NOTE: The metaphor of being a worm is not for everyone. There are as indicated in the above musing, far too many people who are made to feel like they are nothing but “worker-worms”, so to speak. But the metaphor of being a worm was helpful for me. It comes perhaps originally from an old hymn that I used to sing in the churches of the Midwest where I grew up and began to grow into what I hope is an ever evolving faith and worldview. I want to become more. Well, that is it, I guess, just “more”.
The following words to the hymn by Isaac Watts called out to me today from the hallows of history. Today –What and Who calls out to you, like a Parent to Her child, asking:
“Will you represent?”
Alas and Did My Savior Bleed, by Isaac Watts (c. 1707)
Alas, and did my Savior bleed And did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head For such a worm as I?
Was it for sins that I had done He groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity, grace unknown And love beyond degree.
My God, why would You shed Your blood So pure and undefiled To make a sinful one like me Your chosen, precious child?
Well might the sun in darkness hide And shut His glories in When Christ, the mighty Maker, died For man, the creature’s, sin.
Thus might I hide my blushing face While His dear cross appears Dissolve my heart in thankfulness And melt my eyes to tears.
My God, why would You shed Your blood So pure and undefiled To make a sinful one like me Your chosen, precious child?
First in a Series of Incremental Sight-Changes : How to Be Proud, Without Being Prideful
By Jane Tawel
May 8, 2021
About a year ago, I began to recognize this phrase I said to people I was close to, and that I said to them fairly often I think, as something that I assumed was true, but in actuality was an off-brand. The phrase is: “I am proud of you”, and I said it as something that seemed good but was, in fact a trued line that had gone slightly askew. So, I began to try to see how my use of this particular phrase, and my feelings of this particular sentiment, and my expression of this particular kind of love, could be examined more closely. And I have found, often to the chagrin of my pain-center and not as a boon to my pleasure-center, that one should never examine something closely if one is not willing to change and be changed. The cocoon can be such a safe, closed space to stay in, and emerging has always meant one of my wings gets dinged; sometimes rather badly.
My greatest learning curve in everything has been my relationship with my children, and so it has been with the idea of my “being proud” of them. But anyone can learn some of the things I call “incremental sight-changes” through other relationships. I have learned much, and examined with no small degree of pain from change, in many of my relationships — with my husband, my friends, my co-workers, my parents, teachers, and Carl and John, two unhoused men I have known, just to name a few. To examine means to learn. Sight must have an object to see. And love must have an object to love. And when you love someone, really, really love them, you try to see things through their eyes, hear things through their ears, feel things with their feelings, and walk, at least a little ways, alongside them in their journey. So, for the past, oh, about a year, I have been walking a ways with the idea of “being proud” and trying to shift my point of view closer to the Golden Mean of True Love.
I now have four adult children and it occurred to me, oh, maybe about half a year ago, that they don’t really want me to be proud of them. So I stopped. Or I tried to stop anyway. At least, I stopped saying or writing things in public forums like “I am so proud of _________(fill in blank with specific child’s name)_______. Because what I began to realize is that by saying I was proud of something they had done or had become, I was taking at least partial credit. By being proud I was saying “this thing about you, is because of something I have done, so I’m going to make it also about me by being ‘proud’”. And that just became a flawed way of thinking for me personally. It became, for me, wrong on so many levels. I suppose it would be just as flawed for me to say that I was “proud” of Carl or John, my unhoused, un-jobbed friends for spending their money a certain way or for the new sign they made to attract drivers to their cause.
One of the Great Revelations of all spiritual pursuits and worldview masters, is that we are all unique individuals, and also all part of each other. We are parts, and we are parts of The Whole. We may willingly and gleefully share in the pride of another individual, whether that is by clapping for someone we love, or posting a quote by someone we admire, but in reality, we also share as part of the Whole. We also take part, although often unwittingly, in the foibles and errors and sins and grievous bodily or mental harm done by “that other person” to other persons. Without that recognition of our part in the bad stuff that happens to others and the bad stuff people do to each other, and unless we empathize with all and take into ourselves the “otherness” of the other in all its spectrum of good and bad, we can’t honestly grapple with what it means to “take pride” and “take part” in someone else’s life. My examination of the idea of being proud without being prideful has taken me a tiny step closer to the sort of humble love that I think is true love — the True Love of humble and great people, saints and sinners alike; and the True Love of the Eternal, and the humble changing and Universal Cosmos; and the True Love of a humble Natural World and the Natural Order; and the True Love of the humble servant love of The God Who Sees.
I am learning not to be proud of my children. First of all, a sort of side note here that may seem like a sidetrack, but won’t be, I hope. When they were growing up, I got to home school my four kids for a long, long time in an environment where they could learn without being graded or judged for how well they learned. It was one of the greatest revelatory journeys of my own life, in personal, intellectual, emotional and spiritual ways, ways truly too deep to measure. And while very few parents and families are as privileged as I was to be able to afford home schooling their kids, and then trust that if a kid is learning, they don’t have to necessarily be compared to others in order to learn more, this attitude was something I tried to let effect my teaching later on in traditional school environments and also to encourage my children when they entered what we called “regular school”. And furthermore, even if I hadn’t home schooled I hope I could have eventually learned this important mindset change: What someone, especially one’s child, accomplishes should be first and foremost about what a person or that child FEELS from the accomplishment, not what a person, and especially a child GETS from the accomplishment. Which brings me to the first “Sin of Pride” — The first sin that pride leads us to commit is loving the praise from others and the products or promotions we get, rather than being present in the moment of learning and loving, and being completely immersed in how awe-some it feels to experience the journey of discovery. Feeling proud suddenly whisks us from the immediacy of joyful celebration in discovery to analysis and storage. We take pride and let it rush us to the exit door, where we can hoard the experience, trying to keep the awe-some feelings for a future rainy day. Feeling pride is like taking constant selfies in life, rather than seeing what is happening in your life, right in front of your eyes.
