VIRTUE AND VICE
Where there is Love and Wisdom, there is neither Fear nor Ignorance.
Where there is Patience and Humility, there is neither Anger nor Annoyance.
Where there is Poverty and Joy, there is neither Cupidity nor Avarice.
Where there is Peace and Contemplation, there is neither Care nor Restlessness.
Where there is the Fear of God to guard the dwelling, there no enemy can enter.
Where there is Mercy and Prudence, there is neither Excess nor Harshness.
St. Francis, The Admonitions, XXVII
[The Message of St. Francis, New York: Penguin Studios, 1999, p. 9]
Peace isn’t something that happens automatically, at least the inner kind. It isn’t mental numbness or the absence of conflict. For me, it’s recognizing my place in this beautiful, broken world – and knowing in my very bones that it’s a beautiful, holy life I’ve been given. Not a perfect life, and not a life lived perfectly; instead, an imperfect self in an imperfect world, perfectly loved by the one who created it all. But this awareness, and living at peace with the rest of the world in all circumstances, takes a kind of effort quite different from almost all of my other endeavors. That’s where Contemplation comes in…
Contemplation is practicing prayer by quieting my thoughts and resting in the truth that I’m not the center of the universe. It is also the experience and awareness of who is the center and boundary of creation. De-centering my small self – the one that insists on everything being about me, my wants, and my needs – is the only way to re-center on what is true and real: God’s sustaining presence. All the little annoyances and worries have no room in this most gracious and profound reality.
This letting go of my limited perspective and my small opinions isn’t easy, but it’s not something that comes from intense effort. It’s unclenching my fists and releasing the stranglehold I have on reality, because it’s not saving me from a tumble as much as it is choking the life out of me. It’s a spiritual truth and an ironic twist of fate that letting go is the hardest (non) work I could attempt. It’s such a simple thing, but it sure isn’t easy.
A de-centered and re-centered life isn’t without difficulties or challenges – they are part of the human condition. But fretful care and spiritual restlessness are things I lose when I no longer require the world to revolve around me.