When someone with whom I am speaking finds out that I am a monk, the look on their face, and how they are thinking about me, often changes. It is as if, in having found out that they have suddenly encountered a being about which they have only ever read in a book, that they now have the chance to watch one levitate, or pass through walls, or whatever. The real secret is that monks are no different from other people: All are called to become conscious about how we actually are in the real world, called to become aware of the flavor of our real relationships, and called to work on whatever ways of thinking, being and acting interfere with one’s own spiritual growth or the spiritual growth of others. Just as people sometimes view monks in an unreal, other-worldly way, so too many fantasize spiritual life.
So you’re crossing the living room with your bowl of hot oatmeal when you step on one of the kid’s toys, stumble, and spill oatmeal on the rug; now you’re really angry! You go to use your bathroom and another family member is already in it; now you’re fuming at the injustice of it all! You go to relax with a book and your youngest is sound asleep in your favorite chair; now you’ve HAD IT!!! There can be days when it seems as if every encounter with another person bristles with frustration. No matter how much we might be attracted to spirituality, spiritual growth or spiritual concepts, it is in our encounters with others … in the myriad of seemingly insignificant moments within our ordinary days… that we actually live out our spiritual life as is indicated by what we do with those moments of frustration. Anger, impatience and shouting are all manifestations that our narcissism has been challenged. These are the moments in which the rubber of our spiritual life hits the road.
For those of us who go to church with any regularity, even we can succumb to the subtle temptation to think that our “regularity” is an indication of our spiritual status, as if all that spiritual growth requires is that I show up at the club and have my card stamped. I am often amazed to overhear those coming out of church speaking to a family-member in words or tone of voice that makes it clear, even if only for a moment, that they have no regard for the damage that their words are inflicting upon the other person. Such disregard for others, no matter how momentary, indicates an ignorance in the speaker that no matter how much we might have grown spiritually there is still further to grow. If one slips into thinking that we are “good enough” then we lose sight of the fact that we really aren’t even good at all!
Do we care about whether or not our words damage others? At its crassest “damage” is any degree of physical assault on another, but damage is not limited to this; damage is also shaming others, embarrassing others and not following-through on promises made… all of these harm others. Do we even care?