The second great sin of pride, maybe especially for me as a parent, is like a pyramid scheme. It is often, unbeknownst to victim and parental perpetrator, an act of sabotage to take upon oneself the glory for what one’s child has done. If you are not a parent, think about a time that you shared in a co-worker’s accomplishment, even though they did most of the hard work. Or if you can’t hark back to when you were a child, think about a time a boss took credit for something you did and then damned you with faint praise by saying something like, “I couldn’t have done it without Jane” (Darn right, you couldn’t!) As to the parental pride, we usually quite subconsciously and innocently do this. And sometimes, frankly, I think that “said-parent” does the “I am so proud of you, kid” thing in order to make “said parent” feel better about the job she or he has done as a parent. (I think spouses or partners do this with each other too, and that is a whole other ball of wax that can lead to a wonky relationship, but I will assume a reader can discern this by comparison and experience. I know I am.).
This kind of pride in a loved one’s accomplishments feels as if it should be good, but here’s the thing — I know all too well, that the yin of pride has a yang of regret. Everything I have felt proud of that I observe in my children, has an equally strong reversed feeling of regret at all the mistakes I have made. Mistakes that have saddled those same beloved ones with emotional baggage, or physical insecurities, or intellectual burdens, or spiritual quandaries. And when you get to be as old as I am, with as many wonderful and amazing adult children as I have, who still are as absolutely and completely human as I have ever been, you realize that even the mistakes you make with people you love (adore and love more than you do your own life) — your mistakes and sins are part of their lives, too. And those mistakes, ultimately, need forgiving. Your children need to be allowed to forgive you, just as much as you need to be allowed to forgive yourself. True love can’t exist only on the fumes of pride; it takes regret and forgiveness as well.
The flip side of the pride coin is the regret side, and any honest person in any kind of relationship will have to at various times admit to both. The fact that any one still loves me, and has retained enough “good” to be proud of from who we are together, is as miraculous as the fact that anyone has forgiven my errors and survived my sins against them. Now if I could love myself enough to replace my pride with forgiveness for my sins against others, self, God, and the world, that would be a way to see true Grace. The thing is, it is only Grace that has allowed my children, of all people, to retain the good things and the certain parts of them, that I am apt to be proud of.
It is helpful for my own growth as a seeking human being, to accept that just as it is the grace of God, or the incredible luck of a Universal Luck of the thrown dice, that my children have survived the world of woes and very, very scary, no good, bad stuff things that parents can’t protect them from or control in the world or in their children’s lives; my very lucky and grace-kissed children, have also survived me, and they have weathered and soldiered through their parent’s own brokenness, and sinfulness, and just plain “oopsy-so-sorry-about-that” mistakes. And if their surviving and even thriving despite my sins and my mistakes is a gift of God’s grace, then all the amazing wonderful things they are and have and do accomplish, are all also from that same source — God’s grace. And so it is with my boss. And your co-worker. And your friend. And my husband. Grace has gotten through the barriers of our pride and egos with a humble presence that defies our own pride in accomplishments. Grace is the glue that makes us all One. Grace is that which by appearing weak, becomes strong, and can be the mitigating force against false pride. Grace is the gift that keeps on giving without a hint of recognition. Grace is the open, welcoming arms of a God that asks us all to enter into their Circle.
So, the second sin of pride is this, not recognizing God’s Grace in everything. We Midwesterners used to say, “there but for the grace of God”; and I have tried to keep this as prayer whenever I am empathizing with someone else in pain or sorrow or need. It is God’s grace alone that I am me, and not that poor person, whether he is victim or perpetrator. Being grateful as opposed to proud, for something I have or am, means that the glory goes to others and to The Great Other. Being humbled and humble, means I am becoming more a part of the whole of humanity, more whole myself, and more “holy”; for holiness is above all, humble and humbled.
As Jesus said as recorded in Matthew 5:45, “the rain and the sun fall on the good and the evil”. I can thank God for all the many small mercies of grace in my children’s life, and also thank God that by grace, my children and my God will forgive me for all the errors, “sins known and unknown”, that have hurt others, and especially hurt the very people I love most in the world. And when someone hurts me, or hurts the planet, or hurts another human being, I can humbly say, “there but for the grace of God”. And when someone needs something, and I have much more than I could ever need, I can stop my pride from getting in the way of opening my own arms and hands, and without a hint of pride, give freely with a heart full of “there but for the grace of God”.
This humble acceptance of the grace of what we have been gifted and what we share in common, not in what sets us above and apart, this is what tempers pride. In that very same verse, Jesus says, that even if we don’t understand it, if we accept that God’s grace and Goodness are for all humans, all the Earth, all of us and each and every one of us, the “good, the bad, the ugly” (and the mean, the broken, the plain icky, and even the most trying, irritating people of all — the parents); if we can with humility accept that God’s grace is for all, then we can “show that we are children of Our Father, Who is in The Heavens” — and the God that also lives in each of us. God is beyond our pride, since He is beyond even our greatest ideas and understanding. In accepting Who God is, then I can also accept that everyone is, in a sense, also beyond my own petty pride and beyond my own greedy understanding. To put away, to “shoo off”, my need to understand God and yet, still love Him; and at the same time to try, not to understand, but simply, with humbled love, to “walk alongside” another human being from his or her point of view, in that place in my soul, is the beginning of freedom, and the beginning of wisdom; and in true freedom and wisdom, resides True Love. Letting go of the pride of understanding means I am humbled enough to be awed, rather than proud. And being awed, by God, the World, others, my partner, and for me, being awed by my children, is how I come closer to be a “child of The God Who Sees, and a part of the radically loving and Whole Kingdom of The Heavens”.
