Monday, February 26, 2018

The Importance of Falling

"Flowers and Thorns"
- in my meditation  garden - 

My wife and I spent this past week visiting our family on the East Coast and during our many extended evening meals we spent time sharing reminiscences of the time our boys were growing up. My eldest son reminded us of the difficulty he encountered in learning how to ride a bike when he was a little boy. He fell off that bike more times than he cared to recall but he also remembered getting up and trying again until he finally had it mastered. In fact he told us that he learned an important life-lesson from his childhood bike-riding experience: you need to fall from time to time in order to grow and thrive.

I’ve been reflecting on that “learning how to ride a bike” wisdom my now-adult son gained as a little child. The fact is that in real life we all need to fail and fall and make mistakes in order to thrive. Learning how to negotiate your way through life is like learning how to ride a bike - you never find your balance unless you have fallen off the bike.

I am very fond of the wisdom of this one line from priest and author, Richard Rohr, found in his book, Falling Upward:

You learn how to recover from falling by falling.

This is never more true than when it is applied to the spiritual journey.

Like many if not most people I was always taught that the spiritual path is a "journey of perfection." God was often portrayed as a demanding "Father.” The rules were clear, there were commandments, laws and obligations, and I was expected to be an obedient son and do what I was told. When I made mistakes, disobeyed the rules and "fell into sin," I was a failure and a disappointment. I have since come to see the folly of such teaching.

Interestingly enough many people still continue to cling to the belief that if you want to be a truly “spiritual” person you need to achieve perfection – the more flawless you are the more spiritual.   In fact, many religious people fear that they are "hypocrites" because they are well aware of their own flaws and acquainted with their darker side and yet they go to church and are recognized as religious people.

As a matter of fact I know plenty of people who keep away from religion or avoid a spiritual path because they don't think they can "make the cut." They believe that they have too many sins, too many secret failures and hidden warts in their lives to dwell among the company of the "righteous" ones. 

This idea of "spiritual perfection" is essentially a myth.    

Human beings are always an interesting mix of shadow and light, beauty and beast. We sometimes are guided by our better angels, but we all also have our demons who walk side by side with us through life.

When I recognize my inevitable faults and failures - those times when I am angry or judgmental, lazy or apathetic, and when I can embrace that part of me, I come to acknowledge that I am not a "cast-away" because of my faults; instead I am a human being, a wonderful blend of painful thorns and beautiful blossoms. Like learning how to ride a bike, my mistakes, failures, sins and faults are not shameful blemishes to be covered over but rather opportunities for growing into greater wisdom and deeper truth.

In one of his epistles Saint Paul wonderfully expresses this great paradox of the spiritual journey:

It is when we are weak that we are strong.

Richard Rohr says something very similar:

We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing right.

On the Christian calendar we are in the midst of the Lenten season. Many people probably think that Lent is a time to “wash away” and eradicate the sinfulness of our lives. I wonder if Lent is actually a time to look at and even embrace our failings and our faults and then see what lessons they may be teaching us?

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