As you know, my dear friend Sr. Rita is undergoing chemo for cancer, a disease she calls her “Wisdom Companion.” She has written, and continues to write, about the wisdom she is receiving as she is on this journey. You can read her essays on this blog. Just look in the search engine.
The other thing she has offered us all is that she will answer our spiritual questions. If you have a question, please read this post.
I should also mention that the chemo is leaving her utterly exhausted. Your prayers and good wishes are most welcome.
And now, let’s move to our next question, this one from Darcy H.:
“I find a lot of comfort in your posts, so first, thank you. Love and prayers, too.
I’m a recovering Evangelical, still a believer, having finally left church after 2016 (after Trump’s election). I’m also an author, with a novel set against a backdrop of both my Mennonite and Seventh-day Adventist upbringings. Also the pandemic. My intuition and experience tell me the book’s release is going to swat a hornets’ nest of religious furor (from SDAs, mostly, Mennonites are used to literary mirrors). Do you have any thoughts on how to keep from absorbing the stings coming my way? Some may be from family.”
Sr. Rita’s response:
One of the markers St Ignatius uses for the spiritual journey is the question, “How free am I?” He is speaking of the kind of freedom that enables us to choose the greatest good, to live from our deepest integrity (not to be confused with the callow, “I Gotta be Me.”) Invariably our best choices evoke a strong response – sometimes support, other times unadulterated vitriol.
In making the choices, my job is to keep my side of the street clean. Part of that is having the right intention, an inner fidelity that is not fueled by being against anyone. This demands a writer do her own inner work or risk becoming one more contributor to projecting our shadow on others. There is a place for naming, depicting the messy parts of the human condition. — a task that falls to many a writer. I have always been drawn to William Faulkner’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in 1950. He speaks about the call to engage “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”
The writer must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands. That is the writer’s business.
Embedded in this question is the price of living with integrity.
I am powerless over how my choices land in others’ lives. They may comfort some; disturb others. Their reactions are about them, not me, if indeed I have acted from a place of authentic (though not necessarily perfect) integrity. Expect blowback.
Consider this poem by Mary Oliver, called JOURNEY:
|One day you finally knew|
|what you had to do, and began,|
|though the voices around you|
|their bad advice —|
|though the whole house|
|began to tremble|
|and you felt the old tug|
|at your ankles.|
|“Mend my life!”|
|each voice cried.|
|But you didn’t stop.|
|You knew what you had to do,|
|though the wind pried|
|with its stiff fingers|
|at the very foundations,|
|though their melancholy|
|It was already late|
|enough, and a wild night,|
|and the road full of fallen|
|branches and stones.|
|But little by little,|
|as you left their voice behind,|
|the stars began to burn|
|through the sheets of clouds,|
|and there was a new voice|
|which you slowly|
|recognized as your own,|
|that kept you company|
|as you strode deeper and deeper|
|into the world,|
|determined to do|
|the only thing you could do —|
|determined to save|
|the only life that you could save.|
Two words I have found tremendously helpful when dealing with these reactions are “Of course.” Of course, they will react negatively, of course they will use any and every tactic to discredit or even demonize my choice. Of course, it will hurt. Personal integrity does not anesthetize the part of me that longs for esteem and affection. This kind of hurt, however, can lead us to greater freedom. Perhaps we need to do grief work focused on those whose love and affirmation we crave but who are not able, and may never be able, to validate us.
There are many psychological techniques that can supply practical coping skills. What I am describing is the invitation to even deeper freedom that can come from acknowledging hurt and attending to deeper healing.
The effect my choices have on those I know and those I may never know is God’s business. Your choices are an occasion of grace for both you and them — for some that may be a painful encounter, for others it may be solace. What they do with the experience is theirs. What you or I do with what comes back to us because of our choices is ours – always in grace.