Saturday, August 11, 2012

Leaning to Learn

My foster brother learned a valuable lesson when he joined the Marines Corps (about thirty-five years ago). He had taken Junior Reserve Officer Training in high school which enabled him to enter the Corps already one rank up. He already knew how to march, clean a rifle, shine his shoes and many other skills that are generally taught in boot camp. However, this step up proved to be a problem because although he could do many things others could not do, he had not learned to listen very well. Consequently, in the first weeks of Boot camp, he lost his rank; but by the end of boot camp he earned it back again.

Taking our spiritual life seriously is in many ways like enlisting in the army. We think we can already do some things well. We think we know basically what our strengths and weaknesses are. We think we know about where we should be, what our inner life should be like.  However, It was (and sometimes is) a painful shock to me when I realize in specific ways that St. Paul's words apply to me: "If anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing as he ought to know it" (1Cor. 8:2). Generally it is only painful confrontation with my own weakness and failure that teaches me that I know nothing as I ought to know it. And once I accept this, I do, somehow, begin to know, really know.

This is one of the profound ironies of Christian life. We painfully realize that we are not who we could or think we should be, but this is the beginning of us becoming who we can and shall be. Like my foster brother in boot camp, we also learn how much we do not know, how much we are not what we think we could or should be in our spiritual journey into the Image of Christ, becoming our true selves. We learn this in a way that is humbling or even humiliating. But if we will accept it, if we will accept that we are false, hypocritical, self righteous, greedy, selfish and not really a Christian (at least as we think a real Christian should be), then we begin to be real Christians. Then we are at the place where real change, real transformation is possible. This is one of the reasons why the Church Fathers put so much emphasis on tears. It is as if our tears are the water that washes our souls. Our hearts are cleansed as we weep over how we have fallen short.

And in this weeping, somehow God comes to us, heals us, helps us, and leads us forward.

By the way, weeping and tears do not always involve actual tears. A wounded heart may weep deeply without necessarily having streams of water pour from the eyes. Sometimes even that connection is wounded.

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