to our own whims and selfishness?  I’ll tell you what happens: we become the worst kind of fools — our own fools.

I was once self-centered.

When I was an atheist, I spoke like an atheist, I thought like an atheist, I reasoned like an atheist. When I became a believer, I put away with atheistic things.

I was not a mean and nasty atheist, angry at the world, disgusted with people. I was one of those secular humanist kind of atheists, appreciating beauty and kindness, concerned with the plight of others, and wanting to make the world a better place.  You would not have known by my interactions with people, by my words or by my actions that I was a “godless heathen”.  But, well… I was.  I did what I wanted and what I wanted was what made me feel good about myself.  That very sentence can describe many people — including those who claim belief in, and love for, God.

The thing is, even when I might have said or done something that was of service to another, I cannot say that I did it purely for that other.  My act of kindness was not a selfless act, it was not true charity, because I was doing it to bring myself pleasure.  You know that pleasure that you get when you do something good for another person?  It gives you a kind of lift and can lead you to think very lovely things about yourself, and you are happy for that moment.  In this way, I can see how some people could actually get addicted to do-gooding.  But, what kind of good does it really do?  The other person who was helped is benefited.  But am I who did it?  I don’t think so.

You see, there were always people, who I helped out in some way, who did not experience the same pleasure as I did from my action. Sometimes, they received my kindness with ingratitude.  Sometimes giving meanness in return.  And, believe me, I snapped back at those people in a hurry.  “You don’t want me to help you?  Fine, then.  Suffer.  See if I care.”  Because, well, I really didn’t.  I centered all of my goodness, my talents and gifts, my beauties and strengths, in myself.  I did these things, I deserved full credit, I, I, I….  I hoarded any good quality of mine like a treasure.  I might pay out some of it somewhere if I thought it was a good investment and would give me a pleasurable return.  But, if it didn’t, then I would withdraw very quickly.  I was self-centered.

And then I became God-centered.

What does it mean to be God-centered? Well, it could be explained in many ways, but to explain the difference between being self-centered and God-centered, I’ll continue along the same lines that I wrote above.  As an atheist, I gave full credit to myself (including my genetics and experiences) for any of my gifts and talents, and anything that I thought, said, and did that was good, true, or beautiful (I was the determining judge of what was good, true, or beautiful, anyway).  But, as a believer, I give full credit to God (the true judge of truth, being Truth Itself) for all of my gifts and talents, and everything good, true, and beautiful in my thoughts, words, and actions.  God is the treasure and the treasure house.  God is the center.  And, by the love and mercy of God, God chooses to dwell within me.  Not because I deserve this.  But because God loves.

It’s like this. God created human beings in His own image and likeness and saves us from our sins, from our waywardness (a kind of drunk-on-self stumbling stagger, which is life that ends in death) by becoming one of us.  Christ sanctifies all of humanity through his Incarnation, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension: the Paschal Mystery.  And when we choose to enter into the life of Christ, we first enter into the death of Christ — and then we are reborn.  And we are not reborn in order that we may serve ourselves, our own whims and pleasures.  We are born again from above in order that we may truly become ourselves by serving others.  It is that entering into the death of Christ that allows us to truly be of use — without being used.  We Christians sometimes say that we “die to self”.  And that can sound kind of scary and weird to non-Christians — even to Christians who have not come to a fuller understanding of Christ’s sacrifice, yet.  But, you see, it is by emulating Christ, in giving ourselves away, that we are able to fully recognize God as the center and then able to give tirelessly and selflessly from the Divine treasure house within each of us.  No need to hoard.  And no need to be thanked or even recognized for the good service given to the other.  All glory to God.  For we are doing what we simply must do as true believers.  In much the same way, a rose must breathe sweetly and a flooded stream flow quickly.  It is the true nature of who we are and we cannot weary of it as long as we remain who we are.

And, so, as a believer, I know that I can be of use to others without ever being used. If someone wants half of my desert, then I should offer them the whole thing.  If someone needs help with a computer problem, I should patiently give it and not begrudge one moment extra spent doing more than might be “necessary”.  Yes, this is the God-centered life.  (God, help me live it!)  And it can be tiring, and thankless, and even lonely, sometimes.  But, the greatest human that ever lived, and ever will live, was humiliated, abandoned, tortured, and killed cruelly.  And, yet… He was willing to go through it all for the sake of the very ones who hurt Him… and so He is is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  To be like Him is more than a good idea, a pleasure, or something that might be rewarded — it is simply and profoundly who I am as a human being, first, foremost, and always.

