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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Spiritual Gymnastics and The Force

I've always wanted to be a Jedi. Not because I had a crush on Luke Skywalker (which I did), but because he could do cool flips over fallen logs with green aliens on his back and he could do all sorts of cool things by just raising his hand! I have to admit that I think my love of gymnastics arose out of the swamp scenes in the Empire Strikes Back.

I don't advocate that a Catholic use "Star Wars" (the original trilogy) as spiritual fodder, but maybe God can use it anyway as a tool for a few of us wannabe Luke Skywalkers as we aspire to our Vocation, aka "Jedi".

Anyway...yup...I just called all of you who know and live your Vocation "Jedis". Congratulations. Don't let it go to your head. It's contrary to the virtue demanded of being a Jedi.

Tonight I watched "The Empire Strikes Back" for the what-hundreth time in my life, but I paid special attention to the scenes involving Yoda and Luke Skywalker.

In the beginning....

What does young Luke do? He lands in a dark place, cut off from communication, his ship is sunk, he's surrounded by darkness and rain and mud and awful things.

Then some annoying green swampy guy starts digging into his stuff, doing his utmost to try Luke's temper...and succeeds quite easily. Luke is rude, impatient, clearly trying to express himself, but failing he thinks. And yet, Yoda understands him perfectly. Far more than Luke understands himself. (Sound like anyone you know? *ahem*)

But Yoda is patient, welcomes this strapping, prideful young man into his own home, feeds him even though Luke had refused to share his own dinner, and finally reveals that he is, in fact, the One Luke seeks to train him in the Jedi Arts.

Doesn't God do the same thing to us?


I know that's what happens to me. I try to seek holiness, and what does God do but try the virtues I don't possess, just so I realize I don't possess them. Yoda laments that Luke does not have patience. Um... yeah. Me, too.

Other than the first scene, we don't see Yoda acting crazy. Once Luke knows who he is, he behaves as a Jedi should, revealing that the first instance was a test of Luke's character.

The difference for we Christians to note is that God doesn't just test us in the "first scene". He continues to do this throughout our lives. Over and over again, lest we rest on our laurels. No virtues are ever truly "possessed". We tend to rest on our accomplishments, so if we are to grow in them, we must be constantly tested.

Back at the Jedi Training Swamp...

...After a period of training, Luke must enter into a cave. Yoda tells him he enters with only that which he takes with him, and admonishes him not to take his weapons. What does Luke do but glance at Yoda and strap his belt around his waist? Luke reveals that he is going in with all that HE has, relying on himself, not The Force.

What do any of us take into discernment but our usual weapons? Like Luke, we can't seem to lay them aside. What does Luke see when he goes underground? He sees Darth Vader, wins that battle, but what does he see defeated...but himself?

We as human beings tend to want to rely on what we have in the natural order, disdaining what is available to us in the supernatural order. Anyone who has studied moral theology can see this, for constantly we are tempted to rely on ourselves, and not on God. Yet, discernment calls us to rely ENTIRELY on God...and how difficult that is for us!

And How accurate that we disdain God (or "The Force")

In discernment, we must lay our own "weapons" aside. We take into it only what we have...what we are. If we are encumbered, we take sin with us and we face that sin, that anger, that lack of prudence. We face everything we are...and mostly what we are not.

It is a humiliating experience, as it should be, for none can approach God without humility.

If we take weapons with us into discernment, if we go with an attitude, we don't do anything but battle ourselves, and that, unfortunately, is where most of us start.

So many people don't understand the difficulty of this task, for we don't understand it ourselves. In order to know God, we MUST know ourselves, but in order to know ourselves, we MUST know God! We are called to trust, we are called to act, we are called to disdain all that we thought we knew in favor of what God desires us to know.

I won't say it is a journey of "self-discovery" for that does not go far enough; rather it is a journey to know oneself THROUGH God, for it is Our Lord and His Cross that defines us in every moment of our lives. We can't understand ourselves unless we can see ourselves in the light and the shadow and all the glory and folly of the Cross.

The difficult part of this is that we encounter ourselves as we really are...not as we'd like to be. We don't encounter our own holiness, but rather, what we lack. We see what we truly value, what we disdain to give up and we convince ourselves it's easier to flee than to accept the challenge of, say...raising the ship out of the swamp that devours it.

Maybe that's akin to raising our own souls out of the mud of sin that encumbers us. We try and we try, but we have no faith, and so as we try to rise, we are pulled back down.

Why? Because we do not trust. We do not love. We do not adore.

But it's fun to flip around and over things, isn't it? It's fun to run at obstacles and overcome them...unless they do not give. It is easy to take shots at targets...unless they send our own ammunition back in our direction.

Discernment is humiliating. It shows us who we really are, in complete, stark relief. Nothing is hidden. Everything is brought bubbling to the surface. Every single vice. Virtues are hidden if they were ever there at all.

Discernment is nothing but spiritual gymnastics, as we rise to meet obstacles, to crash in defeat, and rise again to meet a new challenge. We don't know what we must do, what we are called to do, or what feat we must accomplish to rise to any occasion.

All we know is that we have been called to a purpose, and anyone who takes the time to find that purpose must enter into this swamp, blindly, trusting in God alone, and we don't have the option to cut our "training" short for if we don't meet our own calling...other souls hang in the balance.

God does nothing by accident. But will we, in failing to discern...cause a fatality?


YouKnowWho said...

If there is a fatality ... there is resurrection!
A+ post!

Cathy_of_Alex said...

For someone who is illin', this is a great post! You forgot to mention Luke is extremley cute in the swamp. Ok, ok. Anyway, Yoda should be President and win the Nobel Peace Prize.

One of his best observations to Luke is: "All your life you have looked away, to the future. Never your mind on where you were or what you were doing" I can ponder this as I struggle with destractions during Mass and prayer.