Friday, November 23, 2012

Far from simple

Politics, religion, and just plain everyday life intrigue me for their lack of simplicity. Wouldn't it be nice if politicians just served their people..... if religious leaders just lived holy lives of prayer .... and if your friends never ever betrayed you or let you down?   I've been thinking about the complexity of things in the real world of people. Another word you might use to describe that world is contradictory. Or perhaps hypocritical. In the end, it is messy. It gets that way every day before coffee, and yes we contribute to it.

So it was, an article with the 'm' word in it caught my eye  -  "Life is often messy - just like a good biography" by Jim Coyle (Toronto Star, Nov 18, 2012). He was talking about the enterprise of biography writing. His jump off point was the biography of General Petraeus by Paula Broadwell.  Needless to say, a story meant to be pretty straightforward became very complex - messy. This apparently is what emerges in the biography writing business, though the author does not often become part of the story as in this case. Mr. Coyle writes: "Mere mortals are seldom as simply heroic as presented. Life is about relationships. Relationships involve other people. They can get messy. And even heroes do astonishingly selfish, self-destructive, seemingly irrational things. A fully realized biography should reveal humanity in ways becoming and otherwise, as it exists in all of us. In the process, it should usually evoke conflicting reactions."

"As it exists in all of us." Indeed.

I think Ignatius Loyola had that in mind when he wrote the Spiritual Exercises. The underlying assumption is that no matter who we are, we humans are frail and complex on good days, and a mass of contradictions on other days. All of this is played out in relationships, wherein we leave those who know us and love us, standing breathless watching our antics. Didn't St. Paul ever nail it: 'I fail to do the things I want to do, and I do the things I do not want to do."

Never mind the way we confuse other people. What must it be like in our relationship with our God? God has to watch us go all over the map while we say we want to honour him, want to do things in his name, want to come home to him one day.

So Ignatius has that intriguing meditation image of two camps in the distance (I keep coming back to this image, it is a good one). One camp flies the standard (or banner or flag) of our Saviour, one flies the standard of the false or evil spirit.  Both leaders want dominion over the world. The meditation is on the deceits used by Satan who will lead us to destruction; and on the gentleness of God who invites us to follow him to the home he has prepared for us.

Such a meditation would never have had to be written if everything were simple for people who want peace and holiness in this life, and unending joy that awaits us in the next. But things aren't simple. God knows that, and just keeps inviting us. Will never withdraw the invitation. Gave us his Son to lead, to give us another chance, and to reassure.

All in all a very good offer in a world whose messiness we help to create. A very good shot in the arm for us in a world where we might despair of ever getting it right. The thing is, we won't. Jim Coyle got this part right: biographies are messy. Even ours. They will remain that way. 

But I will add a footnote to Mr. Coyle's reflections. Relationships are indeed where it is all played out. Listen to Christ calling us. That relationship, if we choose to enter it, anchors all the others. The messiness remains but is not a problem. Our hope is in the banner over the Saviour's camp. I'm in.