Free Redemption, With or Without Coupon

I tend to think redemption requires a lot of effort on my part, but maybe it’s always already present, just waiting to be recognized.

When a sprained ankle ended my backpacking plans, I decided to take the vacation days anyway and hang out at home—my first ever staycation. To ensure the vacation aspect, I told myself no judgment was allowed on the basis of things done or not done. (Note that I didn’t eschew judgment altogether, God forbid.)

The gap between theory and practice was, not surprisingly, rather large. I chose to loop an internal video of returning to work and people asking, “So what did you do?” while I frantically attempted to create answers. After all, they didn’t get the “Terms of Judgment” memo, and clearly these people who genuinely like me will concentrate on finding fault above all else.

Then one day, I took a long drive up the Big Sur coastline with my friend Susan for no other purpose than beauty and joy taking form in nature, friendship, and food. It was a sun-tipped, ocean-clad drive along the cliffs, which put on their most dramatic show in that part of the world. We shared wonderful conversation, and though we had a destination—a restaurant—we relaxed into not having anywhere to be at any particular time.

During the trip I didn’t once think about tasks or the reporting of accomplishments, and when I got home, the whole scenario had lost its power to agitate me.

Redemption is as easy and accessible as enjoying a beautiful day. Redemption is not about suffering; it is about the transformation of suffering into joy. It is not earned; it is available. It is not coming; it is already taken care of.

I don’t know why sometimes we enter into it without effort and sometimes it appears elusive. Perhaps we can only recognize it when we stop trying to make it happen and accept it as gift.

All That’s Happening

On Tuesday morning, after a long weekend of mostly solitude—more Netflix-watching solitude than holiness-in-a-cave solitude—I remembered to pray that my day’s work would contribute to the incarnation of God, an idea found in the Camaldoli oblate rule. The prayer reminded me that even while doing my job, I exist not primarily to get things done but rather to manifest God’s presence in the world.

Then on Wednesday I forgot all about it. As a friend said recently, imperfection is a…pain.

But imperfection is part of the deal, part of life, part of the practice. “Enter your practice until all of life is your practice,” Jim Finley says. What exactly are we practicing? Finley again: “Assuming the stance with the least resistance to being overtaken by God.” Because all that’s ever really happening is union with God, though we spend most of our lives not-so-blissfully unaware.

I’m not saying that there’s nothing more important than our relationship with the Divine; I’m saying that there’s nothing else period. Everything belongs to that relationship, as Richard Rohr often says. All the intractable limitations that I mistakenly think define me—they are part of the practice.

I don’t know how to include hatred and violence in this reality of belonging. Including them is not an argument for their continuation, but change doesn’t happen by exclusion; it happens by engagement. Plenty of terrible things we wish didn’t exist do, both internally and externally. How can we welcome actions and situations that are so clearly wrong?

Perhaps it helps to see that the most violent places are the hurting places, to know that, to one extent or another, every human being carries a wound. Physical wounds don’t heal by ignoring them, and neither will spiritual ones. Maybe we can grant our most difficult moments the same grace I attempted to grant my work, the possibility of being the presence of God in the world. Maybe that’s how healing happens. Maybe that’s redemption.

Joining Wholeness

Donna Eden, an energy medicine practitioner, says that when you’re depressed, energy isn’t flowing. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, says that we are created to be conduits of the flow of divine love. And journalist and author Courtney Martin says that just to show up as a whole person is rebellion in our society.

A whole person, I think, is paradoxically one who is willing to admit she spends plenty of time being a lousy conduit. This is harder than it seems.

A couple of days this week all I could do after work was crawl into bed, not because I was tired but because I couldn’t seem to face anything. The next morning, I thought about what a whole person might be and said to myself, I’m just going to be honest if someone asks me how I am. I’ll say, “It’s been a rough week” or “Not that great.”

Spoiler alert: I completely failed. Not only did I continue to say, “Good” or “Fine,” but also instead of loving or honoring this lack of flow, I complained, that is, I tried to put the whole experience outside myself.

Sometimes we need to talk to trusted friends about something that’s bothering us. The release that comes with sharing is important and is built into us as humans. But this was something else.

My mom and I recently saw a fantastic production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame at La Mirada Theater. In it, the bad guy is bad because he has the wrong idea about wholeness. He thinks it means to be perfectly pure, and so he convinces himself that he is, which has rather disastrous consequences for everyone, himself included.

In trying to follow a purity code, we attempt to create wholeness when God’s already got that bit under control. Our role is to join in, not to control it or make it over in our image because, among other reasons, our image tends to be a smidgeon self-centered and so rarely includes our failings.

Parker Palmer talks about a “hidden wholeness beneath the very evident brokenness of our world.” This wholeness, Rohr would say, can use our mistakes, our stuck times. They’re not separate; they’re part of the whole—that’s redemption.

And it’s there, even on the days all we can do is crawl into bed.

Note: This post needs some citations:
Energy Medicine for Women by Donna Eden
Daily meditations by Richard Rohr based on his new book, The Divine Dance
An On Being podcast with Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin recorded at a PopTech conference

And if you’re anywhere remotely near L.A., I highly recommend seeing The Hunchback of Notre Dame.