Letting Love Define Us

They say we learn from our mistakes. This happens occasionally, but more often I observe myself procrastinating or making snap judgements about people again and again.

I think twelve-step programs call this powerlessness. The likelihood of willing ourselves to change is low. I recently read an interview with an efficiency expert who basically said that willpower is not really a thing.

As I understand them, the next few of the twelve steps prescribe looking clearly at what one is doing. This process has multiple levels. It means admitting to ourselves that we are the cause of the outcomes we’re experiencing, but it also means seeing past or through our mistakes, seeing them for what they are.

Our failures don’t define us. Only love has the power to name who we are, as Jim Finley says. If we aren’t seeing our limitations clearly—and clarity comes not with the harsh light of judgement but with the gentle illumination of mercy—we might mistake them for our true nature.

We are limited beings, but none of us is a whole unto ourselves, nor are we intended to be. The astonishing variety in this world reflects the infinite nature of God’s one Love in which we belong as an integral part. Concentrating on our faults leads us to create separation rather than living the wholeness that is.

It’s hard in this culture in the midst of failure to see oneself as part of a blessed whole. We can no more will ourselves to see this reality than to make any other change, but we can live as if it is true, we can have faith. We can embrace ourselves with the love and respect due a manifestation of God and one day, as Richard Rohr says, we’ll live ourselves into a new way of thinking.

Recognize the Whole

The Mississippi River begins in Montana in small streams that flow into the Milk River that merges with the Missouri. The Great River starts near Denver; it flows through Pittsburgh. It contains sediment from New Mexico and Texas.

I recently watched a Ken Burns documentary on the Mayo Clinic, a world-renowned medical center located in the small city of Rochester, Minnesota, about seventy miles from the Mississippi. The clinic exists because Mother Mary Alfred Moes of the Sisters of St. Francis received a vision from God to start a hospital.

Map of the Mississippi River Basin by Shannon1 used under CC BY-SA 4.0.

The Mississippi River was formed by the retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet and subsequent glacial melt at the end of the last Ice Age.

As prescribed by the vision, Mother Mary chose William Worrall Mayo to run the sisters’ hospital. Mayo and his two sons, also doctors, practiced patient-centered care. The hospital provided a venue in which they could learn and develop the most successful surgical techniques.

As their skill and success grew, not only patients but also other doctors flowed into Rochester the way tributaries flow into the Mississippi, through a gravitational pull, in this case the pull of healing, knowledge, and expertise.

I find this map of Ol’ Man River so compelling and beautiful because it’s a map of relationship, a map of the continent’s arterial connections. Without the trickles of water high up in the Rocky Mountains or in the Texas panhandle, the mighty Mississippi would not exist. As far as water is concerned, there’s no separation between Wyoming and Louisiana. The entire river system is one whole.

The Mayos, assisted by the sisters, treated the whole person, body and soul. All expertise poured into the central artery of the patient’s health, with multiple medical specialists cooperating to treat one patient in one location. According to the film, this philosophy continues today and has made the Mayo Clinic the exceptional center of groundbreaking medicine that it is.

And so with our communities, our nations, our world. We are all flowing into one another, more liquid than solid, rivers of interconnected experiences. The patient is our shared life on this planet, and if we would bring healing, we must recognize the whole.


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.