On being rejected by those we love

St Joseph the comely

St Joseph the comely

“I know that when a door closes, it can feel like all doors are closing. A rejection letter can feel like everyone will reject us. But a closed door leads to clarity. It’s really an arrow. Because we cannot go through that door, we will go somewhere else. That somewhere else is your true life.” (Tama J. Kieves)

How good it would be if we were loved by everybody and that everybody we met did see the best in us. But would it really? And would it make us wiser or stronger? Nothing hurts more than to be rejected by someone we love. Nothing hurts more than to have people we treasure turn away from us. This might come in the form of a sudden stop in communication or in other more hostile ways. The grief which is felt can be inexpressible. It is altogether different when we are treated as lowly by those we do not know very well. But it too can hurt, yet it is not the same. There are of course, the extreme and very hard cases, when a parent walks away from a child, or a formerly devoted spouse walks away from their partner. Then there are those great friendships where years have been given over to them and which have been sustained with much grace and plenty of love. The old and trusted friend withdraws his or her hand to walk away. How do we respond? To say that they were not “true” loves or “real” friends in the first place, does little to soften the pain. What can we do?

There are various ways we can come to grips with this awful happening, for we are each gifted with unique experiences and charisms. And it is upon these that we must call upon during such times that we may not become entirely disconsolate. The rejection from a loved one can give validation to our most hidden insecurities and fears. It is the cruellest and most dangerous of all the rejections. Sensitive and tender hearts have often responded too quickly, with catastrophic results. To such difficult questions, where grief and mental torment are involved, there are no easy answers. The confrontation is real and terrible and hurts the bones. Often there are additional issues of perceived shame or guilt. Our identities seem to be taken away from us. Trust is also lost. Our beliefs are shaken to the core.

Though every situation is different, we all share in the human condition and of having some idea of how the “other” might feel during shared experiences, whether physical or mental. If you tell me you thirst, I have understanding. If you tell me your head hurts, I can understand that too. If you tell me you grieve because of a great loss in your life, I also have some comprehension. Though in each case it can only be by degrees, for the experiences and our reflective natures, still remain unique. But there is common ground and it is from here, this solid and proven place, we can be saved and strengthened. The great lessons are not too far away, if only we should endure and search and never, ever lose hope.

There is a higher purpose or reason behind every great love and every heartbreaking betrayal, and both come with their hidden gifts and powerful graces. We would all much prefer the “great love”. But let us also not recoil from the heartbreak. It is good that we persevere and do strong battle knowing that it is only through the fire that steel is hardened. It is first made soft and malleable, to be brought to the ideal place known only to that element, where its properties are encouraged to their full potential. It is through these excruciating losses, which will often enough break an unhealthy cycle of co-dependency, that we can gain profound insights into life. That is, a less cloudy revelation as to the ultimate purpose of our existence; a deeper understanding of the complexities and contradictions of human nature; a more “nuclear” vision to love and forgiveness; another chance at becoming the men and women we were meant to become; the realization of our strength and power of our spirit. The all-important lesson, too, that bitterness and animosity are an enormous waste of time and a loss of valuable energy. “When you have been insulted, cursed, or persecuted by someone,” writes Saint Mark the Ascetic, “do not think of what has happened to you, but of what will come from it, and you will see that your insulter has become the cause of many benefits to you, not only in this age, but in that which is to come.”

These are ways which bring us closer to the sacred, to those things which our collective religious experience has associated with the divine.

Maybe we have given all we can to the “other”. Perhaps it is now time for them to move on, to explore other horizons vital to the unfolding of their own story. Maybe we have been one of those beautiful little tiles of a greater mosaic, little in the bigger scheme of things but enormously crucial. Maybe we have nothing more to give and we have done our job.  We should avoid any thought which might now try to talk us into believing that these people are wicked when only yesterday they were righteous. Of course, all this implies the equality to the relationship, for when an adult hurts or walks away from a child it will call for a different response and a different type of resilience. And yet we know from those who have experienced this dreadful hurt, that this too can be overcome and conquered. Here we can find our peace and turn our pain into a priceless jewel. And though there will be times when the recollection will still hurt and yes, even bludgeon us during the night, it is important to remember: this too, it will pass.

