Monday, March 25, 2013

Secular Lessons from Holy Week

This morning, I woke up thinking, I'll write what Palm Sunday has to teach writers and artists.  Then I thought, I think I've already done that.  Sure enough, I wrote that post last year.

It's a good reminder for me.  I spent much of yesterday afternoon feeling sad about past choices.  We made the mistake of looking up real estate trends for our house and our neighborhood.  From there, it's a short, steep, downward spiral to thinking about how much smarter we might have been to move some other neighborhood earlier, or some other geographic location.  And from there, I can launch into self-loathing about jobs I have taken or haven't taken, all the subjects I didn't major in . . . it's a vicious spiral.

My mother would remind me that with the benefit of hindsight, many choices would have been clearer and more logical.  My saner self would remind me that there's more to life than having worldly signs of success.

Here are words from last year:  "The Palm/Passion story reminds us that we're characters in a larger narrative (as does the Passover story, which people across the world will be hearing this week too, both in Jewish traditions and some Christian traditions). We will find ourselves in great danger if we start to believe it's all about us, personally. No, there are larger forces at work. To put it in poetry and Scouting terms: I'm put here to do my best writing, but also, to leave the poetry campsite better than I found it. How do I do that? I work to promote not only myself, but other worthy poets, I work to make sure that the next generations know about the rewards of poetry, I envision the kind of world we would have if poetry was valued, and I work/play to make that possible. I also work to have a balanced, integrated life: my work in poetry cannot be allowed to eclipse other important work: the social justice work, the care of my family and friends, my relationship with the Divine, the other creative work I do, the self-care that must be the foundation of it all."

And here are words from Henri J. M. Nouwen, who wrestled with similar issues that surrounded respect and what he should be doing with his life:  "When we start being too impressed by the results of our work, we slowly come to the erroneous conviction that life is one large scoreboard where someone is listing the points to meausure our worth.  And before we are fully aware of it, we have sold our soul to the many gradegivers.  That means we are not only in the world, but also of the world.  Then we become what the world makes us.  We are intelligent because someone gives us a high grade.  We are helpful because someone says thanks.  We are likable because someone likes us.  And we are important because someone considers us indispensable.  In short, we are worthwhile becaue we have successes" (Show Me the Way:  Readings for Each Day of Lent,  p. 52, originally in Compassion).

How I love Henri Nouwen, and in how many ways.  He's one of those loving Christians, the ones who could give us all a good name, if only more people knew about his theology.

I remember a Pentecost long ago, when my dad and I made a trek to see Henri Nouwen in D.C.  I was at a social justice rally that lasted all week-end, and when my dad found out that Henri Nouwen would be speaking, he came along.  Our politics weren't often similar in those undergraduate school days, but we could agree on the theology of Nouwen.

I should also turn to the lives of my parents for comfort when I find myself spiraling down.  My mom tells me that my dad turned down a promotion here and there because to take it would have meant that he'd be away from the family too much.  And they've managed to secure a decent retirement for themselves, despite years of less income than my dad could have earned had he taken those promotions and my mom could have earned had she not been primarily a mom for so many years.  They're comfortable in their golden years, even though they've had some blows from the real estate market.

Palm Sunday and the Holy Week that follows remind us that even if it looks like we've made all the right choices, even if the world loves us, we may find our lives turned upside down anyway.  We may find ourselves victims of forces--economic, political, historical--we barely understand.

And it's good to remind myself that even as I look at the real estate trends caused by one of the greatest housing collapses of modern times, we have managed to keep our house and meet our obligations.  Not everyone is that lucky.

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