August 10, 2019
by Kyle Lierk
Creighton University's Campus Ministry
click here for photo and information about the writer

Feast of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr
Lectionary: 618

2 Corinthians 9:6-10
Psalms 112:1-2, 5-6, 7-8, 9
John 12:24-26

Praying Ordinary Time

An invitation to make the
Online Retreat

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

Rediscovering Corporal Works of Mercy

Lying in bed one night recently reviewing our day together, my wife read me a quote she had come across.  It went something like this:  “The central problem is not that you think too highly of yourself.  Nor is it that you think too lowly of yourself.  Instead, it is that you think constantly of yourself.”  (Wu-Hsin)  In one simple expression, the words articulated a challenge I find myself facing every day (not to mention every hour!) -- management of the ego.  I am not a psychologist, so I won’t attempt to describe the textures and contours of the ego and how it functions; but as a student of the human experience, I have had more than enough time to study and observe this very real part of my human condition.  Not only this, but I have found that the tug-of-war match between listening to my ego and listening to God or my heart is constantly going on...and it is exhausting!

Thankfully, spiritual teachers and mystics provide clear, and sometimes quippy, directives on how to let go of the taut rope so the ego goes stumbling out of the picture in order to direct my gaze fully toward God.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus wraps this message in a metaphor that surely would have made even more sense to his contemporaries living in an agrarian culture than it does to us urbanites today:

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; 
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.  (JN 12:24)

When the ego is in charge, death or surrender or even abounding generosity feel threatening.  The ego much prefers fear, anxiety and control.  Our consumerist, capitalist culture has certainly made heaps of profit on this!  The message goes something like, “Wear/buy/eat/drive this (fill in the blank) and you will be happier!”  Jesus is completely flipping this on its head when he tells us that abundance comes not from control or consumption, but from letting go and allowing ourselves to be consumed (by God’s love).

The sufi mystic Rabi’a al-Basri said something similar to Jesus in the 8th century‚Ķ

Ironic, but one of the most intimate acts
of our body is

So beautiful appeared my death -- knowing who then I would kiss,
I died a thousand times before I died.

“Die before you die,” said the Prophet Muhammad.

Have wings that feared ever 
touched the sun?

I was born when all I once feared -- I could love.

She is saying in an equally poetic and powerful way what Jesus is saying.  “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”  (JN 12:25)  

Alas, the tug-of-war match goes on.  That said, I continue relying on practices of Centering Prayer, a devotion to the Sacred Heart, deeply listening to the human in front of me, and being for and with others as tangible ways to resist the temptation to frustratingly flail at the other end of the ego’s rope so that, instead, I might free fall into the deep end of God’s radiance.

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