Communion/ Overcoming Self-Alienation
(A Talk Given to lay Cistercians (9/16/17)
There is a saying, which is true, that anyone can be lonely in a crowded room. In fact being in the midst of a large group of people can make the feeling of isolation and aloneness more distressing. So within a community, even if one has been a member for many years, this can also be felt on a deep level. It is part of the human condition, this frustration of seeking communion with others and being thwarted or misunderstood. From my experience, I have not met anyone who is exempt from this experience. Common as it is, this experience never goes away. Alienation from others can be rooted in some sort of mental issue that is hard or even impossible to deal with. For others, it is based on psychological issues that simply won’t be addressed for many understandable reasons. The healthier the community the greater the challenges for people who fall into this category.
People who are loving, caring and honest, can be the very thing that will eject those who are weighted down with dysfunction in how they relate to others. Or if the community is unhealthy, dysfunctional people will often end up running things to the determent of others. It is a difficult human issue that will constantly challenge all who seek to grow in love and communion with others. We are each unique and because of that, in spite of ourselves, we can also be a source division within the community itself. Difficulties in communication is often a major source of tension within communities.
A strong leader, not a bossy one, or one who wishes to force everyone into compliance. Bossy people are actually the opposite of leading a community deeper into communion. What is good for the military, may not work with other groups, especially those who have spiritual growth as its central mission. Even in the military, those officers who treat their men with respect, even if strict, garner a deep loyalty.
A leader, who sees his or her desire to facilitate growth and health in the community as central, are asked to take on a great burden. A challenge that can only be effectively carried out if there is deep humility, caring, and love, as well as the ability to deal with deep emotional conflict that comes from carrying out one’s duties. While leaders need self-care, it can’t come at the expense of the community. Leaders are there to make hard choices, ones that will make them face their own fear of ‘not being liked’, or ‘understood’.
We are relational beings, everything we do is based on that reality. Not just with our fellow human beings, but with the world in all of its entirety. More than most think, we do ‘feel’, even if we on an intellectual level deny it, that the whole of creation revolves around us. The deeper that often unconscious belief, the more problems we will have with others, who will on a different level believe the same thing. Below is what I would call the unconscious stream of thought that I have to deal with. I know it is active when I become angry, or want to unjustly criticize those who do other than what I want or desire. This is a serious obstacle to communion.
What can I get from my relationship with the community? Will I find what I am looking for? I want people who will help me, make me feel good and give me a feeling of belonging. I want perfect people, not real people. I want things to run smoothly. I do not want to be bothered with ‘idiots’ (i.e. those who do not agree with me). I want the community to run for my benefit, if not, I will leave or try to force things the way I want. I will gossip, put down, and criticize, so as to keep the spotlight off of me and on others. On those especially who are healthier than me and who will challenge me in ways that I don’t want to be challenged. I do not want to be brought to task, but that is what I desire for others! I want justice to be imposed on those around me, but for myself, I desire to be listened to and understood.
Our relationship with others, how we react to them can be an indicator on how we communicate with ourselves on a deep unconscious level and ultimately with God. Again, we are relational beings. We can’t love others if we don’t love ourselves as commanded by Jesus. Our so-called love of God can be kept at a childish level, not a childlike one, which will keep us from experiencing deeper communion and union with God as well as with others.
Much of this is caused by a fear of suffering and of actually experiencing reality on a deeper, freer, level. Purgation is about seeing ourselves in the truth and light of God’s love. The pain the flows from this experience, this journey towards a deeper love and trust in God, comes from ourselves, not from God. Healing always involves suffering because of what must be faced consciously. Until we do this, the war will take place with those around us, with those in our families and within the communities, we are affiliated with. In this case, being part of the Lay Cistercian movement.
Purgation is about expansion, if not punishment. It is about healing not inflicting pain. No one can be forced to change, or grow. Yet each can be encouraged. Communion with God, self, and others, is a choice based on trust. On being able to make that leap of faith that we are beloved of God, made in God image and likeness. All that keeps us away from living out that image is ‘sin’. Either personal or being a victim of our past (being sinned against) that keeps us chained into cycles of pain and self-loathing and hatred of others.
We are all moving towards the experience of finally understanding the depth and width and height of God’s love for each of us. We are called, all of us, through our communion with God, to be light for one another, not sources of pain or of sin. Sin is a form of self-medication that only makes things worse in the end. It is a rejection of life, of truth, of faith and trust. We are either growing daily towards a life of self-centeredness, which is false, or towards a life that is focused on the love of God and others. We find communion with each other and with God by becoming vessels of grace, freely given, not something to be earned. In that, we pass on the grace of love and healing to others. God helps the community grow and heal through our gifts we are given and called to develop. God reaches each of us on a deep level through our weaknesses and sins, for in that we learn to trust God and to show the same compassion and love for others. We are called to be channels of God’s love and grace in the world and most importantly for the communities we are affiliated with.