“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds” (Ps. 147:3).

Other doors will open. One of the secrets is to wait, to not force these doors, to allow and to give time for providence to work.

In the Old Testament Joseph was betrayed and sold into slavery by his brothers (Gen. 37:18-36). What was worse, they had even thought about killing him. “When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him.” Joseph both endured and he forgave, to rise up to become the second most powerful man in all of Egypt, next to the Pharaoh.

“Dear Father do not allow for me to crumble and break should I ever be rejected by a loved one, do not let for my heart to grow cold that I might not forget that there was much beauty and joy in there too, amidst the sorrow. I want to remember that I was an important part of another’s unfolding story and that my own is not yet over.”

On Loving Oneself

Andrei rublev  trinity  (C.1411)

Andrei rublev trinity (C.1411)

“To love yourself right now, just as you are, is to give yourself heaven. Don’t wait until you die. If you wait, you die now. If you love, you love now.” (Alan Cohen)

One of the most difficult things for both religious and non-religious alike is to love oneself. That is, to accept ourselves as we are in the moment and not as we might want ourselves to be tomorrow. It can be more difficult than the giving or the asking of forgiveness. Why is it so hard? “The most terrifying thing,” writes C. J. Jung the well-known founder of analytical psychology, “is to accept oneself completely.” Of course, we are not speaking of egotistical or hedonistic self-worship which has become one of the staples of modern culture given the rise and ubiquity of social media. Loving ourselves for who we are is for the most part insufferably hard because no one knows us as we know ourselves. No one has access to those dark places of the soul which we ourselves possess and would recoil from, if we were to encounter them in another. “But I do nothing upon myself”, reflects the 16th century English poet and cleric John Donne, “and yet am mine own executioner.”

In our hearts we have committed abominable crimes, too despicable and shameful to mention. We know all too well who we really are deep down. We punish ourselves, sometimes mercilessly, for our past misdemeanours and mistakes. We needlessly poison our spirits. We relive the pain we have caused others or which has been delivered to us. And so it must, and it will hurt. But here, in the very place of that agonizing conflict rests our way out from this condition of ‘self-unforgiving’. Only after this toughest of confrontations with one of the most sensitive components of our consciousness, can we come to a true comprehension of what it means to love oneself. Vironika Tugaleva, who fought many life-threatening battles to do with her self-esteem, writes knowingly from her own experience, “You will not love anyone or anything until those eyes in the mirror soften up and embrace the beauty that is already within.”

It is very important to arrive at a place where we are at peace with the present, the eternal-present, to come to an understanding that any absolute resolution can only ever come with our death. For the present let us consider ourselves works in progress imbued with an infinite grace and the potential to accomplish wonderful things. There is no denying the effect and burden of guilt, for real or even perceived failings, volumes have been written on this subject. The underlying consensus of the literature is unless we deal with this pressing weight of self-condemnation (again an entirely different matter to self-correction and interior vigilance), unless we find our own way out, unless we initiate a process where we can begin to be gentle and kind to ourselves, we will only perpetuate the anger or self-hatred. There will be no peace for the heart remains agitated. And so we look for the other, destructive ways out, we abuse ourselves through various forms of addictions and cause damage to both the mind and the body. We set about decomposing and deconstructing “the temple”.

For each one of us the path to self-love will be different, we will be touched and inspired by separate revelations and distinct moments of higher intuition. But there are to be found in each of our stories some very similar signposts. To offer a peace offering where we have offended and to repair a wrong where possible; to make a personal sacrifice in whatever way that might be demanded of us; to not permit for others to diminish or to wound our self-esteem; to surround ourselves with people who practice the art of love; to respect ourselves; to love as we ourselves might wish to be loved; and especially to forgive those who have hurt us. We should try, also, to remember we are fragile and wounded creatures ourselves and that we are dealing with other similarly imperfect creatures. “The other” is living out the conditions of his or her soul’s present state of enlightenment and they too are on the journey to self-knowledge.

