In my extensive summer reading I particularly enjoyed Jesus Today, a book written by South African Albert Nolan, who gives a refreshingly non-US/Euro slant to his reflections on what it means to follow in Jesus’ Way.
There was much I appreciated about the book and one of the things that stood out, and seems important for ongoing work with the inner child, is how Jesus’ preferred model for the disciples to imitate is that of the child. Albert notes that Jesus pointed several times to the qualities of childlikeness – humility, curiosity, trust, wonder, playfulness, joy – as key to being able to receive, enter and belong in the kingdom of heaven. It seems unlikely to me that we might access the childlike qualities Jesus values and commends to his disciples without first accepting the child within.
Another aspect of the book that may be helpful here is the way that Albert insightfully articulates the significance of the difference between curing and healing. Curing is quick and discreet – as in, it’s focussed – a physical or mental illness is ‘fixed’, while healing is holistic, taking in social and relational, emotional and psycho-spiritual aspects. Healing is also fluid in that it flows on, rippling both further out and deeper in, and because of that healing is also a journey – an unfolding – a creative process that does not follow a programme or formula.
And there’s a similarly helpful kind of distinction made between a conversion experience, decision or commitment and the social and personal transformation which Jesus’ preaching and teaching describe, and which he invites us to and challenges us with.
It seems to me that for the most part Christianity is both perceived and offered as a convert and cure kind of religion rather than a healing and transformational journey of faith.
Conversion and cure are the quick fixes for your soul’s final and eternal destination and your body’s limited and temporary discomfort.
Healing and transformation, however, require some participation, some willingness to do the work with God instead of expecting that all the heavy lifting will be done for or to you. Healing and transformation are both personal and social because they are based in the holistic perspective that we are all essentially interconnected and nothing – no thing – is separate. At all. In any way. Every thing is inextricably connected with every other thing. It’s all part of the wonderful mystery of Being.
The transformational journey, then, is slow and acceptance is one of the foundational qualities.
Acceptance is healing and it ripples both further outward and deeper inward…
We touched on self-compassion in the last post, as this is the practice of acceptance at ground zero, and each time we engage in a meditation practice we are exercising the steadfast commitment to accept that we are accepted.
Because of the popularity of Anselm’s 11th Century theory of ‘original’ sin Western Christianity’s perception of what it means to be human carries a sour undercurrent of ….well…corruption, vileness, detestableness. That means instead of understanding ourselves as human and in essence good but with a built in propensity to fuck things up (thank you to Francis Spufford for that concise explanation of sin), Christians from the Western arm of the tradition are trained to think of ourselves as essentially bad and wrong in a fundamental, ground of our being way.
This makes accepting that God accepts you really, really hard. Because why? Why would God love something so unlovely? So despicable?
So – good news! The doctrine of original sin was never incorporated in the Eastern arm of the Christian tradition. There are millions of Christians who have never been taught that they have inherited a fatal flaw that renders them detestable to God. And – more good news! The ancestral faith of Christianity, Judaism, offers very little of anything to support Anselm’s doctrine either. Just because it’s been around a long time doesn’t mean it’s true.
Want to know more/read more/think more on this? You can start with Richard Rohr’s useful summary and context here.
Staying with it
The human propensity to bolt when we hurt is not to be underestimated, and the doctrine of original sin is hurtful. I would venture to say abusive. There. Said it. If you need to work through letting go of that as a foundational belief, then it’s going to be uncomfortable for a while until the hooks lose their grip on you.
Staying still with that kind of hurt is counter intuitive – we want to move away from it, fix it, have it taken away from us (sound familiar?) Resisting discomfort is natural, but in the end it is unhelpful and it’s only by staying present with ourselves as we are no matter what comes up – falling apart, falling asleep, aching bones, acute boredom – that we develop steadfast loyalty to being present to our experience with acceptance. When the nakedness of being present feels overwhelming, gentle acceptance helps us stay with it.
You can ease into this with an embodied practice. Begin your prayer meditation time with an attentive sweep through the body starting with the top of your head and moving your awareness down through each part. When you come to places that are tense or hurting, you can pause and breathe slowly for three or four breaths. Offer acceptance….Hello tension. Recognising tension, you may find you release…..Hello discomfort. Recognising pain you may find it easing or changing. Either way, awareness with acceptance is not resisting or judging or blaming. You can let that body awareness go once you have reached your feet, moving into whatever your usual practice is.
Acceptance can be fun! The lightness of simple humour offers another doorway into acceptance. Sometimes mischievous delight eases the restlessness that can feel so disorientating when you have come to sit in stillness and stillness becomes a challenge.
Humour can also come to your rescue when you catch yourself being overly earnest, or when you recognise the signs of Taking Myself And My Opinions About Things Too Seriously….Raised the pitch of your voice? Withdrawn into your shell and taken your voice with you? Sensing the ‘gut reaction’ of anger that rallies to defence, justification, accusation? What’s your tell?
Once you have observed and identified how you get caught up in being too serious about your small self, you’ll have a clue about how best to lighten your grip on your convictions or make fun of yourself for getting caught in the story/drama. “Oops I did it again!” offers gentle kindness as you unlearn old patterns and start to make paths in new directions.
One of the childlike qualities that often exasperates adult caregivers is the constant questioning and the capacity to be utterly absorbed by the apparently mundane and repetitive. What did you love to get lost in when you were a child? What did you find fascinating? (you might have been scolded for staring/dawdling/collecting and organising). It might help you recover this if you write the following three sentence starters at the top of three pages and then give each of them 6-10 endings:
When I was five years old, if I recall how the world seemed.... If I recall how my body felt.... When I felt excited I...
Whatever you remember being engaged by as a child, give yourself permission to go back to it and reconnect with the wonder…maybe you choose collect snail shells and grade them by size or organise them into a nature mandala….maybe you go to the library and sit in the children’s section and read whatever looks interesting….perhaps you practice enjoying movement and dance, or buy some playdough and spend an evening sculpting dinosaurs? You might want to do this alone, but maybe you wonder best with company?