Between Two Worlds Day 12 (of 40)
I remember very clearly the complaint by members of a congregation that I served over twenty years ago: “The young people are selfish. It’s all me, me, me.” Of course I was one of those young people and I wasn’t sure that the criticism had any legs. I actually admitted to this group that I did think a lot about what “I” wanted, but that I didn’t think that it meant that I was necessarily selfish.
“I really wanted to be a minister and preach sermons that brought healing, grace and inspiration to people. I really wanted to sit with people in the final weeks of their lives and walk with grieving families. I really wanted to create glue between people that honored our diversity, our common bonds and reflected the best of what it meant to live in spiritual community.”
It is true that there is a lot of ME, ME, ME in those statements. But there is a lot of service as well.
Months later I discovered a book that talked about the difference in generational cultures. One chapter named exactly what had happened between those church members and me. They were part of the WWII generation that practiced and promoted a self-denial ethic; I was part of the Baby Boomer generation that had adopted a self fulfillment ethic.
I write this because I think it has something to do with the shift toward religious mysticism that is showing up in our culture (in fact, I think much of the shift is happening beyond our religious institutions rather than in our religious institutions). I have a hunch that the WWII generation saw the “self” as competing with the common good. I mean, really, who would choose to go to war if there wasn’t an appeal to put aside one’s personal ambitions for the good of country? Service to a cause larger than oneself requires a little bit of self-less-ness, right?
Mystics would say, “Not so fast!” Mystics would not argue with committing to a cause larger than ourselves, but might take issue with the definition of the self itself. Mystics try to clear the clutter of the more shallow self away in order to honor a deeper Self that they believe is God-infused. Rather than try to tame the “passions of the flesh” as the apostle Paul often advocated, mystics actually trust those deeper passions. Mystics listen for the subtle yearnings, desires and wants of the soul and take those as clues that lead to honoring the Divine Presence within us.
I have often wondered if that conversation I had years ago was just an inability to translate between two different languages. My friendly, but pointed accusers insisted that one had to deny the self in order to serve humanity. I didn’t have the words back then, but today I would say that I serve humanity in order to satisfy and fulfill my deepest Self. One wants to deny the self in order to serve a God who exists outside of humanity; the other looks to the Self in order to discover and manifest the God who resides in humanity. Both end up believing in committing one’s life and energies to a cause much larger than our “little” selves.
Isn’t it possible that we are just walking through two different doors to get to the same room?