Well, I’m stuck. I cannot seem to get out what I want to say. In my head echoes the promise that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness. Right now the only thing made perfect is my perfect weakness. Sometimes reflections just flow easily. Other days are, well, more like hardened molasses. This is one of those days.
So, I’m going to get out of the way and share some of Jim Finley’s teaching on Thomas Merton that helps me begin to see, in some tiny way, the invitation hidden in this promise. Merton was Jim’s novice master for several years at the monastery. While he “doesn’t remember 98% of what Merton said, he will always remember who he was.” Jim shares his experience: “…sitting in his presence either this man was crazy–and I’ll take crazy any day–or God is a reality.”
A master is one in whose presence you experience the reality of God and of the rich beauty of everything, including yourself. But the master isn’t perfect. Far from it. In fact, he or she limps. But the master is not in the least concerned by their limp, it’s only a limp after all. So, too, the master may be afraid or confused or weak, as much or more than you, but the master knows these things are not the point. They do not have the power to name us or define us. They are only fears or confusion or weaknesses after all; why give them so much power?
I yearn to live like this–to be set free from preoccupation with my weaknesses – which is different from saying I won’t continue to faithfully work on them. I desire to live fully trusting in the truth that my fears, my confusion, my mistakes and my frailty truly have no power over me, to define me or shame me. I yearn to see clearly this truth in those around me, and to create spaces for all people to live in this way.
Long ago and far away I learned how to fly a small plane. Although I stopped just shy of getting my license, I did log 40 hours, flying solos, even going cross country to other parts of the state by myself. It was exciting and beautiful and occasionally a bit nerve-wracking, especially the landing.
Jim recalls a study done by professional sky divers. That the novices measure increasing levels of fear at each step that brings them closer to the point of jumping out of the plane. Their fear continues all the way to the ground. Experienced jumpers, however, don’t register any fear until just before they land. After all, why ruin a perfectly good jump when it’s only landing on the ground that could be the problem?
Masters have learned how to live unafraid of the landing because they trust God all the way through, even as Jesus taught and lived. Not that there won’t be fear, pain, suffering and weakness but that these won’t ever have the last word. The only way to learn how to live this way, Merton and Finley say, is by falling over and over again and by learning along the way that we can live in the flow that is our life without giving authority to anything but the love of God to hold all things, including us–and our reflections.
Hope to see you Sunday,