Whether parent or child, the Third Sin of Pride is the double-edged sword of “the sins of the ancestors” passed down versus the “the future belongs to our children” passed forward. We seldom want to see the bad “stuff” we have as being passed down, as Exodus 34:7 says, “to the third and fourth generations”. But we also often balk at giving credit to our ancestors for our healthy but random DNA or for the third or fourth generation hand-me-down virtues and character strengths. Four children later, and I have learned that those we influence, want to get their own credit for what they accomplish and that if I am claiming too much pride in them, then I am taking a percentage of their credit away. This is true for spouses, friends, bosses, students, partners, and true especially of our children. As a child it has been true of me, as I have explored those sins and virtues I know to have been passed down through blood, genes, personality traits, and the whole “nature versus nurture” gamut. Being proud for the good bits and foisting onto someone else the bad bits, is a great temptation, perhaps especially for those of us who have survived parenthood and are still clinging to the life-support of being a parent of adult children. This also makes one of the manifestations of the Sin of Pride #3 this: Being proud of someone else, takes away from having the right kind of pride in yourself.
Instead of saying to a student or a child or a friend, “I am so proud of you” (which secretly my whole being is when something wonderful happens for or in them); I am trying to remind myself to say instead, “I am proud to be ____ (Fill in blank with title, such as teacher, mom, friend, etc.)__________. For example, “I am proud to be the mom who got to be your mom”. Or “I am proud that I was privileged to be a teacher who taught you to like poetry”. Or “Hubby, my dear, I am proud that I was able to find the perfect gift for your birthday”. Speaking aloud this kind of pride, is like using a two-way mirror to see something just that little bit out of your range of sight. By being proud of something I was “privileged” or “gifted” to do or be part of, the other person gets to keep all their glow for themselves, and I find the true meaning of feeling good about myself — which is always most known in the act of giving myself away for another with no thought to what I get out of it.
We all deserve to feel that kind of pride that comes from giving a part of oneself to the Whole or the wholeness-making of another. Feeling the pride of doing and being what we do in love, shores up the glitchy defenses we have against the consistent onslaughts of anxiety and ego. That kind of being proud, will also, however, help ease the pain a bit, when a person has to take credit for something they should not be proud of and needs forgiveness for, by self or another. Knowing that we share responsibility for our lives together, and yet still are our own unique amalgam of good and bad, mistakes and sins, pleasures and pains, faults and miraculous wonders, are things we can together be proud of and glory in. These things are what make us as human beings, both communally and individually special, special in the Universe of Specially Created Beings. It is what makes us as humble human beings worthy of a God Who Sees us.
Pride was once considered one of the deadly sins, but in modern Western cultures at least, we have come to feel that not only is pride “okay”, but that it is desired. When the current generation of students was asked what they would most like to be, the number one choice wasn’t doctor, teacher, tailor, or book maker, but “famous”. We have somehow come to believe that being known by many for little, is more desirable than being known by few for much. We have replaced the long arc of holiness with the TikTok of fame. We idolize ourselves and others we take a pride in connecting to, whether that is child or political hack. And while we think of pride today as a deserved kudo and may cling to our right to feel pride in self and others, we are daily reminded by newspapers and personal acquaintances alike, that pride is still the cause of many, if not most downfalls. As the Proverb says, “Pride still goes before a fall” — and then it lays there in the rubble with us pretending to clear the way for us to use our excuses about our skinned and bloodied souls.
Pride leads to other less pretty sins, in the short or sometimes long run; sins like greediness, lies, even murder — whether real or the murder kept hidden in one’s thoughts. A list of the sins that pride opens the doors to, would take us into a tome of explanation and extraction, and hence, is a topic for both another day, and for spiritual masters, and seekers much more advanced than I will ever be. Instead, let me reiterate my personal explanation and explore. My recognition of how what felt good and seemed good — being proud of my children — was actually not such a good thing, has helped me understand what “deadly” sin means when it comes specifically to my pride. To be dead is to be “unconscious”, to be “unaware”. This idea of “deadness” versus “aliveness” is one of the great expanded and expansive metaphors in the Hebrew and Christian Bible. In the letters of the Apostle Paul in the Bible, there is much food for thought about what sin really is, not just the personal effects of “wrong choices” but the systemic, religious, state, and corporate sins of the world. As far as being “unconscious” of what our actions do to us and to others, and what they mean in a greater spiritual meaning, the following thoughts from Paul are paradigm shifting:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1–10)
What a profound understanding of grace, Paul had; and also of the real consequences of our taking a false pride in our accomplishments and of deadening our souls with trespasses against humble love. Again, that is something everyone should explore in their own journey towards healing, loving truth and important relationships. It is the endless circle of exploration for rabbis, priests, gurus, and spiritual guides and theologians, who are much more able than I will ever be, to keep trying to illuminate. And while, I am aware that many may not agree with me on this idea of feeling pride in others, especially our children, let me suggest that my exploration of pride may at the very least hold a key for you to explore what sins, what “lesser things”, what outside influences, or what personal struggles, or “deadening remains from the past” make you feel “dead inside” or less than conscious of the moment, the person you are with, or your own most valuable feelings and actions and very own treasured “being”.