© 2014 Christina Chase

To Confound the Things Which Are Mighty

Nothing but a cripple.

1 Corinthians 1:25-27

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a cripple. (I can use that word, because my body is crippled, too.)  The world was kept from knowing the extent of Roosevelt’s disability by the compensation tricks he developed to give the appearance of his walking — and also by the willingness of journalists to keep secret his difficulties in getting out of automobiles.  Why did he have to hide the fact of his weak legs from others?  Because Roosevelt wanted to lead the people as President of the United States, and he believed, as they believed — that a true leader cannot be perceived as weak in any way.

What is physical strength?

Because Ken Burns documentary film on the Roosevelts is on my mind, let’s continue for a moment with Franklin Roosevelt — a physically disabled man who used a wheelchair, and who not only became President, but also became the strongest and most influential president of the 20th century. He was a great world leader, a man of confidence, vitality, strength, and action.  He was not a weakling.  No one knew him to be a pushover — even though he could have easily been pushed over by the slightest jostle when he was ambulating on his braces and crutches.  The fact is that the paralyzing effects of polio did not diminish Franklin Roosevelt’s inner vitality and confident action.  In fact, because his paralysis made him physically weak and dependent on others for daily acts of survival, he developed a strong, intimate compassion for others who felt helpless.  Enduring his own sufferings made his heart and his resolve stronger.  Being fatigued more easily in the body, he grew more tireless in his mind.  Some experts believe that he might never have become president at all, if not for the timing delay that the polio caused for his candidacy.  Most experts agree that his muscle wasting illness made him, instead of just president, a great president.

So, again, I ask: what is physical strength?

I have often been told that I am an inspiration. And I have often wondered why.  Most of the people who have told me this have done so after knowing me for only a few minutes.  Usually, I don’t have to say much of anything at all except the usual casual pleasantries.  I know it’s because of the wheelchair.  They see me all crippled up and crumpled up and they, if they are normally functioning humans, feel a kind of pity, or sorrow, or even scared, nervous repulsion.  Exactly the kind of reactions that Franklin Roosevelt did not want to elicit.  But, then they see my smile.  They look into the intelligence of my eyes and witness my genuine joy, smiling across my whole expressive face, they hear the normalcy of my voice — and they are surprised.  No one expects joyful strength from someone who is physically weak.  Those who personally witnessed Franklin Roosevelt’s physical struggles, and knew something of the suffering and the fatigue that his disability caused him, admired him with a deeper intensity than those who only received the illusion of physical mobility.  They got to experience, as we do now, the fullness of who he was as a person and exactly how brave he was — how strong.

That’s something people have also told me: that I’m brave. But… I don’t really know what they expect me to do.  Should I dampen my natural tendency to joy because of the underlying sorrow of my disease?  I mean, I don’t like not being able to walk.  And I am frustrated, disappointed, and annoyed that other people have to take care me.  Hate is a strong word and I rarely use it — I will say that I hate to exaggerate — but, the way that I feel about my utter physical dependency on others… we could say that I hate it.  Do I let that take over my life and who I am?  No.  Mainly, because I am loved.  And being loved, being truly loved and knowing it, is a kind of freedom.  I, who I am as a person, body, mind, heart, and soul, does not need to be chained by my chains.  We all have limitations, all unique, some more obvious than others, some more minute-by-minute limiting than others.  But, there is no limit to love. Real love.

It may very well be impossible for you to do some particular thing. It was impossible for Franklin Roosevelt to walk unaided.  It’s impossible for me to walk at all — it’s also impossible for me to scratch my head, wipe my bottom, feed myself, etc..  However — and this is very big and important, way beyond wishful thinking, justifications, or petty comforts — I am not limited in becoming who I am created to be.  I may not get my way.  But, if I am willing and cooperative, then all of who I am (especially including my limitations) will result in the accomplishment of Divine Will.  God’s way is above my way.

No matter what your limitations, there are no limitations placed upon your ability to be fulfilled in who you are. A hero, a martyr, a warrior, a mystic, a sage, a saint — all are within the possibilities of every human person.  Should somebody not even be able to utter a word or express any kind of personal communication, he or she still has the ability to teach.  God, who created each and every one of us, has given each and every one of us the particular abilities needed to reach our full potentials and to become great in God’s sight.  We will not all become President of the United States or any other kind of a world recognized leader — but everybody has the ability to lead.  By following God’s love, we can not only become who we are destined to be, but we can also lead others to their destinies.  The very fact that we are simple, that we are small, the very fact that we are seen as foolish to many, the very fact that we are pitifully weak — that is how we become able.  It is how Jesus saved the world — just look at a crucifix.