So why is it important to love and to be kind to ourselves? Because it is only in loving ourselves can we unleash the great torrent of love and grace which rests dormant with in us, for it is precisely here that one of the greatest spiritual maxims has been spoken, and this by the GodMan Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mk. 12:31). Unless we love ourselves, that is, to see the potential grandeur and awesomeness within us which flows from the creative energies of the Creator, we cannot love our neighbour. That is why there is so much hate in the world, and why killing and wars will not end. We have stopped loving ourselves and so we have stopped seeing God in the presence of the other.

Prayer, however we might choose to initially practise it, brings us back into the interior of our being and to the recognition that we are not a random existence. Our presence upon this earth was an act and a movement of infinite Love. We had been loved and known, Jeremiah the OT Prophet gives us to understand, even before we were “formed” in our mother’s wombs (Jer. 1:5). Loving myself means I acknowledge my absolute uniqueness. I establish my self-worth in the originating act and movement of Love proceeding and emanating from the Creator. The acknowledgement of the existence and continuing activity of this originating source of Love which has brought us into being is where the principal foundation of our value and uniqueness is to be found. It is not in our achievements or temporal successes, not in our fame or gilded reputations, not in our possessions or accumulation of wealth, not in our physical attractiveness or in our great intellects.

One of the fundamental teachings of Trinitarian theology, which has also been stunningly presented to us in the Icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev, is the reciprocity of love which emanates and flows eternally between each of the three divine persons. There is a “stumbling block” for those who would criticize the Scriptures as pointing to a God who makes too many demands to be loved and to be worshiped. If the Creator did not have this divine sense of self-worth His love for us would be impossibly diminished. It is this self-worth which led to Gethsemane. It is where He empties Himself of His divine splendour to save the world. Here is the highest example of theophany and humanity. The great fruits of this self-love into which we are called, are humility and self-knowledge. “Yet not I”, says Saint Paul, “but the grace of God which was in me” (1Cor. 15:10). There is no place here for self-aggrandizement nor for vainglory. This is not the “self-love” of the beautiful hunter Narcissus who saw his reflection in a pool of water and fell in love with it. He could not detach himself from his image and eventually drowned. These are things we should always guard against and cannot ever be immune from. 

Significantly, in patristic literature when the narcissistic elements of ‘self-love’ are warned against, it is invariably in the context of kenodoxia, which is, vainglory and empty pride.

“Dear Lord, teach me the proper and safest way to love myself that I might draw nearer to You, to discern Your imprint on my hand, to experience You in my neighbour.” 

On Sponsorship of the World

“Choose not then to cleave to this aged world, and to be unwilling to grow young in Christ” (Augustine of Hippo).

Heartlight, Inc (2004)

Heartlight, Inc (2004)

My Lord do not allow for me to become ensnared by the sponsorship of the world which is at enmity with You (1 Jn. 2:15), to go after the commendation of men who have set their ways against You (Ps. 25). I know how tough and painful this demanding act of renunciation can be, it wars against both the spirit and the flesh (1 Jn. 2:16). Strengthen me and allow for the Holy Ghost to inspire me to “not be conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2), to fight against this temptation which is ever before me, to forswear earthly prizes and approvals (1 Cor. 1:27). I fall often, but help me to see, my God, that this is a source of great turmoil and of grave danger to my heart (Rom 8:5). For I was created and shaped to serve You alone, I was commanded by Your word to bow down to no one save for You (Deut. 5:7). I cannot have many masters for then I become a “house divided” and will not stand (Matt. 12:25). The more I campaign after earthly praise, the more I will stray from the commendation of Heaven and look for the approval of those around me (Lk. 16:15). I have a choice, the decaying wreaths and short-lived glory of this world which is “passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31), or the incorruptible “crown of life” of Your eternal kingdom (Rev. 2:10). It is difficult to be sure, for I am mocked and scorned, but once I begin upon this consecrated road, establishing myself securely in Your ways, “grace” and the “gift of righteousness” will follow and abound (Rom. 5:17).

Dear Lord, renew my mind, even if this might mean the realization of my most improbable prayers and the putting on of heavy armour.

Not Tonight My Heart

“Hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them” (Vincent McNabb).

