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.
One Thousand and One Things I Should Be Doing to Make My Life More Meaningful
(But For Now, Here are Five)
By Jane Tawel
March 31, 2021
Now that I am of an age, there are regrets, of course about wasted time and wasted energy, wasted dreams, and wasted relationships. But of course, looking back on regrets is worthless if I can not use them to make myself, or at least just my day better. With hope and a bit of luck, maybe I can even make my “Tomorrow Me” much better. You know the one I’m talking about; that Person that Tomorrow will be all those things She is meant to be.
Yep — hope springs eternal that with a little elbow grease and grace there may be within my life a confluence of context; a critical combination of conveyances to convey more meaning to my existential essence. Ah, that “thing with feathers”, that beats within, giving meaning even to the falling of a sparrow or the timely chirp of a chirpy-bird, that excruciatingly human attitude we call, “hope” shows up “asking nothing at all” but to remind me that The Greatest Meaning of All has created my being to seek and live out and unto others, a life of meaning.
Of course, maybe you are not like I am, always wanting to add more, je ne sais quoi? Maybe you are a girl who just wants to have fun*, or a just an ordinary average guy* (*song allusions intentional). But I am that “sort” — one of the ones who desire more sense, connotation and denotation, elucidation, substance, significance, more purport and implication. As Francois Rabelais might say, “I go to seek a Great Perhaps”.
I think when you get to be my age, you want to find more meaning than you are used to because maybe you are more sorta kinda okay with the uncomfortable pauses and the untidy questions. That seems silly maybe? Maybe it is the young who are truly seeking, searching, defying, rebelling, hating, loving, and jumping into life to find true meaning, big meaning, small meanings, ultimate meaning, and just the meaning of choosing to make sustainably-grown-coffee-at-home meaning. I don’t know but I fear the young ones have been led astray that finding meaning is a waste of time if it takes them away from working towards success. I hope I’m wrong.
I fear the young ones, my own dear adulting children included, are a little afraid of using the best time of their lives wisely, not by being smart, but by being curious. I know I didn’t know how important that was when energy was in excess. And that word “use”– goodness what a horrible word “use” can be. I talk about how we “use” time but that is the Great Lie, the fallacy perpetrated by bosses and kings and a chimera of meaninglessness, followed like a mirage, like a Pied Piper — just up ahead — almost there –keep marching — one-two, one-two, one-two –struggling on scraped and banged up hands and knees towards an idea of Time we never reach. Meanwhile all there is to be seen on the road, all the glory that hides in bushes in weeds along The Way, that we speed by or plan to come back to someday, is ignored. But as Robert Frost reminds us, whatever road we take, whether the one less taken or the one equally fair, we can’t keep the time we spend for another day.
Time is not useful. Time is the dream. Time is not to be pulled and pushed like putty, nor molded like play-dough, soon to be flattened and reshaped in a new Monday, a new Tuesday, a new Wednesday and on and on and on. No, Time is to be coddled like the new-born infant it is each time we awake to it and each night when we put Time to bed. Time is to be caressed like the Lover we dare not take for granted, or it will leave us, deadened and dried up, longing for that first love of Time when we were young and thought we had all of it we could ever desire. Time is not a hive where we all, like worker bees, continue to stay busy, busy, busy, buzz, buzz, buzz, making honey-money for someone else, some other day, some storage unit dripping with nectar we never take the moment to taste and enjoy. Time is the thing that separates us from the birds and the bees, the essence, not the effect, the hint that our humanity is not created to be a slave to time but a partaker of The Dance of Timelessness. My search for meaning is, at heart, a search for how to give Time its due, to return to Time my love and to honor it for the precious gift it is.
Now that I am old(er), I hate how much time I wasted but more than that, I hate how much time I waste on a daily basis. I don’t mean I hate having to work a job; I mean I hate thinking about how much I hate having to work a job when I am working at my job or even when I am not working my job. I don’t mean wasting time watching a show or reading a book; I mean wasting time watching something or reading something that isn’t edifying or inspiring or at least just plain darn well-done or good-fun. I don’t mean I hate wasting time talking with other people or doing stuff for other people; I mean I hate wasting time not really listening to people I care about; I hate doing stuff for other people because I “have to”, not because I love the fact that where there is life, there is still the ability to do things, to give something, to share or sacrifice, or even just to plain do the darn dishes for someone else. I hate wasting time thinking about politics and everything wrong in the world; instead of skimming the headlines and then thinking about what I can do to make the world a better place.
So though I wish every day I could expand time to do one thousand and one things more to give my life meaning; here are at least five things I am becoming, no I am committing to make myself, more aware of in order to try to make my life more meaningful. Just five to start with out of a thousand and one to seek and find, learn and love, and hold and share. They are little tiny things, and you don’t have to agree with my choices here, but I hope it will inspire you to find those small things in your own life that you can look and tend to, cherish or change, and give more meaning to who you are and where you are journeying in life today.
