Raw Material of the Spirit

The funeral, which was planned for this Saturday has been postponed until next Saturday. This is both a blessing in that if frees up this week, which otherwise would have been very intense, and it brings it’s own complications of time and space and other commitments that need to be cancelled. Life is full.

So this morning I am back to my routine, my daily effort to begin each day with some time in prayer and reflection followed by exercise. Chapter nine of “Called to Question” focuses on the self, or rather the “Self.” Chittister writes,

“Whatever the now-current science of personal development may theorize, the fact remains that the self is all we have. It is the raw material of the spiritual life.”

Chittister is very careful to define the self as our most authentic core being which is deeply connected too and, or yearning for, God. It’s not the self we might recognize when we look in the mirror.

“It is not the world with which we wrestle; it is the self that is the antagonist in our lives. The cry of the restless self is the cry for the God beyond the little gods we fashion along the way.”

Every time I have been swept up by notions of grandiosity, because I did something that would make me “look” better I denied my authentic self. No doubt that some things I do move me up the “ladder” of success. But I no longer look for the next strategic move that will do this intentionally. Every effort along those lines has failed, because I took positions or served in ways that were not authentic to the growth I needed. I suffocated. Perhaps this was so because ultimately my inner, spiritual self was too restless to settle for anything less than life-giving work.

 “Self is what enables us to refuse to settle down, in love with the mediocre, satisfied with banal, because the self is always on its way to somewhere else. Self is the seeker within. Even when we cannot be moved by the world around us, self rages on inside us, relentless in its seeking, regardless of the restraints….Dissatisfaction becomes the spiritual director of our souls.”

I notice in my own life that I was always restless, whatever “career” path I took. After about four or six years I began to squirm and feel bored.  That is until I was ordained and began my vocation as a priest. Now, all that inner squirmyness of my restless spirit has settled. It is, for me, a sign that I am doing what is authentic to my inner Self, and what God is calling me to do. I have a friend who once said that he felt that God called him to the priesthood in order to save him from himself. I get that….

“It is not the act of leaving one thing to do another that changes us….(however) The very act of grappling with the desire to quit, of facing the compulsion to start over, of finding ourselves most ourselves where we are brings us to a new level of life, a new depth of heart. ..We don’t change our circumstances; we change our attitudes. We become a self that is self-contained, not trapped.”

My journey to find my authentic voice continues, it will be never ending. I am drawn to the idea of self-containment as a holding place for the soul to grow. Like Winnicot’s concept of the “Holding Environment” and the “good enough mother” – in which the parents provide a child with a safe enough environment in which to grow and yet, because the parents cannot do everything for the child and sometimes “fail” – they also offer enough opportunities to develop self-sufficiency – so the idea of self-containment speaks to me as a developmental aspect of the soul, the Self.

Finding authenticity is a process of being “held” in a safe enough place…

 (place may be a job, a vocation – for Chittister I think it means her vocation as a nun, living with the containment of that – place is where-ever one finds oneself in life and is not necessarily a physical structure but rather a psychological and or spiritual reality).

Safe “enough” because the “place”also enables opportunities to be challenged from which Spirit may grow. In such an environment the soul can learn about trust, grow in confidence, test without fear of complete collapse from repercussions, or at least learn that the repercussions won’t collapse ones self, and all the while come to know oneself in presence of God more fully. It is a process that works from the inside out, the raw material of the Spirit.

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About Terri C Pilarski

I am an Episcopal priest serving a delightfully progressive, interesting, creative congregation. I have been married more than half my life to the same man. We have two grown children, plus two dogs and two cats, although the number of four legged household members changes from time to time. I love to garden, knit, read, and play on Facebook or with my blog. I have been a practitioner of daily meditation since I was nineteen. I practice yoga five days a week and walk every where I am able too.
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One Response to Raw Material of the Spirit

  1. Lisa :-] says:

    Plenty to think about, here…

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