Pride may not be the word everyone thinks of when they think of what I am trying to describe. But for me, I have simply found the pride I sometimes (often!) have in my children to be my own little personal slippery slope. Once I feel pride in what they do well or right or who they are that is good or wonderful, it is a quick jaunt down the slope and I can find myself at the bottom of where I am judging them for what I consider is not right or not good and judging myself for what is unwell or unformed within me. And at that point, I can either blame them for what is not right or good, or I can blame myself for what I have done or been that has not been right or good, or I can let go of it all. See what I mean? I can’t have it both ways.
Pride goes before a fall, a tumble down the slippery slope of judgement, in this case. I know that this is often due to my great worries and anxieties for my beloved ones’ safety, health of mind, body, soul and spirit, worry about their happiness or relationships or — well, just the world of worry some of us folks carry with us like a constant pulse in the heart of our personhood. I worry without end that my beloveds will end up more like me than I would like — God forbid. And this type of worry is so obviously a deadening sin as well, is it not? And yet I keep picking at my worry like the age-old parental scab that it is.
My worry, like my false pride, is what takes me down the slippery slope of losing my faith in the existence of a God Who Sees or even really a god who cares all that much. My worry is a panicky feeling that the world and my world are on a fast-track to disaster, or that old insecurity that I am unworthy of love — God’s or anyone else’s. But what I have come to realize is that sometimes my pride is simply my worry taking a field trip. My pride is too often the spy in the camp of my fears.
The Sin of Pride works two ways for many of us, doesn’t it? My pride can lead me to a false sense of ego-security and a god-like judgement of others. Alas, it is also true that my pride can quickly lead me to fall down the rabbit hole of never seeing anything I do or “my people” do as wrong, or unhealthy, or at least not the best choice. By feeling pride in the “sinner”, I forget that they too are sinful and not just in need of my and God’s pride in them but my and God’s grace for them. (Side note: This kind of rampant often unrecognized pride is a great sin of individuals, but also of systems, nations, and organizations, perhaps none more glaring than the pride of religions gone wrong. To feel proud of one’s religion may be the ultimate “sin against the Holy Spirit”. See Thoughts of Jesus for more on this.) The flip side of not “judging” others, is not being discerning and truthful with others, or ourselves. This means my pride can be worn as a mask to hide my mistakes or transgressions against others, or ignore and justify my and my group’s self-justified sins against love and truth. Because pride can not only horribly mar and disfigure true love, but can tragically mar and disfigure love’s truth.
All of this does not take away from the fact that I hope my children know that I am bursting at the seams with joy in knowing and observing and listening to them, at what they have accomplished, who they are becoming, and how they are growing in character — I just don’t want to call it my pride anymore.
I was lucky to have a mother who always let me know she was proud of me (and still lovingly does). Not everyone is as lucky as I have been as a child with a proud mother, and that is a horrible burden that far too many children of all ages still have to carry throughout their lives, the burden of never feeling good enough, never feeling that the someone who should love you most, has never seen their worth. Perhaps those parents are too proud to give away their sense of entitled ego, even to their own children. What a tragedy that kind of pride is and I can only hope and pray that those children who have suffered that kind of ignorance and ignoring, will meet people, at least one person, who will say to them with love, “you are someone who can be proud of who you are and I am proud to be a part of your life”.
I can remember quite clearly, a time when my mostly absent father said he was proud of something I was doing. It was when I went to visit him and had taken up running. When I came back sweaty from my run in the Midwestern heat, a humid heat already on the rise in the early morning, my father, a man of few words, told me how impressed and proud he was that I had taken up running. It took me by surprise, and since he was not a runner, it was something I treasured as sincere gift of acknowledgement from him, about who I was. We remember and hold close those things that parents and teachers, mentors, and lovers say to us when they express a sense of pride in and for us, don’t we? Those times when a person, especially an influential adult, be it auntie or coach, special friend, or temporal co-worker, expresses a feeling of being proud of us can be life-changing. Words of praise given freely, given without any co-opting nor qualifiers, can shape our futures and heal our pasts. But we also remember the things we were made to feel we lacked, the times there was an “absence” of whatever we needed from the adults who were life-shapers, even if that “lack” was expressed in the same breath as pride; and so those of us who are in any position of influence, friend, parent, teacher, or partner, must carefully tread the path of pride we express in someone else.
And that brings me to the fourth and for now, final illumination I have had about the Sin of Pride. Pride is often felt about something done in the past not something in the present, and by claiming it, we rename it, and change its meaning and importance. Whether the thing that brings us a sense of pride is something done by one’s self or those we want to make appendages to our own pride, our “other people”, whether, partner, spouse, student, worker-underling, or child, the fact that it is something that occurred in the past or is something in our character that is a result of something from the past, gives the patina of pride the glow of Fool’s Gold, and not real, solid gold. And this is how several sins may sneak in among our good intentions, like weeds in the fields. Sins often sneak by without detection, by taking us out of the present moment, full of God’s Grace in the Now, and escort us back into the past or misguide us into the future life we can’t live in yet. Accomplishments depend on the past to keep breathing life into us, but so do mistakes depend on clinging to the dead corpses of our pasts. Both must be recognized as no longer belonging to the best that the present has to offer, whether my own present or my “other people’s” present “Nows”. The future can be full of hope, but also of fears. Pride can ruin both, past and future, by making us miss the moment at hand or be fearful we won’t accomplish tomorrow what we did yesterday.