As the Ecclesiast says, “there is nothing new under the sun”, but that is also the amazing thing about time and the search for meaning — we share the passage of one and the search for the other with our ancestors. I hope we can learn to better preserve the preciousness of Time and impart the purposefulness of meaning for our future children.
Five Little Meaningful Things on My To-Do List Today
1. See, hear, touch, taste, smell. In other words, although words can not truly describe the quality of our five senses, I tend to think Fritz Perls had a point when he said, “lose your mind, come to your senses”. I just plain think too much. Life would have so much more little special moments of meaning if I just enjoyed whatever sense I happen to be using at the time.
Look and wonder or discover. Listen and take the sound into your heart, whether it is the sound of a friend speaking or the sound of a cricket or a bird singing. Enjoy the amazing ability to taste food from the time it touches your lips until it reaches your belly. Inhale a scent and let it settle in, making itself a mysterious acquaintance. Perls, the psychotherapist who discovered Gestalt Therapy believed that humans are a wholistic entity, consisting of body, mind, and soul. He was a great one for understanding that when we view ourselves in the moment, through our own eyes, and not by looking back into the past but by bringing the past into the present, we become more whole. Focusing on using our senses goes along way toward reviving the mind and soothing the soul.
2. Do it with purpose but not always purposefully. There doesn’t always have to be a goal to achieve when we do something. In fact, we need to do more things more often with no other goal than joy in the moment’s journey. For me, the example would be humming or singing. I find I am one of those people who just hums all the time, like a crazy person. But I hum, well frankly, just dopey sounds that do comfort me, I guess, and activate that old Vagus nerve, but I am trying to make this a more meaningful meaningless exercise in my life. So, whenever I find myself humming some stupid syllabic scales, I try to “change my tune”.
Sometimes now when I catch myself humming nonsensical garbage, I make myself focus on the fact that I believe all of life is spiritual and that the Divine is present; so I’ll hum something like “Be Still My Soul” or “For the Beauty of the Earth”. Sometimes however, I will hum something that just makes me happy, like Mr. Roger’s “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” or “Feeling Groovy”. Sometimes I make myself hum something that is fun and has the added advantage of bringing to mind a memory of someone dear to me like when I hum or sing my dad’s old stand-by “You Get a Line and I’ll Get a Pole” or I sing something I used to sing to the kids in our big bed at night like “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” or “On Top of Spaghetti”.
If you are not a hummer, I highly recommend it, but if it’s not for you, find that thing you do that maybe seems meaningless, but could do with a little attitude change directing it towards meaning. For instance, do you, as I have always done, play with your hair? This habit drove my mom crazy for some reason, but I realize now that it was a comforting technique. Do you have a habit you do that comforts you and doesn’t hurt anyone else? Then do it with meaning. If you are a hair-stroker, stroke with contentment and really feel the silky strands or crunchy curls or just be glad you still have hair to fondle! Maybe you are a “tapper”. I taught a lot of students, especially boys and young men, who were “tappers”. If you are a person who taps with a pen when stressed about a test or taps when you are working on a project or taps mindlessly when you are trying to keep your cool or patiently wait or someone who just enjoys the sound of drumming, then — tap with meaning! Do a drum beat and make your own rhythmic music. Mix it up a bit and see what happens if you use your other hand to tap out some beats. Let yourself feel primal and connect to the age-old and ancient art of beating. Whatever you do, tap to the beat of your own self-be-true.
We should remember when it comes to these habits or seemingly meaningless activities that we can give them meaning if we recognize they reveal something about how we are created and how we exist between the natural and the sublime. As animals we often unconsciously make sounds or fluff our feathers, but as humans we can consciously create and we can imbue with a greater meaning, those instinctual or habitual actions. We don’t have to be consciously purposeful all the time, but finding more meaning even in the instinctual or habitual can bring us unexpected enjoyment in random creative acts. We are those beings who can create our own delight or pleasure or calm, even in the boring, mundane or stressful.
3. Breathe. How many times do we have to say it? hear it? preach it? I am so sick of people telling me to breathe and breathe deeply, but the fact remains, we have just stopped breathing deeply. At least in my Western, uber-get-ahead culture, we decided as a species we no longer could waste time breathing deeply, feeling our chests rise and fall with the intake and out-take of air, enjoying being alive because our lungs work or our lungs are healthy. Ain’t nobody got time for that, man! Breathing is such a waste of time. So, we will do the minimum to stay alive and leave the deep breathing to babies and monks.
