Monday, October 27, 2014

The noble art of living with tension

Earlier today, I had a massage. For some time now, I have been experiencing tightness in my calves and the visit to a local physiotherapist was aimed at trying to ease the pressure, particularly on my left leg. At the library where Celena works, they have massages available every fortnight. It is 20 minutes, every two weeks, that she refuses to miss.

We all live with some degree of tension in our lives. Whether it is experienced physically in our shoulders or our feet, mentally in our head space or emotionally in our hearts, tension seems to be as much a part of modern living as texting and taxes. But should we be as keen to rid ourselves of tension as we seem to be?

In his book The Holy Longing: The Search for A Christian Spirituality (Image, 2008), Ronald Rolheiser, contends that tension is an integral part of the Christian experience. In fact, Rolheiser argues, tension is part of the “nobility of the soul”.

“We are better persons when we carry tension, as opposed to always looking for its easy resolution. To carry tension, especially great tension, is to ponder in the biblical sense.”

Part of the examples Rolheiser gives are based on anecdotes that involve sexual behaviour and our identity as sexual beings. They include an episode from an American TV show and an exchange between an academic and some of his students. The specifics are not important. What is significant, however, is the conclusion that tension, particularly unresolved tension, heightens our capacity for...well, everything. We appreciate the beer more after we have delayed that first sip; we feel closer to our partner after we hold off on giving into our immediate desires; that hug from an absent friend seems so much more powerful and comforting if we been apart for a long period.

In movies and television, the unresolved sexual tension between two characters is a key ingredient in keeping the audience engaged. Writers know that to keep the pages turning, the reader has to feel the tension of that comes from wondering where characters are heading and how plots are unfolding.

Jesus was no stranger to living with tension. His life was often characterised by waiting for someone to arrive, or delaying His departure for a destination (remember how he waited to go and see Lazarus, even though He had been told he was gravely ill?). Rolheiser acknowledges this, claiming that the message of Jesus contained a “strong motif of waiting, of pondering, of chastity, of having to carry tension without giving in to a premature resolution.” The most vivid example of that motif occurring was in His crucifixion and subsequent resurrection.

But why? When muscles are tense, or we crave companionship, why should we carry the tension? What is wrong with giving into the desire for release?

“The real value in carrying tension for the sake of love,” Rolheiser writes, “is that it is a gestation process.”

“By pondering as Mary did, as she stood helplessly beneath the cross, and by enduring suffering as Jesus did in the garden at Gethsemane, we have the opportunity to turn hurt into forgiveness, anger into compassion, and hatred into love.”

In other words, without some sort of death, a willingness to give up and let go, we cannot experience a resurrection. New life comes out of dying to ourselves. Carrying tension means that we are letting things – and people - be as they are, not as we would like them to be.

Ever since Amber, and then Brodie, died, I have been living with tension, a revelation or a sign as to what the greater purpose was in their deaths. In vain, I have looked for ways to massage away the ache in my heart.

Rolheiser concludes his chapter on tension and pondering as a form of prayer with a quote from a Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain, who said:

“ of the great spiritual tragedies is that so many people of good will would become persons of noble soul, if only they would not panic and resolve the painful tensions within their lives too prematurely, but rather stay with them long enough, as one does in a dark night of the soul, until those tensions are transformed and help give birth to what is most noble inside of us – compassion, forgiveness and love.”

I seek nobility. Until then, however, I will live with the tension! 


Sunday, July 8, 2012

A vision statement for the next 45 years

On Wednesday, March 7, I wrote the following affirmation, to outline the person I wanted to become, the life I wanted to lead, the qualities I wanted to demonstrate. On this date, July 8, I re-commit to doing all I can to live up to the sentiments expressed in these few lines:

I am committed to being a man of integrity, of self-discipline and courage. I will not be swayed by the opinions of others; I will not be assaulted by self-doubt or paralysed by indecision. I am a man of God, committing all my thoughts and deeds, plans and dreams, to the Lord. The qualities I admire in others - strength, self-discipline, forthrightness - will be qualities I aspire to model and embrace.

I will let Celena know that I will be there for her, no matter what may come. I will let her know that I am grateful for her presence in my life, and for her unwavering support and unconditional acceptance. Most of all, I will let her know that I love her, each and every day, in each and every way - passionately, graciously, abundanly

I will 'converse' daily with my two God-given delights, Amber Rose and Brodie. Each day, and throughout each day, I will let them know when I am doing it tough and share with them my joys and successes. I will share with them my joys and successes. All I do will be for them, who have died and for children who are living, but not able to yet enjoy qualitiy life.


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Leaving it to Beaver

Having always appreciated the acting ability of Mel Gibson, I finally checked out the innovative movie, The Beaver. Talk about heavy! The movie's premise is straight forward enough: a depressed man finds that the only way he can communicate with those around him (including his wife and two sons) is through a hand-held puppet. The puppet, obviously called The Beaver, gives Gibson's character, Walter, a voice (albeit sounding uncannily like acclaimed British actor, Ray Winstone), to say things he cannot otherwise articulate.

While that may sound like the recipe for a somewhat quirky, even humourous take on the difficult subject of depression, forget it! This is a film that is as dark as the fur coat of the addition to Gibson's left forearm.

I don't intend to use the rest of this blog to critique the film, or any of the performances in it. There are other bloggers, and other film commentators, that do that sort of thing much more eloquently, and knowledgeably, than me. But one part of the film is gnawing at me, much like the buck-teeth of the animal in question do to a piece of wood.

When it comes to dealing with life's curveballs, who's to say how a person should respond? We each have our challenges and only we can discern the most appropriate way of how we overcome (or not) those hurdles, and how we emerge (or not) from the darkness of despair. Obviously, it is important not to hurt or damage others in the process but if a habit, a behaviour or a particular item offers us comfort, strength, security and, most of all, hope, then surely that's a small price to pay?

