Recovering the Inner Life

Jewish Children with their Teacher in Samarkan...

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“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.”  – Paul, Romans 12:2

Awhile ago  Dr. Phil broadcast a show on the prevalence of cheating in our school systems and beyond. I was fascinated by his conversation with one young woman who was very open and clearly pained by her own cheating. Why did she do it? No new revelations: she felt enormous pressure to achieve a high standing in her class and all the awards that were signs of success (straight A’s, Honor Society, varsity letters, class president, etc. etc.) Those things defined success for her. They defined her as a worthy or an unworthy person. Achieving those markers had become more important to her than her character, or real learning. So she cheated to gain an edge, to get what she believed she needed.

Her self image, her self esteem, had become defined by these things which have very little to do with who she is. She defined herself by things outside of herself, and in comparison to others. She looked very successful, but in fact was very unhappy.

The truth is that she is far from alone. Studies show that most people cheat in business, sports, etc. as adults also cheated in High School. Cheating is more common and on the rise. The reasons are essentially the same: the thing I believe I need has become more important to me than character, integrity, or the quality of what I am doing.

I write this, not to rant on cheating or cheaters, but to notice one sign that our culture tends to be very externally directed, defining life and what is good, by things that we get or have. It tends to let go of the important world of our inner lives. Even though we know better, at some level we come to believe that happiness, success, etc. is more about what we have and less about who we are.

So, people are driven to get the newest gadget, the next car, the next promotion, to go on the next more exotic vacation. People, even cultures, become rich in things, as Jesus taught, and impoverished in spirit. That we become angry, reactive, and aggressive, even violent, is no surprise. That developing deep, life long committed relationships is very difficult, is no surprise. That addiction is epidemic is no surprise.

The apostle Paul, like every great spiritual teacher, points in a different direction: who we are is enormously more important than what we have. Happiness is an inner capacity, not an external achievement. Paul writes very clearly that we are not to be conformed to the patterns around us, but are to be transformed, renewed in mind and spirit. We are to let the Spirit work on us and in us, to renew our inner lives, our minds and hearts. That renewal will transform us, so that we can then know what is good, and experience life as God would have it for us.

The key that opens this lock is not outside of us, but inside of us. The things that lead to deep and joyful life are things like compassion, generosity, a peaceable spirit, personal integrity, the capacity to forgive, the capacity to love.

Spiritual teachers speak about the value of having less, and not getting addicted to the need for more, the beauty of the ordinary, the power of serving others. Spiritual teachers speak about the infinite value of who we are before God, and the relative unimportance of what we have, or how we might impress our neighbors.

As we enter this new year, what will you do that will focus on your spiritual growth and maturity? What will you do that will open your spirit to the very Spirit of God? Will you be conformed to the culture that would have you get more, newer, bigger, faster things? Will you listen to Paul who advises us to take a different path?

I think Emerson said it best: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. “

Pastor Bill

(Source of Emerson quote: http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/2160.html)

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8 thoughts on “Recovering the Inner Life

  1. Speaking of cheating, Pastor Bill, I so often cheat myself by not going deep enough within to find the truth about my propensities to want more and more. I want to glaze over it or look at someone else.

    Thank you for a poignant post – with perfect timing!

  2. Thanks for a most enjoyable post! I agree with everything you’ve said and realise how important it is NOT to measure success on materialistic things – especially if those things have not been earned honourably. It is so true that we cannot take those things with us anyway.

    This post reminded me of one of my Haiku’s – please take a look if you have the time:
    http://chloerichmond.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/self-belief/

    Have a great day!
    Chloe xx

  3. Its very difficult to not fit in. What? You don’t want a Lambo, a mansion, and world travel for months on end? What’s wrong with you?

    Not have sex outside of marriage?
    Not remarry?
    Give the first 10% even though you can’t afford to live on what you’re bringing home?
    Not work on Sunday? Oh wait, its really supposed to be Saturday…

    Its all very difficult in this world.

    I know I’m happier without all the stuff. I don’t even have television – and I like it just fine. I don’t need a 700 inch TV, or be be hooked to the world 24×7 on my superduper cell phone, or to have the latest Pandora bracelet, or to eat or drink myself silly. People look at me like I’m an alien.

    I just hope that I can be an example of the life that’s possible without all the trappings.

    Did that rambling make any sense at all?

  4. Well done.

    Personal opinion: In Christianity I think we need renewal. We need to revisit Meister Eckhart, Hildegard, and others of their ilk. Especially Eckhart. Then we will renew ourselves in the light of our great, refined, and profound mystical tradition. Without the breath of Spirit we are dry.If we do this, inner life will become important again and our values will readjust. Just a thought.

    I’d love to see you explore Eckhart. Think you would do it beautifully.

    Thank you for your very kind birthday wishes on my blog and your kindness in taking time to visit, read and comment. My world is richer because of you.

    After many, many weeks in bed, I have rejoined the living and will be a more frequent visitor.

    In gratitude,
    Jamie

    • Hi Jamie,

      I think you are right. My biggest struggle and personal dissonance as a pastor is between my desire for depth spirituality, and the demands of the work which tend to be other than that. I fantasize about becoming a kind of Buddhist-Quaker. I am now getting back into reading Thomas Merton. I’ve picked up a copy of his journals. I am also gong to reread Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Notes from Prison. I am finding that I appreciate the journals and letters more than I do the more abstract systematics or explicitly theological writings. I do have one book by Eckhart. I may try a few others. I’ve been touching base with Julian of Norwich again.

      Glad to hear you are back on your feet. I hope things continue to go well.

      Bill

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