To continue the reflections of the last few weeks. I would like to recall an expression that has resonated with me for many years. It is to trust the unfolding process of life within us.
To do so require a number of things. It involves becoming present to and aware of our inner core, our heart, our centre. This has to be uncovered behind all the accumulated layers added on by others and by our life experience itself. As Richard Rohr puts, it involves getting to who we truly are behind our thoughts, feelings, and self-image, with which we may easily identify ourselves. This is the inner journey to the source of our being, as Dag Hammarskjold words it in Markings. It is the journey to uncover our inmost home and live from there. It is to be at home to ourselves so that we can be at home to one another.
This journey also involves learning to recognize that our unique inner core is like a nucleus that unfolds from within into our qualities and gifts, as well as our limitations. It also unfolds in a continuous dialogue with others, the world around us, and our life circumstances.
This journey also involves trusting that inner core. To do so we must come to experience that core as trustworthy, as worthy of trust because it is worthy. This is a recognition that we are of worth, of value, sacred. This can be a difficult process because we are often taught from many sources that we should mistrust ourselves. Much advertising seems to tells us that our worth lies in externals, in appearance and possessions. These are presented as if to give us worth or to conceal our unworthiness. The core of religious traditions (as well as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights), speak of the inherent dignity of human beings. Yet all too often, we are given the impression that something is wrong at our very core, and so we must mistrust ourselves and follow rules imposed from outside.
Certainly these pressures have more complexity and even ambiguity than presented here. Yet not only getting in touch with but trusting our inner core is essential. Then it becomes a matter of trusting its unfolding process as well. Many authors have expressed the conviction that the universe, at its deepest level unfolds in the direction of compassion and cooperation rather than competition. The Dalai Lama has also said that if you others to be happy, practice compassion; and if you want to be happy yourself, practice compassion. Of course, it seems to be a very slow process to uncover our truest and inmost self beneath the clutter of years. That is why Richard Rohr, psychologist Robert Hillman, musician James Jordan, and many others speak of the importance of letting go, of emptying.
One illustration comes from the process of listening to another. In order to tune in to another speaking to us, to hear the person behind the words, it is essential to let go of our own agendas, our own baggage, so as to make space for another. I think one image of compassion is the empty, clutter-free, but caring space we offer around another’s pain or sorrow and to the person beneath them. It is a struggle to do so. And it is also a struggle to tune in to our own sacred core and unfold from there rather than the clutter of our insecurities, fears, and hostilities.
To do so, of course, requires an image, a script, a story that is life-giving for self and others, that includes the whole range of human experience, all the seasons of life. This we may get from silence and solitude, from friendship, from story, music, painting, and other arts, as I have often said.
Theologian Theodore Steeman wrote these words many years ago. “I think that the best moments of our lives are when we do not feel closed upon ourselves or concerned about ourselves and we see life as a task before us, when we are aware that self-concern hinders honesty. These are the moments when we know that life is good, embedded in a mystery of goodness and love and that we have to make our own lives such messages of goodness and love.”
One striking example of this kind of transformation is found in the story. All the Years of Her Life, by Canadian author, Morley Callaghan. The story brings out the transformation of the young son from irresponsible child to a more wise and compassionate adult, both by the experience of his mother achieving pardon for him and from seeing the cost of her action and her vulnerability. It ends with the words: “He watched his mother and he never spoke, but at that moment his youth seemed to be over; he knew all the years of her life by the way her hand trembled as she raised the cup to her lips. It seemed to him that this was the first time he had ever looked upon his mother.”
Sometimes it is another person simply, by who they are, who calls us to a new awareness, that allows us to see, or rather, be more in touch with something deeper in ourselves. We are then able to move further in our journey to our own heart or core, and experience its more authentic call. It is not the surface clutter or the distorted images that are to be trusted, but the deeper centre of ourselves.
I like to say that we are more than the worst thing that has been done to us, and we are more than the worst thing we have done. It is this “more” that I believe we need to uncover, trust, and follow.
May you find your journey to your true self, your true core, your true home. May you trust its unfolding from within. And may your life unfold from that sacred place in ways that are life-giving for yourself, for those who share your life, and for the society and world in which you live out your life.
Norman King, March 20, 2023