Marleen De Waele-De Bock's  Sadness  (2012)

Marleen De Waele-De Bock's Sadness (2012)

Not tonight my heart, this is not the night. If you should move your hand to extinguish the light, this light, it will all be finished, there will be no turning back. This was not how your life upon this earth was meant to end. What has brought you here, to this darkest of places. Who has robbed you of hope? Who has stolen your dreams? And who has sought to diminish your worth? Stay with me for a while. Let us keep each other company, at least until the morning hours. We need not talk, a few words might be all we need, stay with me, at least until the morning hours. If it grows cold, if it gets too dark, I am here, with you. What are you thinking? That no one understands? That people, even those you love, have stopped listening? I know it is what you are thinking. I know. It is frightening to feel completely alone. Yes, it hurts, in places too deep for names. Nameless places, there is no room for alphabets here, only sighs, and moans, and groans. Not even tears they were spent long ago. I know. Your thoughts are real, like a broken bone, but they are not you. Tonight especially you must distinguish between these thoughts, and your will to live. It is difficult to breathe, even to breathe, that too I understand. If only this pain would go away, if it would stop, at last. Your suffering has become unbearable, I can see this, any moment it can break you, break you into a thousand pieces. Is your agony greater now than it was an hour ago? You are still here, you see, all things are possible. I do not ask of you to take a leap of faith into the limitless abyss, but to be still and to incline your ear, listen, sometimes you need to say good-bye to the old self, and it can only happen on nights like these. On nights like these when you are tested, when you are brought to the scorching edge, to be forged, and to be made stronger. Do not allow for despair to swathe its binding around your eyes. Not tonight my heart, this is not the night. Understand pain for what it is; an invaluable helper to keep your spirit awake and alert that you might respond both to the light and to the fire of the Sun. Your fight is not with your pain, but it is a battle against your suffering. Pain is your hurting, but it is your suffering, it is this, which will give you meaning.

And so ask yourself, this is not the time for half-truths and excuses, and so ask yourself, what has brought you here, to this valley of the shadow of death? Let go of things and places and people which are pulling at your soul, allow yourself the joy and lightness of heart which can only come with the great abandonment. Release your ego, it is weighing you down. Just for these next few minutes, allow for yourself to see through those swathes which are binding your eyes, just for these next few minutes. I will let you in on a simple secret, known to angels and anchorites of old, what is unspeakable can yet be lived. Let this suffering be your way to a deeper understanding of who you are, and who you are called to become. Tonight this could be that place of your greatest and most important discovery, here in this bloody battlefield, you are given your second chance. I know you have had this revelation of the ‘other self’ in the past. It is you, it really is you, do not be afraid of the splendor. “So do not fear, for I am with you.” (Is. 41:10) Hope cannot be taken away, it can only be surrendered. Dreams cannot be stolen, they can only be forgotten. Worth cannot be diminished, it is forever a measure of your dignity as a child of God. Your wounds, these great big wounds, which you think are beyond any possible healing let them become windows, dazzling openings to Love and Light. Become the refuge and the source of belief to others. You will have the most to teach.

Do not feel guilty it is all right to sometimes feel like this, for your soul to ask of you to nourish it with new meaning and content, it is shedding old skin. It refuses to become stone. It is good that you can still feel, even down to these very depths of your anguish, this is your proof, you believe in something. Hold tight onto this grace. Is it your own voice you are hearing? Wonderful, this is how the new day begins. Things will be much clearer, you will not have all the answers, but you will be closer to the reasons. You will have drawn nearer to your purpose determined even before the foundation of the brightest star. And so not tonight, this is not the night, let not your trembling hand turn to extinguish the light. I am here, with you. 

Let us not aspire to be famous

“Fame has also this great drawback, that if we pursue it, we must direct our lives so as to please the fancy of men” (Baruch Spinoza).