It is through the human wounds that we can see the Divine.

Unpublished work © 2014 Christina Chase

Tell the Stars

Do I believe?

Genesis 15:3-6

  1. And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

  2. And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.

  3. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

  4. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom… You who fear him, trust in the Lord… God’s ways are above man’s ways… The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?… Fear not, for I am with you always….

Great stuff. As one who holds the Bible as Sacred Scripture, what do I do with these words? Do I hold them as sacred, as the most powerful and significant meaning of and for my life? If so, then I surely would not be suffering from a paralyzing phobia. But, I do have a phobia – a very serious one.

My particular “persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it”[1] is a fear of not being heard. I realize that this may seem to have some cosmic, mystic overtones, but I don’t mean it that way. I am literally afraid that nobody will hear me when I call out for assistance. Being completely physically disabled by a motor neuron disease, and, therefore, utterly dependent on others for every physical need – I cannot even scratch my own cheek – I have been told that my fear is reasonable. But, it isn’t. The phobic panic begins when my mother is simply vacuuming in the next room. Every time I hear an outside door open, my insides jump and I call out to make sure that someone is staying in the house with me. My parents know my phobia very well and they would never intentionally leave me alone to suffer. But, mistakes can happen, I know and I tell them – but I very much would like to trust them more. And, even if they are human and fallible – at least, I should trust God that nothing bad would happen to me even if no other human could hear me for 10 minutes or even an hour. God’s grace can surely even calm a panic attack. Right?

Is this a matter of a lack of faith? A priest, whom I greatly respect and admire, has told me that it is not. This is, obviously, a psychological problem. Maybe I need to go see a therapist. But, it does raise serious questions about human fears and how the faithful trust in the Lord.

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me…”[2].

Abram believed God when he was told that God would change his lot. Abram believed in the power of God to work miracles and to make the impossible possible. And Abram put all of his trust, all of this faith – all of his heart – in the LORD. “I believe” or “credo” means to give one’s heart. Abram followed God with utter trust, even though it meant leaving everything that he knew behind him. His leap of faith was a life-changing experience – it was even a name changing experience. This man did not merely believe, in an intellectual kind of way, that the words spoken to him by God were true. He believed in God. He was willing to give over everything to the One in whom he believed, the one to whom he had given his heart. Even when he didn’t understand. Even when he sorrowed over it. And God counted it as righteousness in him – Abraham was exactly who he was supposed to be.

But, we humans crave certainty. We want to know for sure. We want proof. But… Where there is proof, where is trust? Because there is no dead certainty in the life of faith (no, there is nothing dead in God) people are often uncomfortable in it. They turn to concrete matters and science for answers and guidance. If something cannot be methodically tested and, therefore, scientifically verified, then it is dismissed. But, by doing this, we miss out on the fullness of life. For there is something beyond certainty that is precious and powerful. There is something more beautiful and profound in the leap of faith than there ever can be in sure knowledge.

Am I sure?…

I am a messy, mixed up human being. And I am in love… and I am believing…

 

© 2014 Christina Chase

 

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/phobia

[2] Jeremiah 29:11-14

Departed

I would like to say that I am innocent… But I am not.

Psalms 18:21

For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.

When I was nine years old, I was a thief. Not only did I steal gulps of wine with my friend from the kitchen (warm alcohol in a Mickey Mouse tumbler) and grams of chalk dust from the school gym supply (folding it up in some paper and sticking it inside my wheelchair while waiting for the short bus to come and take me home) and various small things – construction paper, carbon, broken chalk – that I wanted and I judged no one would miss… but I also stole knowledge. At the end of third grade, I was allowed to stay inside with my friend Beth for recess one day and we decided to open our teacher’s desk drawer and find that secret list. A secret list existed near the close of every school year with the names of the teachers that each student would receive the next year. We all wanted to know what classroom we would end up in – would we get our favorite teacher, would our friends be with us? But, that information, as I recall, was never shared until the summer. Beth and I didn’t want to wait. We wanted to know.