The Torah and Bible, especially those books called the “books of wisdom”, have much, much, much to say about pride. To read the book of Proverbs, one cannot ignore that pride is contrasted over and over, and over again to both humility and the wisdom that comes from being humble. This, of course, is not to say that parents, children, non-parents, and all should seek the kind of false humility that is just a flipped over, flattened out, and disguised sort of pride. In fact, every spiritual guide and religion has a lot to say about pride. The word, “sin” may not work for all religions, so let’s call pride at least, an “inability to see true value”. Succinctly put, the Bible says that “the pride of your heart, deceives you” (Obadiah 1:3). Buddhism sees pride as a “distortion” and un-enlightenment, something based on transitory thoughts. It sees humility as empowering and lasting. This is in keeping with the truths of Judaism and Christianity as well. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you” and “Love is patient and kind; it does not boast or envy; it is not arrogant”. (James 4:10 and I Corinthians 13:4). According to Islam, pride is a disease and the realm of evil. There is a Native American saying that goes something like this: “Greet each day humbly, and with all thanks for the Great Spirit above”. And in all of this, is something Universally true about pride, I think: Pride gets in the way of Spirit. Pride can masquerade as love, but true humility can never be disguised as hatred. And the ultimate shocking truth of all true religious or spiritual thought, is that even God never reveals Himself as proud. God has no need of pride; He just Is. God allows His Creation to speak for itself, and in His observation of who and what all are in their innermost being, God finds joy. This divine observance of life and of others’ lives, can also be ours as human beings created and creating in the image of the Divine. James 4: 5b and 6 reminds us to be humble because by God’s grace we are created to have a divine spirit dwell in us, not by anything we have done, but by God’s love for each of us. “God yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us. But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’.”
My goal in this long exploration of the idea of pride is to explore my own false sense and faulty love of pride, not to take away that warm, fuzzy glow we feel in being a part of others’ accomplishments. And like any exploration that is imprisoned by words, it is faulty and flawed, lacking and incomplete, wrong and yet, maybe a little tiny bit illuminating. Our words merely try to crack open the doors of truth and enlightenment, and so I keep knocking on doors, and putting my foot in the door-crack to hold it open, and I keep peering through the small opening to see if I can see a little more of The Light.
Feeling that we have made a good difference in someone’s life, that we have done or been somehow “good enough” to counter all our foibles and sins, and let someone else — student, partner, friend, or child — have a better life, a stronger “shot at”, a deeper meaning, or a truer understanding of their own wonderful value — that feeling, those reflections, that comprehension of our own worth and value, makes us not separate from, but a part of others, and therefore a part of The Whole.
It is in recognizing that I am not apart from, standing on top looking down at, or riding on the coat-tails of others’ accomplishments and lives, but rather that I am a part of, standing alongside looking outwards and inwards, and riding humbly along God’s Waves of Grace, that lead me, and each of us who love, on towards a glory that we can only imagine. The Light of Truth and Love, embraced by humble presence, shows pride for what it is — a mere dim and cloudy reflected glow. Looking at others and myself with the humility of flawed human understanding but graciously divinely appointed love changes a temporal feeling of pride into a little of the eternal reality of joy.
Now, when I feel the warm glow of pride, in those I have been privileged to either walk alongside, or literally teach how to walk, I will try to grab on to its ultimate meaning before I speak aloud my sense of pride. I will try to grasp hold of that pride I may feel in someone else, to make me aware that we are all more than we appear to be on the outside, and that there is something in the human spirit that rises and rejoices with the Universal Urge to Be Utterly Amazing! When I feel pride, I will speak into that feeling, with a humility that God has granted me the grace to see yet another day on Planet Earth, a day to be better, do better, and to help any one I can help do and be better too. And my pride in others, especially my dearly loved children, will, I hope, train me to be present in the moment, when so much is being, not accomplished but Lived! And with the help of a humble heart, a desire for truth, and a hope in the power of love, I will work to be a part of and a presence in that which defies description, that which makes us whole.
Pride doesn’t have to go before a fall or be the gateway to other sins. Pride can be the mirror that reflects this truth: We are more than we appear to be and we are much more together, than we ever are alone. To be proud is also to be present in someone else’s journey, and I hope to let my pride be the silent prayer of my children’s lives; a prayer not of worry, not for their success, but a prayer for the hope of their future glory and their present glimpses of true joy, by the grace of God. This is how to be “proud”, without being prideful, by understanding that in God’s gracious love and care, we are all sinful, sinned against, but all also, oh, so very worthy of the love of God and of each other. Love given in the humility of knowing that all we have is a gift, and all whom we have been privileged to know and live with, are a part of everything good, past, present, and future; that Love, is always, both goal and Source. Being a part of the whole of everything and everyone, the good and the bad, the successes and the mistakes, the “otherness” and the “sameness”, this is how we find the balance between being proud of ourselves, but humble towards others. Giving up pride helps us to sincerely mourn and rejoice with others, to feel with them, to feel for them, to exalt that which is in all humans that is worthy of glory, and look truthfully at the pride that leads to those sins we all struggle with.
Jesus spoke many profound things to those who would desire to be better humans and more worthy of being called “divine”. Perhaps no words of The Christ’s are more applicable to so many things than these, found in Matthew 18:3: “Truly I tell you, that unless you change and become like a little child, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. The wisdom in these words are too numerous to ever be fully understood by anyone, but applicable to almost everything we as adults encounter. Have you ever seen a little child come towards an adult, crayoned drawing in hand, full of the scribbles of his imagination and with a look of utter pride on his face as he gives it to someone he loves: “I made dis for you, Mama”? Have you seen a little child make a mess out of mud and call it a castle: “Come see my castle!”? Or have you gazed at the face of a little girl who has just tied her first shoelace, or a little boy who carefully transplants a ladybug from his shoulder to a safe leafy resting place, proudly saving his first life? Can you recall the first stumbling but proud words from the mouth of the child who has read her first words, or have you tasted the “delicious” concoction that your darling little one has made with all the right ingredients for love, but not necessarily for the delicious treat she imagines you are tasting? Try to remember the first time that a little toddler garbled the sounds, but not the sense of who he is — “me is Goo-won!” Imagine the delight in self accomplishment, when one first realizes with joy, “Me is me-Me!” Imagine how a baby feels about himself when he first realizes, “I have these things called toes. Aren’t they fun to wiggle and tickle? I am so proud of being able to wiggle my toes!” Think about children and how proud they are in the moment, their joy in the present accomplishment, a type of pride felt, without a single thought of comparing it to someone or anything or any time else. Oh, that look of pride in that little child’s face is the purest and simplest form of pride there is because it is pure joy in the journey of living.