I'm not condoning anything that puts us, or those around us, at risk (emotionally, physically, mentally or spiritually) or trying to 'self-justify' decisions that I have made in the past. And please don't think my exposure to a creative Hollywood interepration of the significant and all-too-real issue of depression has suddenly made me an expert in human behaviour or even psychology. (To claim the latter would be foolhardy, at the least, dangerous, at the worst.)

Part of the human condition is that we are all broken and flawed. In different ways, at different times, we each hide behind our own version of The Beaver: a mask, a quirk, a ritual, something that sustains or empowers us. Unless it becomes pathological, this extra source of strength or comfort can be a  saving grace. (Who's not to say that playing the part of a man unhinged and on the edge was not cathartic for Gibson, a man who, it would seem, is indeed plagued by his own share of demons and personal challenges.)

For all the buck-toothed simplicity of the titular character, The Beaver was a movie that posed plenty of questions. Significantly, (for a product of Hollywood), it didn't settle for offering easy answers. I don't know about you, but that sounds a lot like life itself!


Sunday, June 24, 2012

The challenge of staying put

A sentiment often expressed to those who have experienced some sort of loss or trauma is that they need to 'move on'. It's a well-intentioned statement, emanating from a desire to see the person, or people, recapture a zest for life and to rekindle their purpose in living. Or is it totally altruistic?

It's not easy being in the moment with someone, when they are feeling sorrow, or anger, or hurt, or betrayal. I know I find it difficult dealing with conflict, and the myriad of 'negative' emotions that come from breakdowns in communication or falling short of expectations. But I am learning that if I do not stay present to what is being shared, I miss an opportunity for growth. I may think it preferable to 'move on' but really, I need to stay present to whatever is being shared and ensure that the person doing the venting, the ranting, the outpouring, knows that I am there, regardless!

We need to stay present to whatever is being shared
Anyone that has 'moved' will know that going from one house to another, one office space to another, is only part of the journey. When the removalists have pulled out, you still have the boxes to be unpacked, the furniture to be arranged and the mail to be redirected. It's an ongoing process and you need to attend to the various tasks, at your leisure and as your circumstances allow.

Moving on is no different. It takes time. It takes an effort. Those we want to 'move on' will do so at their pace, in a way that respects their particular circumstances. It's not easy but they need us to stay there, in the moment and offering the assurance that says: "I'm not going anywhere!"


Monday, January 23, 2012

Message to a little child on the beach

Dear Little Girl:

You ran along that beach yesterday as if you were never going to stop. Your little white legs propelled you along the sand, and your hair waved like tree branches in the afternoon breeze. It was a sunny afternoon and your bare skin, save for a pair of muddy knickers, seemed to soak up the rays of the declining sun.

I sat and watched as you ran: so carefree, so uninhibited, so oblivious to all those who paced, stormed, sauntered or strolled past. You were on your way to a destination that only you could see and it made me smile to see you having such fun.

As you get older, you will probably run with more precision, and less abandon. People will tell you to 'put on some clothes' and to 'slow down', to 'be careful'. You may start to notice the people around you and react according to how they respond to you - it's confusing I know but this is how adults get through life: we think about how others see us and then act according to how we see their reactions to us. Yes, as I say, it's confusing...

But in that moment in which I watched you run, life was not confusing. It was simple, it was pleasant and it was something to be celebrated. Little girl, you ran and ran and ran...and I didn't want to see you stop! I pray it will always be that way for you.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Swords into Plowshares is something to aspire too

Swords into Plowshares is a powerful image. It also happens to be the name given to a blog set up by the Peacemaking Program and the Presbyterian Ministery at the United Nations of the General Assembly Mission of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

At the time I came across it, it carried an emotive prayer and plea.

This is part of what the author wrote. (The rest can be read at the following link:)

Famine stalks the Horn of Africa. Bombs detonate in Oslo, Violence wracks Malawi and Syria. Rapes are perpetrated in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Atrocities are suspected in Southern Kordofan. Human rights are denied in Madagascar, Peru and Colombia. In places and situations that fail to make the headlines, people are violated; God's creation is abused.

Yet we continue to trust the good news: that people will prevail; that good overcome evil; that love is stronger than death; that God will have the final word."

What do you think? What problems around the world do you find particularly confronting? Or what is the sword in your life that you want to hammer into a plowshare?


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Of pearls and buried treasure

The following thoughts are taken from the beginning of the appeal talk I will be giving at Sunnybank and Acacia Ridge parishes this weekend (July 23/24), as part of the Catholic Mission appeal program. They draw on the imagery in this weekend's Gospel, about the landowner finding buried treasure, and selling all he owns to possess it; and a merchant similarly selling all his possessions to acquire a precious and rare pearl.

Celena and I are considering moving. There is a town house in Wellington Point that has caught our eye and we are in the process of doing the paperwork, and dealing with banks and mortgage brokers and everything that comes with such a decision. It also means, however, we are doing a lot of clearing out, and culling.

When we cull, or when we have a clearing out in our life - a room, a desk, a shed - we come to understand what is really important. The things that are perhaps trivial, or less meaningful, we dispose of; we keep what is significant and what we truly cherish.

This goes some way towards conveying the mindset Jesus invokes in the Gospel for this weekend (July 23/24). When He shares about the owner of the field selling everything to buy the buried treasure, or the merchant selling all his possessions in order to purchase a newly discovered valuable pearl, He is asking each of us to consider the ultimate clearing out or cull, with the question: "What would compel us to give up everything?" Or to use the theme for the Catholic Mission appeal at this time, "What sacrifice would we make in order to 'Do Something Beautiful for God?'"