If you didn’t have Covid issues this past year, thank God or your lucky stars, but for those who did or suffered with someone who did and who had trouble breathing, it is one of the things this pandemic should make us grateful to be able to do. Instead of just shallowly breathing the way I have gotten used to doing it, as a rote bodily function for merely staying alive, breathing with attention, with a bit of meaning in it, is my goal to do at least as often as I can.
I breathe deeply for the sheer enjoyment of being able to do it, and for any of you spiritual folks, like I try to be, we should remember: there is a divinity in breath and breathing. The Divine is often pictured as revealing to us a holy spirit encountered through our breath. Without breath, no life; and without life, no meaning.
4. Stop complaining; Start Maintaining. This poem by Gunilla Norris is about the paradox of maintaining and her words and thoughts are more eloquent than I could ever express.
Paradox of Noise by Gunilla Norris
It is a paradox that we encounter so much internal noise when we first try to sit in silence.
It is a paradox that experiencing pain releases pain.
It is a paradox that keeping still can lead us
so fully into life and being.
Our minds do not like paradoxes. We want things
To be clear, so we can maintain our illusions of safety.
Certainty breeds tremendous smugness.
We each possess a deeper level of being, however,
which loves paradox. It knows that summer is already
Growing like a seed in the depth of winter. It knows
that the moment we are born, we begin to die. It knows
that all of life shimmers, in shades of becoming —
that shadow and light are always together,
the visible mingled with the invisible.
When we sit in stillness we are profoundly active.
Keeping silent, we hear the roar of existence.
Through our willingness to be the one we are,
We become one with everything.
— Gunilla Norris
People used to use phrases like “maintain your purity” or “maintain your integrity”, but now we don’t have much use it seems for maintaining things any more, in our easily disposable world of everything from disposable fast food containers to disposable relationships. The title of Norris’ poem reminds me that we too often let our inner lives become as distractingly, irritatingly noisy as is the constant noise we have to endure in our outer lives. But we have a choice about letting so much noise rule our inner beings. Stopping negative thoughts is one good way to begin to make a courtship with silence and to nurture a peaceful inner environment.
The Norris poem coaches us to see through the charade of complaining and to recognize that maintaining illusions of safety by needing things to be clear or black or white even just wanting to understand a thing or a person, are just that — not quite what they seem — illusory. We humans are the greatest paradox the world has ever known; demonic and angelic, foolish and brilliant and wise; fearful and brave; selfish and sacrificial; hateful and loving; anxious and peaceful; greedy and generous — we are paradoxes alone and a paradoxical community of beings and all of us are everything and nothing and it is rarely if ever as clear-cut as we make it out to be.
To stop complaining means to understand that the mystery of anything is much more holy and desirable than the knowing and owning of something or someone. To maintain an even keel through life’s ups and downs, is to keep balancing the teeter totter of one’s existence daily; flowing back and forth; swinging in the pendulum of the glorious idea and ideal of being fully and incredibly human. “For we are fearsomely and awesomely made”. Human maintenance requires a great degree of bravery in the face of all we do not know. Complaining is an unworthy shield to hide our fears behind, fears of sallying forth into the battle and possibly being victorious. We will never know until we put away the things of a childish attitude, and take up the things of an adult. Giving up grumbling leaves a pretty large, wide open field for all the things we can take up instead to do with our feelings and thoughts.
5. Be Yourself. And yes — here one must add the old standby — because everyone else is already taken. And isn’t that wonderful! Think about how many “everyone elses” there are for each of us to get to know! And seize hold of the idea that you are unique and that that it is not only just “okay” to be who you are, but it is wonderous and inspiring and you are so very, very needed in the world because there isn’t another You.
No one else can connect the same dots of a life to make a “me” in the same way I can — it is exponentially impossible. Like a pointillism painting, my own specks of a life come together to make something uniquely lovely and meaningful.
So today, I will try not to let anyone, including myself be unhappy with who I am. I will accept I am not perfect, that I need to make changes, and that there are some things that need work. But I will find meaning in the fact that I am Wholly Me. And that is a Me-aning worth living and worth loving.
As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end of life”. The Great Perhaps becomes the Great Purpose when we choose to make meaning however, whenever, with whomever and whatever we can. It is our great Why and all meaningful moments make the Why the raison d’etre. What is the reason for my being today? The answer is simply and profoundly complicatedly — my life.
To get more meaning out of life, we don’t need a thousand and one ways. Starting with one or two will do. Again, I must turn to poetry to distill the important “stuff” about life. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the following about the meaning of our lives and the title alone gives me joy in the journey and meaning for The Way. May it be a Psalm for your life today as well.
A Psalm of Life
By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
What The Heart Of The Young Man Said To The Psalmist.
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, — act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
May we learn to love “acting in the living Present, heart within, God overhead” and may we each find joy in our own very unique journeys towards a more meaningful, wonderful life. Yes, we can make our lives sublime.
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)