Recently I popped in to Sister Barb’s office for a quick chat and maybe a bite of chocolate. As I scanned her bookshelf, this title jumped out at me: What is the Point of Being a Christian? A rather bold question, I thought, and asked to borrow the book. As I’ve gleaned so far, the answer, according to Dominican Friar Timothy Radcliffe, is Life and Freedom. He says the Christian should have a certain air of mysterious freedom that attracts people. The Christian who is truly alive lives and speaks with authenticity, hope and courage.
These words challenged me. As often happens, the season of Advent found me in the spiritual doldrums, not feeling very much alive at all. Sometimes I even wondered, ‘What is the point of being a Benedictine monastic?’ Does a person need to live in a monastic community to become free? Of course not. But for me, too weak to withstand the forces of our consumerist entertainment culture and still imprisoned by heartaches of the past, life in community holds my feet to the fire as I profess to seek God. And yet, Benedictine life in no way guarantees a path to freedom. I still have my free will with which to counter God’s loving invitation. My personal struggle becomes both harder and easier as time passes.
Harder because I encounter the more entrenched stubbornness of my will, the parts of myself that demand that previous injustices be righted once and for all. In my stubbornness I refuse to truly accept that the past is past in order to imagine a future, which is present now, that contains all the justice I will ever need. That stubbornness is deep and hard; it takes time and patience to ‘loosen the soil of my certainties,’ to borrow a phrase from Ivone Gebara, to soften my resistance to truth and growth.*
Easier because I’m familiar with the tricks of my ego, the voices that tell me If only this person could see; if only that person would listen; and How can I live so comfortably and think that I’m doing any good in this world? I need to find a real way to serve. In my weakness, I distract myself from these thoughts with movies, reading, and snacking, but all the while there is also a still, small voice assuring me that God is with me even as I determinedly stomp further away from God. I know that when I’m ready, God is there, patiently welcoming my return.
On the spiritual journey, we usually receive the message that’s needed at the right time. For me, the reminder that being a Christian means being free and truly alive is a message I needed to hear. As a wise woman once asked me, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to live?” Following Jesus is the way to life. Can you imagine Jesus standing before Pilate, insisting that his Truth be declared publicly? He still would have been crucified, but neither he nor anyone else would have been set free. So, in this season of new beginnings, when the Lord asks, Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days? (RB Prologue 15), let me commit myself once more with a resounding Yes, here I am.
*Longing for Running Water: Ecofeminism and Liberation, Ivone Gebara, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1999, page 30.