There’s a mantra of sorts in Jesuit spirituality about finding God in all things, and a question I’ve been reflecting on these days is this: “Where does my baggage blind me from seeing God in all things, and especially in all people?”
This popped up for me in the wake of my gushing about the Apple+ show Ted Lasso earlier this week. I must have sold the series pretty well, because several people commented that I had inspired them to give it a try. (I finished the 10-episode first season, and remain low-level obsessed with the series, by the way.)
As much as it gratified me to be able to pass along something that I found wonderful, when I saw friends express interest, I cringed a little bit and felt compelled to follow up with a warning: the show has a *LOT* of cursing and a *LOT* of frank talk about sex. The thing that I loved most about the show – the nuanced and complex characters and the glimpses into their vulnerabilities – brought with it the undeniable fact that the characters often make choices in their words and actions that don’t seem very holy or respectable, and my cringe told me that I expected at least some people to be unable to see past that enough to appreciate what I found so moving in the show.
I may well have been entirely off-base in that assessment, and my reaction really reflects on me and not the people whose interest in the show sparked my cringe. But I also know that there is an assumption among adherents to culturally dominant religions that being holy starts with being respectable. Sociologists and anthropologists will tell you that historically, that’s been a central function of tribal religions: to add divine weight to the dominant set of cultural norms, especially around sex and family.
Jonathan Haidt’s work on moral foundations theory notes that while some moral frameworks are nearly universal – we all see issues of fairness and issues of care vs. harm as moral issues, even if we disagree about the application of those frameworks – some aren’t, including the framework of purity/degradation. Haidt sees this as a framework embraced by cultural conservatives but not by liberals, though those categories don’t fully align to our political divides, it seems to me. You don’t have to look far to see people in different political tribes who are willing to deny the value of someone and what they have said or done based on the lack of purity of other parts of our lives. Both right and left have plenty of examples of “cancel culture”, even if they seem to blind to the examples on their own side. Whether it’s a matter of being chaste enough or polite enough or environmentally conscious enough or “woke” enough, there’s a common thread that puts worthiness on the other side of a high standard of “enoughness.”
But Ignatius of Loyola and his followers were right in insisting that God is in all things, and if we’re willing to, we can notice God’s presence in them in a way that helps us become better versions of ourselves. Underlying Pope Francis’ encyclicals, both the current one on human fraternity (Fratelli Tutti) and its predecessor on the care for creation, (Laudato Si), the foundational point by this first Jesuit pope is that God is in all things. So we need to treat each other, in whom God is, as sisters and brothers by noticing God in each other, and we need to treat our world as one God has made and imbues with holiness.
Advent is the perfect time to drive this point home. We read about John the Baptist, the advance man for Jesus who was in no way respectable but altogether holy. We prepare to reengage in the story of Jesus’ life, which from birth to death is writ through with a lack of respectability that jumps off the page.
This Advent, I’m reflecting on what the blind spots are in my worldview that keep me from seeing holiness that lives in brokenness, the beauty that shines through the muck of real life. I’d invite you to consider doing the same. I can tell you that going on a scavenger hunt to find goodness, truth and beauty in a broken world is a lot more soul-nourishing and a lot more joyful than being stopped by the far more obvious faults that infect us all.
Leave a Reply