Sometimes you may get the idea that spirituality grows from something other than your life. As if your experiences were fundamentally irrelevant. Isn't that odd?
If you have read the book, you may enjoy being reminded of some of its content. If you have not yet read Schmidt's book, you may find what he says to be helpful. Or skip this essay.
Only Myself, Nothing Else
Richard Rohr has written the forward to this profound book by Joseph Schmidt. He writes: “More valuable than anything else, is the experience of ourselves being addressed as a Thou! Until and unless we experience such interior certainty, we will probably not address Anyone in return.” Being treated with dignity, blessed with empowerment, having the experience of being taken seriously convinces me that I belong. Then I know I am safe – this is my salvation. Only then do I converse with God.
Schmidt’s thesis is “that honest reflection on the ordinary experiences of our life has a prayer value” (1). He spends the next eighty pages telling me how this remarkable thing can be true. Insights come often in moments when I am not at prayer corporately nor privately, I may simply be trying to make sense of a snarl. Schmidt observes that in these experiences I may have felt the sinfulness of being, the graciousness of God’s work, the closeness of the Lord and the call to a deeper authenticity in my life. He names this praying our experiences, for in these moments I am “only myself, nothing else” (Rahner, 90), or honest to God. A willing starkness is required.
To jog our imagination, Schmidt describes experiences as “not just happenings . . . but who I am now as the person who has had this sensory awareness. Experiences, therefore, also include all the feelings, memories and desires that are generated by the awareness” (1). So the key here is to language my life accurately. When I make the tremendous effort to not simply express my emotions, but take that next step to continue to try to put into words my experience, I can see what in fact did happen. It has been tremendously difficult. “To pray our experiences is . . . to pray for enlightenment and courage and acceptance and gratitude” (11). I am working to language my life in larger and larger frames that capture the love surrounding me.
“Unfolding our memories and feelings in the presence of the Lord to see what our day-to-day living might be telling us and to what it might be calling us,” might happen as we are resting, wondering or questioning. (15). I am getting better at this discipline of unfolding. Anne Carr describes my new experience of grace when I took responsibility for my joys and sorrows:
Women’s temptation, or ‘sin’ . . . relates lack of self-assertion in relation to cultural and familial expectations, failure to assume responsibility to make choices for themselves, failure to discover their own personhood and uniqueness rather than finding their whole meaning in the too easy sacrifice of self for others . . . grace takes on a wholly different character as the gift of claiming responsibility for one’s life, as love of self as well as love of others, as the assumption of healthy power over one’s life and circumstances” (Barry and Maloney 25).
Since standing alone with God, first, I have found myself in new relationships with everyone and everything in my life and with far less pain.
As I integrate my daily life into my prayer I access a new power and way of seeing. Only when rooted in my life can I be transformed, “Here, in our self-knowledge, we find the content of our praise, our thanksgiving, and our offering to God” (20). Karl Rahner says it this way, “If there is any path at all on which I can approach You, it must lead through the very middle of my ordinary daily life” (90). I have come face to face with my brokenness and my gifts. I need courage to believe that in my sinfulness there is a gift. I believe when I refuse to accept my sinfulness, I am busy projecting my shadow onto others. But those efforts can never be successful. I believe I will also find that in attempting to rid myself of my shadow, I give away my glory. Becoming settled with my own sweetness and horror, I can touch God in “faithful awareness of what is” (29). Avoiding dark elements of my life caused me to kill my imaginative powers and dishonor my feelings. Demanding that my life fit my expectations, I left little room for surprise, negative or positive.
Going beyond normal rational powers, I receive the insight needed when presented with the koan of my life. I believe there are experiences that can not be opened with the worn-out keys of the rational mind. Life demands “egoless reflection in which we open ourselves to a source of power beyond ourselves” (31). The koan of my life was hidden in my refusal to language clearly and with grace, disturbing elements.
Schmidt warns us from precluding what can happen. That will only do violence to our memories. When we honor our own experiences as the womb of our prayer, we are no longer limited by fear or embarrassment of our humanness. He encourages us to live with greater confidence when he says “Christian prayer is, then, not an attempt to move out of mundane human life but rather to enter into it more fully” (57). He assures us that “the reality of the incarnation assures us that human concerns are God’s concerns” (59). It is actually that simple: tell myself and God the truth.
When I learn to trust myself in the presence of God I find I am “weak and sinful, limited and broken, yet blessed and graced and gifted” (66). To be “loved by life” is quite an invitation.