That childish pride, is the “good kind of pride” that our First Father and First Mother felt when they walked naked and unafraid in The Garden. The pride of a child is the pride we should relish. It is that sense of just being in the moment with what we can do, not because we are a better person than someone else, but because we are a created human being with skills to learn and a life to enjoy. We all should be aiming to get back to and move forwards toward that ineffable sense of being, something beyond pridefulness, but also something beyond feeling unworthy of that which we were created to be — beings, gloriously free and joyfully proud to be alive.
And while I am still an insecure, prideful mess of an adult, with a little grace, I am also still an evolving, changeable, glory-up-ahead, like-a-wobbly-arrow-aiming-at-the-divine, human being. As a partner, friend, spouse, and above all a mess of a mother, I am proud of myself, that bit by bit, I am giving up my false pride-fulness in what has been done, and I seem to making progress towards feeling proud of what I am holding right now in my small hands. What I have now and who I am now doesn’t have to be amazing, for me to be utterly amazed.
I am, bit by bit, replacing my pride in my beloveds and in my own self, with a child-like awe in who my children and my dearest loves are and then trying to expand that love to an amazement with every person I will encounter today. As a child of God, I am trying to look, and truly see with the eyes of The God Who Sees, The God who remains as joyfully, lovingly, curiously, and awesomely childlike today as He has always been. Today it is well with my soul to be as a proudly childlike as I possibly can and to trust, that I am okay, and I am enough, and my mud-castles and scribbled words are things to feel proud of, just as my children are people that I hold out to God with a mother’s childish pride –“Look, See, Enjoy — these are for You”. This is my day’s journey toward becoming someone I can be proud of, a creature who is loved as dearly as a little old humbled but divine child is — Me-me.
Whatever one’s belief system, this is historically a good weekend to meditate on what makes a belief “true”. If I say I believe something, but don’t in fact, myself, act in accordance with it, what is the meaning and purpose of my belief? If I say I believe Someone loves me enough to suffer for me (and some believe die for me), but I accept that Someone’s love only to make myself feel better, and not in order to love those others in the world in need of a belief in A Love Without Strings Attached, what does that say about what I truly believe about the quality of a Higher Love?
As we look to what we say we believe, we often get stuck in the childish questions, like, “How has it changed me? How am I better a person? How does my future look brighter?” But the real questions to ask myself that the events commemorated in this weekend ask, the grown-up questions of The Christ are: “How does what I believe make me want to change the World? How does The Divine make me a better human being? How do I bring the future Kingdom of God to earth — now, today, here, for all — as The Christ did?”
If we aren’t suffering with others on Friday, and mourning for the whole world, the whole Earth on Saturday, we will never truly know what it is to celebrate life and resurrection on Sunday. No matter what one claims to believe, this is a good weekend to ponder as the philosopher might ask, What do we owe each other? And as the prophets or saints might ask, What would happen if some of us began to really believe in Love?
My friend got me thinking today about racist policies and systemic racism in this country. Well, how are not we thinking about that — we should not “move on” from incident to incident like lemmings. So I thought I would share some meditations on that here as well (does Jane never get tired of putting targets on her metaphorical back, you ask? No, heaven forbid when so many people of color have not just metaphorical but literal targets on their backs.)
Thank you, Kathleen — Tough conversations on racism in our policies and systems sounds like a good conversation. Especially religious people (and unbelievably sadly those who claim the religion of The Christ) people in this country seem to have totally lost any comprehension that evil, injustice, prejudice, selfishness, lies, false pride, yes, racism, misogyny, ignorance, hate, foolishness — all are not just part of the individual’s human condition, but also part of human created and run systems. How could it not be otherwise and yet we cling to an ignorant understanding that it is only about the morality and ethics of individuals and not communities, businesses, and nations.
By denying systemic racism, or any other ill, we can hide in our closets of self-protected self-denial — the “I’m not racist” argument. Which for Bible readers should make us tremble since it sounds much like the defensive arguments of the goats on Christ’s judgment day. America’s worship of individualism and what makes someone a success is in complete contradiction to the principles of any religion’s idea of God’s mandates, but it is a complete travesty of what Jesus taught and lived. Mea culpa!
Racist policies and a racist history that continues to be a racist present, when not seen as one of America’s great ongoing sins can never be fixed and healed if we don’t even acknowledge our mutual acceptance of “the ways things are”. By continuing to point fingers, we neglect the four pointing back at us. By focusing only on “me”, and whether I think I am racist, I will never see that just because I myself, am not drowning, does not mean I am not flailing about in the same sea of systemic racism. We need to pull everyone up on the raft, and then fix the ship, folks.
Any one who reads the Bible should know better, and yet…. In America, we keep looking at the individual and trying to assess with our excruciatingly self-centered thinking: “is he/ she racist or not?” But that is like looking at a whole forest and picking out one diseased tree that is racist in a forest of disease and racism. We must look to the forest’s diseases as well and join hands and hearts to root out the bad and heal and nurture the good. I must help to make the hard and good and Godly choices for all if I want to be better and good and Godly myself.