An ink and wash sketch on the theme of Percy Bysshe Shelley's 'Ozymandias' (Date Unknown)  The Serendipity Project

An ink and wash sketch on the theme of Percy Bysshe Shelley's 'Ozymandias' (Date Unknown) The Serendipity Project

Let us not aspire to be famous and to be highly esteemed. These are two of our greatest enemies, and should we ever rise to such dizzy heights (outside the grace and providence of the Creator) these infernal liars will destroy us, and through us they will hurt others. How long will your fame last? What wisdom will it deliver you? What benefit the praise for a season? How will you respond when your flatterers find fault with you? These ‘terrible’ gifts, if not used correctly and put to the service of others, are self-seeking aspirations which ultimately invite hubris and bring injury to the soul. In a beautiful psalm (Ps 72) where the attributes of a great King are enumerated by Solomon, “fame” is connected to the righteous deeds of the royal ruler and it is in this way that “the name endure[s] for ever”. For the ancient Greeks honour and reputation would ordinarily be conferred after death when the evidence of a life could be weighed and tested. Our greatest legacy is our character which is built up invisibly and in secret. Unmerited fame and artificial praise, history has revealed to us, do enormous damage to our spirit (in the sense of our dispositions and attitudes) and they can result in a caricature of the true self. We are weak and frail beings to begin with, and these worldly acclamations only serve to magnify our flaws and vulnerabilities. Honour and glory are often confused with fame. By all means  let us aspire after greatness, it is a different thing altogether. Our fathers and mothers, those who minister to the sick and to the dying, the poor and abused who have not given up on hope, the orphans and those who are hungry, these are the ones to whom honour and glory are due. The quality of worthiness is to be discovered here. It is here, in these disregarded palaces, that truth and reality are to be found. “Lord, I have too often sought the sponsorship of the world, running after its temporal prizes which rust and crumble but You have taken pity on me, and You have bent me, lest I confuse those things which store grace in me with those which steal them away.” 

The Benefit of the Doubt

“There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations.  It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills” (Buddha).

James J. Tissot's  The Soul of the Penitent Thief in Paradise  (1896)

James J. Tissot's The Soul of the Penitent Thief in Paradise (1896)

Each day we might look for ways to become better and more compassionate people; a smile here, or a little charity there, perhaps even an encouraging letter to a stranger. Every kind and caring deed helps the heart grow softer to become a more suitable vessel for instruction and illumination. There is also the practice of another action, often forgotten, which brings much joy to both the giver and receiver: the giving of the benefit of the doubt. But what does this mean? It is taking someone at their word despite the doubt, that you are willing to put every suspicion aside. You are prepared to pass the advantage to the other, however difficult this may initially seem. It can save a life and build new futures for those to whom this wonderful grace is extended. It is another chance. Might we at times feel we have been misused? Have, we too, not in some ways misused others or at least the gifts we have received from the Creator? Are we that much better? Is this not also one of the great lessons of Christ’s pardon of the penitent thief on the cross? (Lk. 23:32-43) The benefit of the doubt can also be connected to forgiveness. And have we not all, at some stage of our lives, been desperate to hear similar words of release from a loved one or friend. But this giving of the ‘advantage’ must come with no qualification and with strong love that it survives the test of time. Let us always be encouragers, never shut the door, and have nothing to do with the spread of despair. How much aching we not only lift from ourselves by not remaining captive to the poison of suspicion, but also what joy and hidden possibility we could help to set free in the life of others by simply saying, “I do believe in you, and I am truly sorry if I have caused you hurt by the withholding of my trust." Sometimes a wounded soul might wait for years to hear these words that it may once more dance lightly upon the earth and with gladness look forward to the new day. “Oh, Heavenly Father, allow for me to genuinely practise this graceful act of surrendering the advantage to the other, without doubt or the return of suspicion, that I, too, might be the recipient of such a beautiful release.”

Humility

“For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).

Ford Madox Brown's  Jesus Washing Peter's Feet  (1876) 

Ford Madox Brown's Jesus Washing Peter's Feet (1876) 

Few have been able to write deeply on humility, and of these authors only a handful are widely known. The real witnesses to this special grace have invariably been those who have lived by its fruits. So important and fundamental a virtue it is, that all of the great religions understand it as a necessary condition for the acquisition of wisdom and enlightenment. A virtue is something more than a good quality. It is a call to transformation. Many of us are ruled not so much by God or ‘disbelief’ but our pride. And yet, once we understand this actuality in our lives and are able to define it, we can use it to help us grow in the spirit. If we should look honestly into our heart we will find even before we open our mouths to speak, the initial action to be inspired by pride, either in the asserting or refuting of a statement. These are not negative responses in themselves, not always, but typically they will be made with the intent to establish our own credibility or to diminish that of another.

