In my thoughts over the past while a few themes have emerged. The most basic and underlying strand running through all I have listened to and read is that there is a sacredness, a value or worth to each and every human being and to all that is, living and non-living. This theme has also been the current that runs through my whole life and work. Yet it has been as much, if not more, something to struggle towards rather than a conviction readily seen and lived from.
In reflecting on this matter, among many other things, some New Testament stories come to mind–the baptism and transfiguration of Jesus, and the parables of the prodigal son and the good Samaritan. So too do the writings of Henri Nouwen and the podcasts I have been listening to. The story of Narcissus from Greek mythology and the story of Sleeping Beauty from Western folk tales also resonate.
In all these thoughts and stories, there is this same underlying theme of the basic sacredness, value, and worth of the person, and extending to all of creation. At the same time, it is recognized as something always there, but seen only with a great deal of struggle, and discovered on the other side of whatever pain, sorrow, or suffering has become part of our life. The greatest struggle and the greatest pain come not only from events inflicted from without or limitations arising from within, but their impact that feeds what is already present within us–the fear that we of no worth, that there is something radically wrong with us, that we are unlovable. Beneath all their layers, all the oral and written traditions affirm both this underlying truth of our sacred worth and of the struggle involved in recognizing that truth.
Henri Nouwen puts it in these words: “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” This again is the heart of the story of the baptism of Jesus, which calls us to tune into the truest and deepest voice within us, the voice that calls us a beloved daughter or son, the voice of our sacredness. It is the core of the transfiguration story which says that if we see to the heart of any of us, we will discover a radiant beauty. If we did so, says Thomas Merton, all the darkness and cruelty of life would disappear..
The Good Shepherd psalm tells us: “ Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me. … and I will dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” The first letter of John states that “perfect love casts out fear.” What is deepest and truest in life is a life-affirming, a life-generating presence or force that makes for life, growth, meaning, forgiveness, healing, and renewal, that is more than, yet perhaps most fully realized on the other side of pain and fear. To live within and from this “house” is to be at home to ourselves and our sacredness and so able to be at home to others as well. The story of the healing of the paralytic suggests that to experience forgiveness, is to realize that our sacredness is deeper than any brokenness and wrongness. We are then free from the paralysis of fearing that we are no good and are able to get up and walk again.
Very briefly, the story of Narcissus suggests that we will run from love and intimacy and inflict hurt on others until we come to an image of ourselves as lovable. This is an experience of death and rebirth. The story of Sleeping Beauty also indicates that sometimes we do have hedges of thorns around us to ward off any possible hurt. Yet this self-enclosing wall puts us into a sleep-like state of unawareness. As in the story of the prodigal son, sometimes it takes another to awaken us–or perhaps listen us–into the truth of our own sacredness.
Perhaps in future reflections, we can look a little more intensely into some of these stories. We may conclude this week with restating the underlying theme of the sacred worth of each of us, to which we only slowly awaken after some struggle and sorrow. And perhaps the challenge for us is to help one another awaken to this truth. And perhaps we do so, certainly by social struggle according to our gifts, but also by listening to one another’s stories and to the storyteller, and discovering together that each of us has a sacred story and that we are each a sacred storyteller.