God, help me today to do something for someone else and help me to find whatever I can do to use my own little hand, joined with others’, to fight the breakage in the dam continuing to break with the weight of racism in this nation, in our world.
This will be the first Ash Wednesday in years that I won’t go to a church to begin the season of Lent. Last year when this picture was taken, we still didn’t realize at this time what a year of a sort of “enforced” Lent lay before us. For those of us who try to see the spiritual as alive in the world around us, and who desire to continually learn the necessary requirements of the struggling, emerging wholesome soul, the past year of spiritual disciplines for the care of others, the care of the world that God made, and the care of the self, has been nothing compared to what we claim The Jewish Messiah, The Christ lived out and died for. I will not have ashes on my forehead today but I will contemplate what is said each year when we celebrate the beginning of the wilderness journey into Lent: “Remember that you are but dust, and to dust you will return. Repent!”
Ah — but believe also that –There is Good News (Gospel). Today I may recognize my worthlessness and fragility, my need to express sorrow and my ongoing imprisonment of pain, but it is merely meant as healing exercise in order to recognize true worth in others, true worth in all that is on the earth that God made, true worth even in my own known self. I am paradoxically but dust, but I am also a beloved child of God. And so is my neighbor beloved of God, and so is my enemy beloved of God. And in all of that comes the freedom of believing that hope and faith and love are eternally thriving and whatever we have of those three things will never return to dust, but always remain.
The time for Rejoicing will come to all those who wait and try to do Good. Today has always been one of my favorite holy-days because, strange person that I am, I love realizing how very, very human and frail and fragile and temporary our lives are and yet how the divinity of our souls strives on for glory. I love being reminded that I am broken and battered, sinful and wrong, in need of humbling; and yet, with practice and discipline, I am assured that I can be better tomorrow than I was today. I am grateful to believe in a God who reminds me that no matter what is happening in the world or in my very being, Love wins every time –even over ashes and dust.
“To grant to those who mourn in the world— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3)
Some habits are hard to break and some habits are hard to make. In so much else that we have lost in terms of ethics and morality, I think we have lost the idea that there is a difference between a mistake and a sin. And consequently, we have lost this idea that good personal qualities are not a matter of hoping for them but of practicing them.
A sin is anything we know to be less than good or right and something that can hurt ourselves or another, and we do it anyway, purposefully or carelessly. There is also a difference between a feeling, a character trait, and a virtue. A virtue is something that we create, nurture, act upon, not out of whole-cloth, but out of that which every human being has the possibility of knowing and striving for. One of the most commonly known vices is gluttony, and yet while we may easily see it in others, we rarely see it in ourselves until after we’ve eaten the giant bag of Red Hot Doritos, swilled it down with a six-pack and we get the stomach-ache we deserve, at which point we still don’t see it as a sin against our body as much as a “mistake”. A common virtue is patience and yet we judge our boss or teacher for being impatient with our ignorance, while we attribute our own snapping and losing patience with the faults of the other person or just being “tired or hungry”.
We, at least in our Western world of privilege and ease, have mostly lost the idea that while we cannot control the feelings of an instant, we certainly can control the actions that come out of those feelings. But we can only do so, if we have practiced controlling and shaping and substituting bad actions for good actions. Much like working out with weights to increase one’s ability to perform at a sport, we must make the practice of good habits part of a daily routine (with time off for good behavior or Sabbaths or rest). And practicing to be good is important, much like practicing a sport or an instrument is important to be ready to sprint or perform when the moment of action arrives. You can’t hope you’ll win or flawlessly play, you have to have made habits that allow you to respond without thinking. Deciding to choose to live virtuously is a life-long commitment; much as professional musicians never stop practicing scales, we must see our lives as any artist would see her abilities to create. The glorious and divine thing about being human, is that it is never too late to start being creative with who we want to be. Today is another day in which I can see myself as the artist of my own life, worthy of practice in the virtues that make me the best creation I can be. If we focused on the idea that humans are truly creatures of habit, then we might understand the insidiousness of the habits we form for evil and the habits we form for good. Then we can understand the truly divine power we each have to break and make habits.
A bad action, whether it is over-indulging ourselves or gossiping about a neighbor, becomes what we might call a sin against self or sin against another, when we let an action become an un-examined habit. As an example, from my own life, over the past several years I have felt a responsibility to know about the evils and lies of our political leaders and to speak out against those things. However, lately, reading and thinking and worrying and angsting over those things has become a habit, something I cannot seem to stop doing, even with the hope of change around the corner, even as it has effected my peace, even as it has eaten up time that could be better spent in other pursuits. There has become something perversely pleasurable in wallowing in the doo-doo of others. This is ultimately not good for me, so when I keep indulging in it, I am sinning against myself. It is also however, not good for my brother or sister, when I keep beating my head against the wall of their stubborn stupidity or unethical choices to try to change or help them. I am a habitual “helper” but when you try to help someone who doesn’t want your help, it is a sin.
To break these bad habits, I have gotten myself into, I have to try to form different habits. So rather than beginning my morning with the various newspapers I subscribe to, I spend it reading spiritually invigorating books or by some time with silent meditation and prayer. I don’t turn on my computer. I find a space with a small lamp’s circle, a pencil for making notes, and a “teacher” whose written words energize my understanding and determination to make the world a better place and make the places in my own soul better as well. Getting outside and walking in the beauty of Nature is also good. Doing something anonymously for someone who is hungry, in prison, or lonely is also good. Practicing non-aggrandizing kindness, especially to those who make me mad or grumpy or who won’t appreciate it or praise me, is an excellent way to form a different habit of kindness and helpfulness. Actions that help me break habits that hurt me or hurt others are choosing to become ethics in action. Those actions become virtues when they become habits. Otherwise, they are too often “one offs”, reflective of how I feel, what I’m “in the mood for”, how much I care, or whether any one else is “looking”; and so they are not forces “at the ready” when I am “not feeling it”. Virtues are good habits that take over even when we do not will them to.