If memory serves, I was the one who instigated and told Beth to do it. Being physically limited, I was used to “bossing people around”. Not only did we find out who we would have for teachers, but also who our friends, and people with whom we would like to be friends, were going to have. Before the end of the school day, we whispered the secrets to everyone that we could. Eventually, other kids in other classrooms let it slip that they knew – and when asked where they had heard the news, directed authorities to Mrs. B’s class. Mrs. B made us all put our heads upon our desks until the guilty party, or parties, confessed the crime. I did not raise my head. I did not say a word. And neither did Beth. Mrs. B couldn’t keep us there forever, we had to go home. But, as we were lining up to leave, a boy in my class told Mrs. B that I was the one who had told him, that I was the one who had stolen the list. My teacher looked down at me and I looked up at her with my big brown eyes. I remember myself mumbling something about Beth, ready to throw her under the bus – we really weren’t that close anyway – but Mrs. B had poor hearing. She just regarded me through her glasses, her bright red lips extra thin and tight. But, then her face softened. She didn’t believe the boy. She didn’t believe that I could do something so wrong. To her, and to most everyone as I would find out in my life, I was an innocent.

Indeed, this may seem like a small and innocent offense – what real harm was done? But, the harm was to my classmates who were all under the shadow of suspicion, for that afternoon with their heads down in the dark and silence, and, for all I know, for the rest of Mrs. B’s life. And the harm was done to my relationship with Beth, for we never did get close. Perhaps she overheard my mumbled ratting or perhaps the guilt was just too much for me. And the greatest harm, I know, was to myself. For I showed myself, in this incident, my true colors. Thievery was easy to me and I honestly felt no guilt about that. I was even proud. Proud that me, who everyone thought was a little angel in a wheelchair, could commit such an act that got the whole third-grade buzzing. The fact that I so blatantly got away with it just added to my happiness over the whole event. But… what I was willing to do to Beth… how I was willing to hide behind the cloak of innocence with which my wheelchair draped me while pointing my finger at her…. this is not only a crime against someone whom I considered a friend, this was, and I say this most seriously, a crime against God. Sneaky, deceptive, smarmy, and proud of myself, I was bolstered up for many years by the memory of this robbed knowledge.

It was not merely the ignorant act of a child. For, was there not some innocence in Eve when she simply wanted to gain wisdom, as I simply wanted to know? And, was there not also pride and greed at grasping for something higher than herself, to put herself at the level of a superior? And was there not shameful finger-pointing, a desperate attempt to inflict any punishment that she deserved away from herself and onto a co-conspirator? Wasn’t Adam, too, guilty of this last crime, this greatest crime: willfully inflicting harm upon another in an attempt to hide from the consequences coming justly to oneself?

To escape justice, the first humans had to hide themselves from one another – to hide themselves from God. But… there is no hiding from God. And don’t I know that, too! Knowledge thief that I am, did I not dare to proclaim that there is no such thing as God and devote myself entirely to a godless life with myself as the center of a meaningless universe? No, I never committed murder in that life – although I did strangle my soul’s promptings and suffocate my own spiritual nature. I did not steal – but I had already hijacked my own reason. And I did not commit adultery or anything like that – although I did desecrate the temple of my body. I broke the ways of the Lord by departing from my God. From truth. From real love. From life itself. And though this willful act was not committed through wickedness, I was still far from the truth of my identity as a being lovingly Created in divine image; I had banished myself far from the tree of life and the reality of reality.

Forever east of Eden, we thieves of knowledge go –
and the innocent truth of who we really are, we can’t get to know.
There, but for the grace of God, would I, ever seeking, lie;
it’s grace that’s brought me home again… I cannot hide from I.

Christina Chase

 

In His Integrity

 

What’s left?

Proverbs 19:1

Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool.

“Blessed are the poor…” yes, yes, I know, but I’d like to be rich – who wouldn’t? To live in a beautiful house surrounded by comfort and conveniences and beautiful things, to not have to worry about how I’m going to pay the bills that pile up in front of me, to have nice clothes and cars and delicious foods and to be able to travel wherever I would like or give financial assistance and material help to worthy people in need whenever I am moved to do so – who wouldn’t want to do that? When we think of all the things that money can buy, we think in our minds – and even in our hearts – “Blessed are the rich.”

