Leaving Room for Grace The Blessings of Imperfection Craig C. Roshaven Delivered July 14, 1996 at First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church 1959 Sandy Lane; Fort Worth, TX, 76112 We live in a world which keeps telling us we need more, more, more... We need this soap or that car or that music. Those of us who drink beer are about to be convinced that we don't need just beer, we need fresh beer. In what Newsweek described "as the oldest trick in marketing: "Create a need then answer it." Anheuser-Busch, the nation's biggest brewer, starting this week will label each can and bottle of Bud with a birth date and a warning to drink up before 110 days. This is just one small example of how marketing works. We used to go to the store to get what we needed. Now, thanks to the success of such marketing tricks, we go to see what we need. Marketers are always helping me discover needs I didn't know I had. Everything is new and improved. Whether it is $100+ tennis shoes to tennis rackets to clothes, the American economy depends on our susceptibility to new needs we didn't know we had. I can laugh at those foolish souls who need to buy the latest designer tennis shoes, but I shouldn't laugh too heartily for I know I'm not immune. I know that when I read computer magazines I will soon become dissatisfied with my present computer and yearn for today's new and improved model. I also know it wasn't that long ago when my present computer seemed to meet all my needs. I know that I'm just as likely as anyone else to look wistfully and longingly over the fence at the greener grass on the other side. I know that comparing myself to others unfailingly leads me into feeling either smug or wanting, yet, despite this knowledge, I still find that I compare myself to others. Our pace of life has increased. More of us are working longer hours and more families with young children have both parents working outside the home. It is tempting to imagine that we must work longer and harder just to keep up, but the reality is that it takes more to satisfy us than it took to satisfy our parents. It wasn't so long ago that a family would feel satisfied about a home of 1,500 square feet and one car. Nobody builds 1,500 square feet homes anymore. And, can you even imagine, getting by on just one car? Dishwashers, microwaves, bigger kitchens and refrigerators, two-car garages, 2.5 baths, separate bedrooms for each child: today, many take all these amenities for granted. Our children are busier. Soccer, drama, summer camp, scouts. One of the most time-consuming aspects of being a parent is shuttling the kids from one activity to another. But, yet...despite all these material advances, despite all the opportunities for enrichment and recreation we now enjoy, despite the pleasures of fresh beer, we are not happy. More of us are depressed or anxious, more of us are addicted to drugs or alcohol or sex, more of us feel threatened by crime and violence. Like Mick Jagger complained so many years ago, We "can't get no satisfaction." Did you ever have an itch that wouldn't go away? An itch, that the more you scratched, the more it itched? I feel that way about my urge to consume, to have, to do, to get, to buy. It seems like the more I have the more I want. Madison avenue just keeps getting better at making us itch and we keep scratching and scratching and scratching. When I was younger, I was limited as to how much I could buy by the fact that I ran out of money. But, nowadays, I'm not sure whether it's because I earn more or if it's because banks have gone crazy, everyone is offering to help me keep scratching my itch by giving me credit! Every week I receive several offers in the mail or on the phone to get another credit card! We live in a time of isolation and fear. We don't know our neighbors and we are frightened and discouraged by the string of disasters reported on the evening news and the front page. We are frustrated and discouraged by the difficulties and challenges of our institutions. We are cynical about politicians and the media and we can readily sympathize with the comic character of Dilbert, the corporate everyman, who sadly but wisely observes, "It's obvious you won't survive by your wits alone." We often feel that we can't win. Indeed, I believe we can't win because the game isn't designed for us. The purpose of the American dream as presented today is not to help us lead happy, productive lives. The purpose is keep us spending money. We are like hamsters on a wheel in a cage--frantically running for all we're worth-- convinced that since we're moving so fast we must be getting somewhere. But it's all an illusion. We're told again and again and again--buy more, have more, do more--this is the way to self- fulfillment. It's a lie! I can only be fulfilled by being much, not by having much or doing much. I am a human being--not a human doing. This is the central truth of what has been called the perennial philosophy-the core truth of all the great religions. Fulfillment comes from seeking wisdom and wholeness instead of pursuing worldly goods and acclaim. Wisdom and wholeness come from focusing on being instead of having. Fulfillment comes when we turn away from the false promises of the secular