Beyond Introspection

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What do you do when you don't know what to do? How do you get on with living when what has happened or what is about to happen is so catastrophic that the normal, ordinary responsibilities of life no longer seem important?

Have you ever had some crisis break into your life that made it seem impossible for you to think about anything else? Most of us have had such an experience.

The death of a loved one, the failure of a marriage, a dream unfulfilled, loss of health, a hope broken, the premature departure of a child from home and all events that have the power to undermine our ability to get on with the normal responsibilities of life.

Anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows how dominating that experience can be. In the days that follow the death of a significant other, the fact of that death is the first thing that is thought about in the morning and often the last thing thought about before sleep finally comes at the end of the day. Much time and energy is spent reflecting on how one should live in the meantime.

Crisis moments trigger introspection. They cause us to look inward, examine our actions, our values, and our decisions about the future. When a child leaves home we may find ourselves thinking about what we should have done or should not have done. Standing before a disturbed or hurting marriage we wonder about the future and often find hope hard to come by.

Several years ago a friend of mine was touring in Europe. Her travels finally took her to the memorial at Dachau. A part of that memorial is a small theater that shows a film depicting the events of that awful place. Recalling leaving that theater she wrote:

"Filing out of the theater in line like any other tourist line, bunched and intermittently polite, are the tourist we have seen and been every other place. They carry cameras, day packs and shopping bags. They wear 'I love Vienna' T-shirts and Heineken beer suspenders, baggy Levis and running shoes. Many of them look like nice people. What happened in this place is as remote from each of us as Pluto or the backside of our unconscious; as near to us as hunger or thirst or loneliness. My current preoccupations include the uncomfortable discovery that I no longer feel certain or even care about recent beliefs or decisions I had arrived at regarding my future life and work. A crisis of faith (happens) just when you think you've outgrown them."

In the face of catastrophic events or the memory of such events, we pause and wonder about the meaning of life and about our place in it all. We look for something to believe in and something to which we can give our life and energy. At times all we can find is death, chaos, decay, broken promises, bodies that wear out too soon, and hopes that will be forever unrealized.

....Change and decay in all around I see...

What does it all mean? What is it all for? What do I do now?

Such introspection can be useful if it leads to some insight and constructive amendment of one's life. Socrates said that "the unexamined life is not worth living," and that is probably true. Yet this introspection which can lead to important insight and to significant change can also become a prison that keeps us from getting on with the business of living.

While the Christian Faith encourages introspection that leads to repentance, it is clear that the teaching of our Lord does not allow us to stop and settle for introspection as the goal of our journey. In those moments of his ministry when the words he spoke or the events that forced their way into his life triggered reflections and self-examination, Jesus quickly pointed his disciples to their responsibility to be involved in creative living in the world.

In the l3th chapter of John's gospel we find our Lord's instructions to a group of men who were bogged down within themselves. We find words about what to do given to men who did not know what to do. We find in this lesson a helpful word to all of us when we feel so overwhelmed by the circumstances of our lives that we feel unable to act.

Jesus has gathered his friends together in the Upper Room. His departure is imminent. Death leans against the door demanding to be satisfied. Inside the room death is aided by a conspirator.

"One of you will betray me," Jesus says.

Something was about to happen that was catastrophic. In the face of this fact the focus of the disciples' energy shifts to themselves. For a few moments their attention shifts to themselves. For a few moments their attention moves from his words to the memories of their own weakness.

"Who is it?...Is it I?...Am I the one who will fail when the testing time comes?"

Something in our lives begins to unravel. A call comes in the night that reports the dying of a brother...the pain in the chest grows worse...out of the blue your spouse tells you that the love that one time filled the marriage is only a memory...and in those moments, like the disciples, we wonder about the meaning of it all ~ or the lack of meaning. The ordinary things seem no longer significant. What do you do in the midst of such life changing, disturbing revelations?

Confronted with the news of his death, the death of their friend and teacher, confronted with the news of their own potential infidelity ~ "one of you will betray me" ~ the disciples wondered what it all meant. But Jesus moved quickly to call them to focus their energy not on the catastrophic nature of his death or on the disturbing revelation about their lack of dependability. Rather he called them quickly out of and beyond their introspection to focus their attention and energy on others.

"A new commandment I give unto you. Love one another even as I have loved you."

Just when everything seemed to be falling apart he spoke to them of responsibility. Just when they saw how frail and weak life is and frail and weak was their own ability to live up to their promises, he called them to acts of greatness.

"Love one another, even as I have loved you."

In fact, he says, this will be the identifying mark of this fellowship.

This is no abstract instruction that is given. No call to simply feel something. Rather it is a commandment to do something. Love is something you do.

"Love one another," Jesus said, "even as I have loved you."

When health fails, when life leads us through some valley or disappointment, when we are confronted with the evidence of man's inhumanity which lives in the memorials of all the Dachaus of the world, when friends disappoint us and life leads us down roads we never planned to travel, the Lord calls us to love one another even as he has loved us.

And that is precisely what he did ~ even to the end. He loved his friends and his enemies. He prayed for those who were his persecutors and detractors. He asked forgiveness for his executioners.

It is to this kind of loving and this kind of living that he calls us. And this call is one that is given in the sunshine days of life as well as in the days when we wonder if anything matters or if there is any reason to go on.

He calls us to a love that becomes incarnate in action.

It is unfortunate (but true) that many in the church believe that love is simply something you feel. There is the notion that love is simply the warm feeling that one gets in church when something is said that moves you. Or when a child is baptized and we feel touched. Such moments may be the seeds of love, but it is not love until it gets beyond feeling and introspection to some kind of doing, living commitment. He calls us to love one another as he loved. That love was incarnational. It was love in action, in ministry, in life style.

This is not an easy thing that we are called to do. It will mean we must struggle to love the stranger, the enemy, those who have hurt us or betrayed us. For it is precisely this kind of person that Jesus loved when he loved his disciples. It is precisely this kind of person that Jesus loves when he loves me and he loves you. He loves this person who does not deserve to be loved. He loves this person who is often trapped in some prison of introspection. His love never gives up on us. It never quits. It continues to reveal itself in action.

What do you do when you don't know what to do? How do you get on with living when what has happened or what is about to happen is so catastrophic that the normal, ordinary responsibilities of life no longer seem important?

In such moments Jesus challenges us to move beyond introspection.

He gives us a new commandment: "Love one another even as I have loved you."


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