The stories that we hear about lottery winners always fascinate me. They win huge sums of money by luck and buy all the things that they’ve always wanted to have – and they admit that they aren’t happier. Some spend and live richly while still wisely saving and investing enough money so that they will never have to worry about blowing it all – and they say they were happier before they became rich. Friends and family members become jealous and manipulative, trying to get some of that financial boon for themselves. People everywhere seek them out with tales of woe in hopes of getting charitable contributions. And some, in resentment and also in greed, will make the lottery winners feel guilty if not enough of the winnings are spent upon things that they, the non-winners, believe are important. And then there’s all the stuff – so many things to buy, experiences to purchase, and no extra time in which to enjoy them, no extra heart-space in which to appreciate them. And the stuff has to be taken care of – or the employees hired to take care of the stuff have to be taken care of – it’s a lot of work. Some lottery winners become depressed, some commit suicide. And even the rich who earn their money never seem to be able to get enough of it, are always wanting more. Rich celebrities live glamorous lives – lives of broken relationships, drug abuse, waywardness. But, still… Knowing all this, I would still like to be rich. I would be one of those few who can handle it, who can do wealthy well. Wouldn’t I?

I don’t know. How am I doing with not being wealthy? Am I doing middle-class well? Actually, my parents are middle-class – but they physically take care of me in their home because of my severe disability. I, financially speaking, am poor. In fact, it is rightly said that I am a beggar since I can do no labor, no work inside or outside of the home, to earn my bread. I depend completely upon others for all of my needs for survival. So, to go back to my question – am I doing that well? I think I could handle wealth – but that would only be true if I can handle poverty.

Jesus did not say “Blessed are the financially destitute.” He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I imagine that “poor in spirit” has been interpreted to mean different things over the centuries through different schools of thought. But, the point I want to make here is that poverty itself – the deprivation of material resources, of those basic needs of survival – is not blessedness. Merely being poor is not going to make one blessed, is not going to make one happy. There are many, many people who do poverty badly. Broken relationships, drug abuse, and suicide affect the poor as well as the rich. (Perhaps, though, we may think it affects the poor more because there are more poor people than rich.) The truth is that selfishness, greed, and unhappiness abound in humanity, no matter how much, or how little, money is ready at hand. If, however, one is “poor in spirit” – well, then, one belongs to the kingdom of heaven. What does that mean?

To be poor in spirit is not to have some kind of solidarity with the poor, that is, feeling deep compassion for them in their plight and helping them however one can by donating time and/or resources. The blessedness, the happiness, comes in truly being poor – in being a beggar. For, what do we have that is truly our own? You can be robbed of possessions. Your house can burn down and your insurance company go bankrupt. You can lose your savings through disastrous investments. You can lose your job or lose your breadwinning spouse and get evicted or have your house foreclosed upon, watch your car get repossessed and sell off your jewelry, your collectibles, your furniture, until you have nothing left. Even that body which you use to earn money and go to the store and enjoy leisurely comfort – even that can lose its functionality through injury or disease. That mind that you use to make sure you have all that you need and with which you appreciate what you have – even that can lose its abilities of cognition and/or memory. And then what is left? All that is left is what has always been, what is eternally: your belongingness to the kingdom of heaven.

Whether rich or poor, if we live our lives separated from our true identities, we will never be truly happy. We were all created by the Uncreated Creator. We all belong to this Infinite/Eternal One. Your true identity, my true identity, is as a living image and likeness of God. But, is that how we live? Or, do we rather live as our own inventions for our own purposes? I’m not talking about altruism here. I’m talking about knowing who you are. You could be blessed by living your life “looking out for number one” and understanding that that most important one is yourself – but do you know who you are? If you think that you are your physical pleasures and enjoyments, then you are always going to miss the mark of blessedness. If you think that you are your accomplishments and achievements, then you will never be fulfilled. If you think that you are the praising people around you, then you will never know true love, true happiness. If you think that you are the weight of your possessions, monuments, and money enjoyed now and left behind as legacy when you are dead, then you are most sadly missing out on the fullness of your one, unique life.

The Uncaused Cause has given you an immortal soul to animate your being – and has given you Godself to restore you to true likeness so that you may know blessedness and know it eternally. Who you truly are is who you are eternally. When passing things pass away, what is left? What has always been and always will be: a beggar. May our begging bowls be open and outstretched toward the Source of Being, the Infinitely Generous One Who truly gives us our fill.

Whether rich or poor, I can be a fool. Better to have no material pleasures to distract me from knowing who I am, then to go about my life as a fool in perversity. May we not choose to live our lives perversely, obstinately desiring to do what is unreasonable – and what is unreasonable is all that is is contrary to who we truly are.

Christina Chase