Lent 40 Sample Page (from 2016)
// 14 : Better broken than perfect
It's easy to get caught up in the quest for the perfect life. Consumer culture would have us constantly pursue it, with all the trappings; but it's forever out of reach, as we really should know by now. Even if we were to arrive at perfection, we'd soon be asked to re-mortgage our soul for the upgrade.
The subtle danger is that we can also use faith, spirituality or even a series like this, to help nudge us towards the simulation of a better life (as if it's an advert for a spa day with a group of impossibly happy and healthy looking friends thrown in!).
Yet while the ego struggles not to grab impetuously at this impossible 'ideal' (and to use whatever it can to get us there), the soul steadfastly whispers of a greater possibility: that of wholeness. And wholeness, mercifully, is within our reach.
For it doesn't seek to airbrush the imperfections out of who we are, or where we find ourselves; instead wholeness asks us simply to be more fully here, lovingly present within all the apparent opposites - all the creative tension - of life.
* * *
Parker Palmer tells the story of a hurricane-force wind which uprooted 20 million trees in a stretch of pristine wilderness he loves to visit along the Minnesota-Ontario border. "I was heartbroken by the ruin and wondered whether I ever wanted to return," he writes. "And yet on each visit since, I have been astonished to see how nature uses devastation to stimulate new growth, slowly but persistently healing her own wounds."
You may not be devastated (although some within our Lent community are). But our lives are surely far more like a forest than an advert for a spa - there is decay, and there is growth; some trees fall, while others are planted. And there's a tangled beauty in it all.
"Wholeness does not mean perfection," writes Palmer. "It means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life." And this brings something much richer within reach, even if it's more challenging for our ego to accept that we could be better off broken than perfect.
"Knowing this," he says, "gives me hope that human wholeness - mine, yours, ours - need not be a utopian dream, if we can use [brokenness] as a seedbed for new life." A genuinely transformative version of reality, then - and one we can hope to grasp.
* * *
The quotes from Parker J Palmer, from yesterday and today, are taken from A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life (Jossey Bass, 2009). Find out more about his work (through the Center for Courage and Renewal) by clicking here.
* * *
* Before you continue, pause, relax, breathe and smile ...
* I'm often in danger of trying (from the ego) to produce a perfect piece of work - as if that's possible! - when it's not what's required. What's required is that I give myself soulfully to whatever I'm doing, in the spirit of love and service. Perhaps you're similar; if so, why not be willing, today, to relax, and let something of yours remain imperfect, and instead of worrying what others will think, aim to be loving and soulful instead?
* Find a fallen tree, and sit with it a while. Use this as a way of 'sitting' with the imperfections of your own life. Instead of trying to hide or deny them, or to airbrush them out of the picture, try to see them as part of what Thomas Merton called our "hidden wholeness".
* Look around you, wherever you are, for new growth, today; and also for the tangled beauty of imperfection. Let either speak to you. If you take any pictures of such tangled, imperfect beauty, do send them in.
* * *
RSVP! Thank you for all your responses so far; keep them coming! Send me an e-mail by replying to this one, and I'll post your thoughts on the Lent 40 RSVP page.
* * *
May you come to see the tangled beauty of your own imperfection, today.