Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Radicality -- Avoidance of Superfluities

Superfluities are whatever are not necessities. Put like that, it's terrifying. Finally, I can understand better what the disciples said when Jesus met the rich young ruler, and said that it was easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a rich person to enter heaven.
"Then who can be saved?"
I didn't quite understand them saying this, because in fact none of the disciples were rich. ... mostly all working class, following Jesus. Jesus said that humanly speaking, it is impossible, but with God all things are possible. That does clarify things because I can really see the human impossibility of holding to such a standard. The superfluities creep in all the time. Teresa of Avila says in the Way of Perfection that even with such an austere order as hers, where the nuns possessed nothing, an attitude could creep in subtly that warred against true poverty of spirit.

In nature, there is no real superfluity. There is abundance, sure. But no excess, not over time. Things balance out, one thing turns into another. It's ongoing.

I am realizing that avoidance of superfluities is a process. It's a series of little choices. Every day is new.

I usually know I'm on the right track when it causes discomfort to give up something. Sounds masochistic, and would be if it was the discomfort I was seeking. But it's not -- it's more like the "good pain" you feel when you're on an exercise program. It's not that you love the pain for itself but because you know it will help. I don't like working out and I almost fear discomfort, but just doing it does seem to help, just as it helps to go ahead and do that workout even if you don't feel like it.

Something I used to worry about was that even the toughest decision gets easier once you're in the habit. Say, I give up coffee. The first day is a killer, I keep thinking of all these reasons why it isn't a good idea. After a while it's not hard at all. So in the past I've felt stalled there, because I can't just go on quitting things until there's nothing left.

But really, I think that was because I was focusing on myself. I remember reading books about Indians who cleaned themselves with snow or ran many miles to increase their endurance to pain. There is a kind of nobility that I admired about that. But for me it doesn't work if that is all there is. I start feeling smug.

Keeping God in mind, and the people who are truly and undeservedly wretched for lack of material goods, puts it in perspective. With those things in mind, the focus is off my critiquing myself, for that's not so important. It keeps the focus on the journey and the destination. Chesterton said:

The anchorite rolling on the stones in a frenzy of submission is a healthier person fundamentally than many a sober man in a silk hat who is walking down Cheapside. For many such are good only through a withering knowledge of evil. I am not at this moment claiming for the devotee anything more than this primary advantage, that though he may be making himself personally weak and miserable, he is still fixing his thoughts largely on gigantic strength and happiness, on a strength that has no limits, and a happiness that has no end. Doubtless there are other objections which can be urged without unreason against the influence of gods and visions in morality, whether in the cell or street. But this advantage the mystic morality must always have—it is always jollier. A young man may keep himself from vice by continually thinking of disease. He may keep himself from it also by continually thinking of the Virgin Mary. There may be question about which method is the more reasonable, or even about which is the more efficient. But surely there can be no question about which is the more wholesome.

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