“Our spiritual journey does not start with a clean slate. We carry with us a prepackaged set of values and preconceived ideas which, unless confronted and redirected, will soon scuttle our journey, or else turn it into pharisaism, the occupational hazard of religious and spiritual people.
The developmental character of human life has become much better known in the last hundred years, and it has enormous implications for the spiritual journey. Our personal histories are computerized, so to speak, in the biocomputers of our brains and nervous systems. Our memory banks have on file everything that occurred from the womb to the present, especially memories with strong emotional charges….
We may not remember the events of early childhood, but the emotions do. When events occur later in life that resemble those once felt to be harmful, dangerous, or rejecting, the same feelings surface…. The human heart is designed for unlimited happiness–for limitless truth and for limitless love–and nothing less can satisfy. We travel down various roads that promise happiness but can’t provide it because they are only partial goods. Since the emotional programs from early childhood are already in place, our search for happiness in adults life tends to be programmed by childish expectations that cannot possibly be realized….
We come now to the heart of the problem of the human condition. Jesus addressed this problem head-on in the gospel. What was his first word when beginning his ministry? ”Repent.” To repent is not to take on afflictive penances like fasting, vigils, flagellation or whatever else appeals. It means to change the direction in which you are looking for happiness.” ~from Invitation to Love by Thomas Keating
This afternoon I spoke briefly with the other pastor at the church which I serve. He mentioned how he was going to focus his sermon for this evening, Ash Wednesday, on the last few lines of the above text. I must admit that as I sat listening to his sermon, my mind did a little wandering. No, I wasn’t making lists of what I need to buy a that grocery store, more of a little God wandering/wondering.
Our afternoon conversation reminded me of something else I had read in one of Keating’s writing, at least I think it was him. God has made/programmed us for happiness. In our day-to-day living, we are so deprived or starved of true happiness that we will pounce on everything and anything that bring us a glimpse of it. This is where Keating says we make a mistake. The best way to receive happiness is to give it away. He goes on to say that if we give everything back to God, we will be empty, but it is only when you are empty is there more room for God.
This reminded me of a favorite book in our house titled, “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” Great book for kids and adults alike! The book is a great reminder that happiness isn’t attached to material goods, but what is deep within each of us which is not only sharable but continues to grow when we share it. For when you make a deposit into someone else’s bucket, a deposit is also made in your own.
This Lent my daughters are making a conscious effort to fill 5 buckets each day. To share God’s love with 5 different people. Today one daughter shared with a classmate whose is living in a hotel for week due to a neighbor’s house catching fire causing damage to their home. The bucket deposit was small–giving the boy a lollipop, but it was a deposit in both of their buckets.
The best way to receive happiness is giving it away. Where are you sharing happiness? Whose bucket are you going to fill?
God, “[t]ruly dust we are, and to dust we shall return; and truly yours we are, and to you we shall return. Help this to be a time of turning round and beginning again. Through the forty days of Lent, help us to follow you and to find you: in the discipline of praying and in the drudgery of caring –in whatever we deny ourselves, and whatever we set ourselves to learn or do. Help us to discover you in our loneliness and in community, in our emptiness and our fulfillment, in our sadness and our laughter. Help us to find you when we ourselves are lost. Help us to follow you on the journey to Jerusalem to the waving palms of the people’s hope, to their rejection, to the cross and empty tomb. Help us to see new growth amid the ashes of the old. Help us, carrying your cross, to be signs of your Kingdom. Amen” ~taken from the Ash Wednesday worship bulletin at Second Presbyterian Church Baltimore, MD