world and turn instead to the wisdom of the sages. I have been and still am often tempted by what passes for conventional wisdom: that fulfillment depends on money and status and having my heart's desire. I am not immune from the dominant message of our culture. But I have found that what helps me turn away from the glitter and the hype are the classic spiritual disciplines of meditation, prayer, and contemplation. I have found that I need to set aside time to be mindful, to reflect. I need to stop--to slow down--to, in the words of the poet, Walt Whitman, "To loaf and invite my soul." I need the discipline of a spiritual practice to help me become centered and whole. In the words of the Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen, "Through a spiritual discipline we prevent the world from filling our lives to such an extent that there is no place left to listen." I use several classical spiritual disciplines to give myself the space I need listen. The standard discipline of meditation with its technique of counting breaths is one I use often. I simply count to ten and begin again. If I become distracted and lose count, I simply begin again with one. The purpose of counting is to help me be here now, to, in the words of the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, "be mindful." Focusing all my attention on my breathing helps me avoid thinking about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow. I have learned that I can use this method of centering myself even at odd moments and in odd places: sitting in the dentist's chair, walking from place to place, or anytime I am required to wait. Another method I use to center myself is prayer. Again, I've discovered that I can pray at odd times and odd places just as well as I can in church on Sunday morning. The qualities I pray for include serenity, insight, understanding, and self-acceptance. I understand the purpose of my prayer to be the transformation of myself rather than the transformation of others. Another method I use is affirmation. An affirmation is a positive statement about myself and others that I repeat to myself. An affirmation doesn't describe the world as it is so much as it describes the world that could be. I use the same affirmation everytime. The presence of God surrounds me. The love of God unfolds me. The power of God flows through me. Wherever I am, God is, and all is well. Finally, I find it helpful to read wisdom literature, writings from sacred traditions and spiritual leaders such as Thich Nhat Hanh or Meister Eckhart. A wonderful source of such literature is a book called God in All Worlds: An anthology of contemporary spiritual writings. It's edited by Lucinda Vardey and contains an unusually wide assortment of spiritual wisdom grouped in the following broad categories: Quest, revelation, trials, and awe. Contributors include Krishnamurti, Thomas Merton, Vaclav Havel, Martin Buber, Hans Kung, and the Dalai Lama. I find that reading just a few selections a day helps me remember that wealth and status are not the keys to fulfillment. One of the recent insights I've gained is the importance of being unfulfilled. I've realized that I'm always going to feel unfulfilled, I'm always going to feel at least a little empty and unsatisfied. That is the human condition. It has been said, "One's reach will always exceed one's grasp, else what's a heaven for?" To be human is to be both blessed and cursed with the gift of consciousness and imagination. Our self-awareness gives us the ability to recognize how we are isolated and alone as well as how we are connected and a part of. Our imagination gives us the ability to envision perfection, a perfection we can never achieve. As a result, I am always going to feel incomplete, I can always imagine how it could be while at the same time I am aware of what is. I am imperfect. I am inevitably imperfect. An imperfect creature that, nonetheless, is capable of imagining perfection, only to find it forever beyond my reach. I can attempt to complete myself by having much, by winning the acclaim of others, by attempting to satisfy all my appetites. But that is the way of emptiness. That is the way of the many, the broad and easy path, the path that leads nowhere and to nothing. But there is another path, a narrow path, the path to which many are called, but which few follow, the path that leads to wholeness and integrity, the path of wisdom, the path of grace. I cannot find my way to that path by own lights. All I can do is turn away from the clamoring voices and the bright lights of Vanity Fair and faithfully, patiently wait for the way to the Celestial City to be revealed. By turning away from the false promises, by not trying to fill my emptiness with things, by being at peace with my imperfection, by tolerating my inevitable emptiness, I leave room for grace,the blessing of imperfection. It's only when I accept my impefection that I am graced with the gifts of fulfillment and peace and serenity and love, gifts that come from some source greater than myself.
Leaving Room for Grace The Blessings of Imperfection Craig C. Roshaven Delivered July 14, 1996 at First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church 1959 Sandy Lane; Fort Worth, TX, 76112