Above all else, avoid success

Thomas Merton famously wrote, “”Be anything you want. Be madmen, drunks, and bastards of every shape and form. But at all costs avoid one thing: success.”

One must smile at the sentiment behind his words.  Success does truly dull us to so much, leaving us feeling smug and self assured in a way that cuts off the possibility of reflection and growth.  ”Success” at the spiritual journey appears far different however than more contemporary forms for success.

Spiritual “success” as I witness with those with whom I work pastorally often include …

  1. Surrender: The surrender is of a different ilk than the royal ego – the “I” deciding to surrender something.  Surrender is not chosen.  It is forced.  There is no “choice” involved because the individual ego is “defeated.”  All that is left is presence.  As one clergy friend, who had suffered painful loss said, “I know I am just along for the ride.”  That is surrender, said by her with a grin.
  2. An Irrefutable and Uncomfortable Call: This one brings a smile to my face – a large smile – because who wants THAT!  It is fun watching the contortions of “should I” or “shouldn’t I” when, if those questions are asked in a spiritual environment, the answer has already been given. It just remains to be lived into.
  3. Loneliness: The call is a solitary one, adding color to Jesus’s comments about “leaving family.”  Not many join that journey early.  Not many speak of it to others.   I hear often universal expressions of loneliness.
  4. Peaceful, Quiet Joy: And undergirding all the above is the Gospel – the “good news.”  The peaceful quiet joy may not always be present but I am left hearing it spoken of frequently.  ”I was sitting by water and I felt a peace I have never felt before” one courageous woman wrote.  Another spoke of her dedication to Taize services and contemplative prayer – and their “intoxicating” impact.  A third struggled to find any words, saying only that she somehow knew I “would understand.”  And I do!
And what can a Pastor offer?  Really just a simple “yes.”

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