Sunday, April 28, 2013

Journal of a Soul 16

Aridity and a Note on Tradition

The word "aridity" is one beloved of monks, nuns and mystics.  I recently read some excerpts from the works of Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), Counter Reformation mystic and one of the foremost Spanish Renaissance writers, and she refers to having to suffer through those long desert periods, those long dry patches when the soul is thirsting for a little libation in the form of inspiration or wisdom or, at least, a little sustenance for the journey that is life (which is indeed, essentially and existentially, a camino.)  Apparently, the mystics look on such desert experiences as important periods which test our perseverance when seemingly God (or Truth or the Ultimate Good, or whatever term you wish to use for that power of life greater than us that seemingly sustains the universe) is experienced in absence. 
Ballintubber Abbey, Co. Mayo, May, 2011

The Peruvian, Gustava Gutiérrez, Dominican priest and theologian, who is generally regarded as the founder of Liberation Theology, once wrote a wonderful book called We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People which I read in the early 1980s.  It was a wonderful read, and it is a book to which I must return.  The reason I called this particular blog by the title Wellsprings  was because of that book.  Truly, we must drink from our own wells.  

What, in God's name, I hear you ask, has the aridity of the first paragraph got to do with the seemingly abundantly well watered pastures of the second?  Well the second modern spiritual classic (it dates from 1983) argues that the Spirit of Liberation is alive and well in the lives of the poor as they search for the inner resources of their identity as a struggling people and to gain real and true liberation from both their material and spiritual oppressors.

What has all this got to do with the one who types these words here in virtual reality?  Well, when I arrive at the inevitable aridity, described above, in my personal spiritual quest I have no other option than to return to those personal and educational experiences that have made me the unique individual that I am.  In short, we are forced to fall back on our own roots, culturally and spiritually.

Last evening, I had the pleasure of attending a  concert, at which some 30 or 40 Irish traditional musicians played.  All these musicians spoke of person X, Y or Z from whom they got this, that or the other tune.  They realise all too clearly that they live, move and have their musical being, to coin a phrase, in and through a specific musical tradition.
Tulip, Ballintubber Abbey, May, 2011

In that sense, while I feel I have moved away from the central and solid structures of the Roman Catholic Church in all its orthodoxy, yet I am still deeply steeped in its spirituality and its richer practices, ceremonies, insights and more profound wisdom.  No tradition can be written off. In a sense, we can never discard our origins like an old coat cast aside after long wearing, because we have been shaped and formed to a great sense by it.  Of course, we must and we should do new things with that tradition.  

It appears to me at this juncture in my life that my religious upbringing was formative in my life like a great river.  However, I admit that I have now run off on my very own rivulet from it.  I will keep running my own way as I must be loyal to my own sense of self and selfhood.  In other words, as the existential philosophers say, I must be authentic in and to my own lived reality.  I can be nothing if not true to my inner self, call it my core self, or my real self as Carl Ransom Rogers, the great psychotherapist puts it.

And when I have no more to say, I feel exactly like what T.S. Eliot so well puts it in his wonderful poem Gerontion, the first two lines of which run: "Here I am, an old man in a dry month//Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain" and which finishes in similar tenor with this line: "Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season."  Then, I also bring to mind other lines of favourite poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.: "Oh Lord, send my roots rain!"

To finish, then, let us never deny our origins, any little aspect of it even, as it all went to making us who we are.  To be spiritually alive means learning to accept everything that went to make us who and what we are both essentially and existentially.  Where problems emerge in the psyche, that is, where all those legions of neuroses kick in, is exactly where we have denied significant experiences in the previous years of our little lives.  Much of this acknowledgement, of course, may involve forgiveness of self or of others; dealing with anger, regret, pain and loss in all their eruptions into our lives as well as other positive experiences of love and care that are manifested in what Abraham Maslow so rightly calls "peak experiences."  One way or another, all experiences, positive and negative, that went to make us who we are cannot be denied.  

This appreciation of our tradition is, on the one hand, something very natural to us, and on the other, something which T.S. Eliot famously said we must work hard at cultivating.  Admittedly, he was adverting to any specific tradition in which any writer or poet finds himself or herself writing: "It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour." 

Alas, dear reader, nothing of any value is ever gained in the absence of hard work.

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