Humility, it is said by those who have studied this royal path, would prefer to silence or to surrender the ego, to throw the light onto the other who is standing opposite. Sometimes it might mean to accept calumny for a season or to suffer an injustice and to respond with charity rather than vengeance. More often than not we will have saved our soul from distress and allowed for the truth to reveal itself in other more meaningful ways. Humility is not a sign of weakness, or giving up on the fight, or hiding one’s talents under the bushel. It is a quiet but powerful statement of a person living through an unshakeable peace, someone that has knowledge of their potential. It also means to be acutely aware of one’s own defects and failings, to be constantly mindful of the log in the eye. The etymology of this beautiful word ordinarily connected to the Latin humilitas for “grounded” or “from the earth” can also be traced to the Old French umelite which can also mean “sweetness”.

So why have I published this piece? Am I not skirting with a terrible danger? Particularly since humility has never been one of my strengths. But I want to get a clearer picture of my mortal enemy- the exalting of the self... so that I could become more familiar with its approach. To discern it when like that clade of lizards which change colour, it might not in every single instance get around me. In the Christian scriptures there is no greater revelation as to the awesomeness and potential of the practice of humility than the lesson of the ‘kenosis’ when Christ emptied himself of his divine glory: “[b]ut made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). And so there is a bodily labour to humility as well, it is not just talk. Love and humility are co-existent, uniquely powerful as forces of change, and at their most genuine, indistinguishable one from the other.

The Truth

“Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37).

Vincent van Gogh  The Good Samaritan, after Delacroix  (1890)

Vincent van Gogh The Good Samaritan, after Delacroix (1890)

Many of us are determined for our Truth to be the ultimate expression of the “supreme reality.” After all, we have invested so much time, and effort, and sacrifice to its defence. We have built our dreams and hopes on its sure foundation. One of the most difficult things is to faithfully hold onto this truth and to go about our life quietly, spreading a little of its light along the way. The danger is when we think we are the exclusive possessors of the revelation which has graciously come down to us. Often enough it is precisely that, our own personalized truth, and not even that of the church or religious community to which we profess to belong. Ever since Pontius Pilate asked the one who was about to be Crucified, “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38), we have been challenged as to how we ourselves might respond. Ultimately, it is not so much by our confession that the truth we hold is revealed to the world, but more so by our practice of the virtues. This is wonderfully paradoxical given believers come to truth through faith. The most erudite and inspired theology in the world or indeed the profoundest comprehension of the various dimensions and expositions of truth in mathematics and philosophy, will not quench the thirst of a dying child nor heal the wounds of our neighbour. Often times, the only truths are visceral and come from our agonizing cries for help. The truth will, indeed, set us free, but only to the measure that we extend to it the same degree of grace. And so let us go about our own business of practising compassion through unqualified love, and permit for the Holy Spirit to go about his own simple work of saving.

Hope

“And you shall be secure, because there is hope; yes, you shall dig about you, and you shall take your rest in safety” (Job 11:18).

George Frederic Watts  Hope  (1886)

George Frederic Watts Hope (1886)

Hope is my favourite word. It has helped me survive and not give up looking for meaning during hard times when all appeared lost. It gave substance to the other great words which I needed to trust in: love, faith, and prayer. Why do we place such confidence in these profoundly spiritual expressions of life? I think one of the reasons is because of our 'expectation', that not only are these movements into grace possible, but also do-able. Outside the living-out of hope, this longing for delivery and restoration, how else are we to put into practice those other hope-inspired acts which give purpose and meaning to our lives? Hope is the opposite to despair. It means refusing to surrender or to believe there is no way out. Hope can change everything, and it usually does. Hope is “to bend your ear over your almost shattered lyre,” recollecting George Frederic Watts's evocative painting “Hope” (1886), “to catch the music from the last remaining string.” Needless to say, hope can be experienced in different ways, like our unique reaction to the ringing of a doorbell past midnight.