We lose something important, it seems to me, when we learn to stand up and walk and talk.
That thought occurred yesterday…as we worked our way through a spiritual exercise during our Kairos Prison Ministry team meeting. The focus of the meditation: Jeannie Ewing’s marvelous essay “Overcoming Shame Through Faith”. It begins powerfully:
Shame speaks to us on a daily basis: “I’m not good enough.” “I’m not holy enough.” “I’ll never be smart (pretty, skinny, etc.) enough.” “I am a failure,” shame tells us. “Why am I such a loser?” shame asks. Through fear and often frustration through discouragement, shame is one of many subtle and effective tactics that the devil uses to dissuade us from its opposite virtue: obscure faith. When we listen to shame, we believe that we are essentially, inherently, defective. We see sin without grace. We believe in our nothingness without acknowledging God’s greatness.
It’s remarkable to consider how so many of us allow this perception to take hold as our lives unfold.
We don’t start out that way. For that insight, I have my grandson Francis to thank. Not quite old enough to rise and walk and talk on his own, still he knows that he’s good enough. He’s good enough to be loved, unconditionally. You can see it in his eyes.
Yet precious as this child is, it’s not his gift alone. It’s the truth of what each of us is, as a child of God. The great prophet Isaiah makes this point memorably in the first reading we hear at Mass on Sunday:
Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my LORD has forgotten me.”
Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.
God doesn’t forget. But we tend to forget. We learn to walk and talk and stand upright…and before long, we convince ourselves that we’re pretty good at “doing” life on our own. Inevitably, though, we encounter failure…inadequacy…brokenness. And that gives the devil an opening – to introduce us to shame.
The antidote? Jeannie Ewing recommends cultivating what St. John of the Cross called “obscure faith.”
Obscure… ‘because, though it is unclear, it remains certain – in a God who provides for every detail of our lives, in a God who will fulfill the work He has begun in us, in a God whose mercy is always available to us.’
This is much like the message we hear from the lips of Jesus himself in Sunday’s gospel:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Or, as my Kairos teammate put it so beautifully in concluding his meditation yesterday, ‘faith is relaxing into who we truly are, before God.’
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.