(Originally written on November 12, 2017 in Valencia, Spain)
I am a recovering perfectionist, living cross-culturally in Spain. I have three children-Levi (6), Jakob (5), and Lucas (3). Tomorrow we are getting a puppy named ‘Flor’-for better, or, probably worse, ‘Flor,’ means “flower” in Spanish.
Each of these elements provide the necessary messiness, and context, for my life’s healing and ongoing transformation.
Let’s just say…my life is set up in a manner where I never get to get away with looking too good, for too long. And, thank God for that!!!
I meditate most mornings, and try and follow a twice a day practice of centering prayer. I also use slow lectio divina methods of reading in the mornings. Something I especially enjoy on Saturday mornings, and especially with a cup of coffee.
Sometimes I replace reading with other things, like listening to recorded talks. Today I listened to a teaching on humility by James Finley. He talks about a particular transition in our spiritual journey when it seems as though we, in the role of seeker, move from being the questioner of life and God, to the one being questioned.
From his book Merton’s Palace of Nowwhere, Finley writes:
The experience is something like going, you think, to teach a class at a university. You come in on the first day of class and you’re so pleased to see how many students have signed up for your class. You come up to the front of the room and you open your attache and you put your notes on the podium. The students are continuing to file into the room. And at a certain point an administrator comes up to you and whispers as gently as possible, “There has been a terrible misunderstanding. You are not invited to teach the course, you are invited to take it.” And the professor who was invited to teach it is standing there with her attache waiting for you to get out of the way so that she can start the class. And in front of the whole room you are fumbling, dropping notes on the floor, trying to get yourself together, and there is only one seat left empty in the room which is in the back row. And the professor begins to speak in a language that you do not know, and the first exam is on Friday. We do not like moments like this…we thought we were teaching the course and here all the while we were being asked to take it. And we don’t even understand the language the course is being taught in. Nor do we understand the scales in which our progress in the course is being weighed.
I also work with a tool called a life plan-a visual narrative that helps a person co-create their life with the Divine through a lived remembrance of their essence. A life plan therefore includes all of a person’s most essential relationships-with God, oneself, partner, other family, friends, community and purpose.
After completing my morning routine, including the reading of my life plan, I got up to join the rest of my family on the other side of our apartment.
My wife, Taryn, and our oldest son Levi were preparing to go to the pet store.
Standing in the entry way, having put on his jacket and shoes, Levi broke out into a song accompanied by synchronized movements as Taryn and I stood rapt in awe. We attempted to listen closely to the Spanish lyrics, taking in our son’s glow and sincere desire to share with the gift of this moment. Standing side by side, we glanced at each other in mutual recognition at the beauty of the moment’s unfolding.
Really feeling it, I began to dance along, unaware of the coffee I was spilling in the process.
As Taryn pointed out that fact, I glanced down to see cafe droplets on the floor; along with some darkened spots sitting atop the grey wool of my house slippers.
At that moment I could uncharacteristically care less as I beamed in the perfection of the design of life, recalling the words of my life plan surrounding my relationship with Levi.
Levi, in his MORE, leadership, unfettered goodness, and contagious zeal for life, is my forgetting myself, and I give him space, a room and a tether to BLAST OFF in WILD CELEBRATION!
Taryn eventually handed me a strip of toilet paper. I held it, waiting for Levi to complete his perfect rendition-which of course it was by the way.
Closing the door behind them, I knelt down, almost reverently, to clean the mess. Disposing of the paper, I walked down the hallway into the living room where meanwhile, Jakob and Lucas were watching the animated film Kung-Fu Panda. I sat down, placing my arms on the back of the couch, with Jakob sliding under the fold of my outstretched arm with Lucas laying peacefully on the floor at my feet.
It felt good. Like the way a Saturday morning should be. I sat, wearing a satisfied smile.
A moment passed before, looking up at me, with big, innocent, knowing eyes, Jakob declared, “I’m Oogway.” Oogway of course being a character from the film; a wise, elderly tortoise and kung-fu master, and one whom my ego usually identifies itself with; while my kids typically claim ‘Po,’ the fun loving, curious, albeit clumsy, slow learning, undisciplined panda, whose equally led by grace and wonder.
Knowing Jakob knew this, I pulled him in closer to my body, partly in adoration and partly as a placating gesture. Though clearly he felt my affection for him, under the heir of my smug sense of superiority and rank. He then settled his head down into my lap.
In the gap between that moment and the next, I relaxed deeper into the felt sense that indeed all is well in the universe.
That is, until, a sudden jerk sent Jakob’s body across my lap, his head bumping into my half-full coffee mug.
I jumped to my feet, feeling the room temperature liquid splash on my hand as I swept my arm up trying to keep the coffee contained. Simultaneously I heard the words “sorry,” and “what the f*ck,” spring into the air. The latter ones coming from me as I completed the motion of standing up. My eyes moved from the mug, down to the couch, surveying for where and how much coffee had been spilled. Spotting the darker color of gray on the couch, my eyes then focused in on the liquid I saw spilled on the back of my phone. It had been sitting next to me on the couch. Quickly stepping towards the dining room table in front of me I set the mug down with my left hand and reached back across my body with my right hand to grab my phone. Picking the phone up I threw it against the back of the other couch sitting against the adjacent wall, spewing the words “God damn it!” from my mouth as the phone left my hand.
Walking out of the room towards the kitchen, I heard a thud accompanied by a three year old “aaooowww,” as I crossed through the doorway into the kitchen. The phone must have bounced off the couch, hitting Lucas’ small, sprawled out body, where he lay on the floor.
Only now can I appreciate the hilarity of it all.
After wetting and wringing out a rag in the sink, I calmly walked back into the living room as though nothing but the accident that it was had happened, having now gotten to the end of myself.
I dropped the rag on the wet spot of coffee, next to where Jakob sat on the couch. I cleaned in a surrendered acknowledgment, that yes Jakob, indeed, your head-butting wisdom had come as a gift, reminding me again, that I am, and always will be, much more like ‘Po’ than ‘Oogway.’
I will always be much more student guided by grace and wonder than teacher on the spiritual journey. The one being sought and questioned, much more than the one doing the seeking.
“There is no shortage of spiritual directors in our lives,” Finley writes, “For our spiritual directors are the people we live with. They place upon us unbearable burdens. They give us unexplainable gifts. They grind us like wheat.”
Humility celebrates life’s messiness as an experience of grace, trusting the entirety of human experience as an expression of God’s infinite generosity; giving itself to us and through us as the very shape of our lives. Its purpose being, in part, to learn the ongoing lesson that we are not running the show, and our sense of what’s good or bad, right or wrong, positive or negative, is not only, typically misguided, but ultimately, irrelevant.
Because in the end, God is Everything and All is Grace.
Jonathan lives in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas with his wife, dogs and three children. His Wisdom work comes out of a blend of the Christian Contemplative tradition and 4th Way spirituality with a focus on companioning others from the unified and collective field accessed through the heart. He is a life-long seeker who offers private Spiritual Direction in person or by zoom, one-to-one or in groups.