The other thing that for me is completely necessary is to truly return to an idea that I am not only not alone in the Universe, I am being watched. We have lost the idea of the “Constant Onlooker”. This may be because we think a belief system is enough to “save us” no matter how we behave for some future reality; but of course we should be humbly reminded that “even devils believe in God and Goodness and tremble”. It may be because we have never felt there is anything other than our molecules existing in a particular meaningless space and time with other molecules. But whether it is the foolishness of a morphed and broken religion or the sadness of an atheism, to have lost the idea that there is somehow something Divine that takes notice of us humans and our Earth, is a great tragedy and has much to do with how we have devolved to this place in time on our poor beleaguered planet and our insensitive, insensible, irrational, and sinful treatment of the planet and all creatures living on it.
Whether my Constant Onlooker is a God, or the Cosmos, or my Passed Relative, or the Angels, we have a great throbbing need to feel watched over with care. And when we think we are so very alone and that No One is watching, overseeing, caring, — yes — even judging or orchestrating us to live out a better way — when we choose to idolize the primacy of self-satisfaction and momentary feelings, of one-upmanship or passive/ aggressive complaining — then we truly choose to be alone in a Universe screaming for us to recognize that there is an Onlooker of human behavior, down to the very individual that you are and that I am.
It is often difficult to fight the depression that I feel when I feel that I do not matter, but there is another way. I can form the habit of worshipping That Who, that El Roi who sees me — ME — little old who I am but more importantly who I can BE — ME. To be seen is the first step away from breaking the habits of vice and towards making the habits of virtue.
Vice is about me, myself and I alone in the Universe. Virtue is about a Community of Reality in which I am not only not alone, but I am so important, so valued, so looked after, so much a part of The Whole, that my every singular thought and deed matters. While my individual mistakes and sins may not matter in the long run, the habits I form and whether they are formed for Good or for Evil, matter in a Grand Scheme of that which I can only glimpse and imagine.
To get started: This chart of Virtues and Vices is attributed to Aristotle. I could meditate on just the titles for hours.
We might look at these vices and virtues side by side with the words of that other great sage, St. Augustine, who among other things said, “I “Sin” / Err, therefore, I am”. To be human, to actually be the best human we can be, is to understand that we don’t just “goof up”, but we sin, and sin boldly and sin habitually. When we recognize that there is Someone, that some of us call “God”, who is creative and imaginative enough to give humans the ability to choose Life — life abundant and whole and free — then we recognize that same Being Who Loves us enough to perpetually create in and through us, is a SomeOne Who is watching over us, is looking out for us, is there and here for us, and is trying every which way to point to The Way — The Tao. There is Something in the Universe that cares about my every action; and rather than letting that be a heavy burden or a fear of judgement or a way for those in power to control me as organized religion and political powers have so often done and still do, I can allow that wisdom to free me from vice and habits of negativity that can ruin my life and the lives of others. Then I can open up my heart and soul, my body and mind, and my actions, deeds, and words to replace the negative habits with positive virtues and the good habits that will create new life in me and open up more room for love, both for myself and for others.
It is not enough to recognize the vices in others, even if we have worked hard not to allow those same vices in ourselves. The lack of a vice is simply a lack, a negative sum, not a positive one. I must of course look firmly at any habitual negative action or thought I have and try to pull it out by the roots and toss it in the dung heap. But I must also see any open spaces or blank lines in my ledger and replace the emptiness with virtue. It is not enough not to sin, but we must seize our responsibility for action and make it a habit; for as The Great Teacher said:
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The theologians and the leaders in power — go ahead and do and observe whatever they tell you, but do not do the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They foist on others heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, churches, and halls of power; and they thrive on greetings in the marketplaces, news coverage, and being called important titles by others. But you are not to be called by important titles, for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers and sisters. And call no man your father/priest/leader on earth, for you have one Father/High Priest/Leader, who is in All the Universe, all the Heavenly Places. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (paraphrased slightly from Matthew 23)
I have lately retracted the finger I have had pointing towards others and tried to focus more on the four fingers pointing back at myself. Rather than being a negative experience, making me feel bad about myself, I find it energizing, comforting, and oh so very hopeful of all I can still accomplish and be within my very little own self. Much like when the weather changes and I can do some serious “Spring Cleaning”, I am ready to clean out some space in my heart, mind and soul, in order to make room for something better, cleaner, brighter, truer, and nobler; and to practice intentionally the greatest virtue of all — that of loving both self and others. And in this way, I long and desire to become more in tune and loving of The One Who Sees and Cares.
I know it is awfully old-fashioned of me, but to see the tendencies of making and breaking habits as something as eternally important as choosing vice or virtue, makes me feel much less alone in The Universe. The more I see my own sins and broken pieces, the more I hold out hope for Wholeness. The more I see the errors on my life’s page, the more I sense I am a part of a Great Story of Our Humanity, in which I play, if only a small and unknown character, a still quite valuable part. Like the character who is a catalyst in a novel, I hope to not understand but simply obey and do that which is my own ethical, virtuous-leaning part to play in The Story. Like tuning an old piano, I hope to change the dissonance of certain vices and make in-tune new habits of virtue. In this way, I do not play a solo performance, but am part of that great Orchestra lead by the Director of All Directors. Today, I shall practice creating more harmony in my own life, and humbly, prayerfully, hopefully in the lives of others, and I shall listen to and add to The Song.