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Posted by on Apr 9, 2012

What is Holiness? Is it Wholeness?

People often think that being whole or holy involves being perfect in some way.  “Perfect” of course is defined in a million ways, but we can construct a picture and list of qualities that might encompass what we assume is the saintly person.  So, we would expect to see on this list:  seldom angry, patient, kind, generous, courageous, truthful, trusting, reverent, hopeful, zealous, loving, etc.  In her final year of life, as she was suffering from tuberculosis, Saint Therese of Lisieux wrote in her diary: ” Never leave a knife near a terminally ill person.”   She was a realistic and honest person.  She was not perfect in many ways, but she was a whole and holy person.  Saint Padre Pio yelled at people frequently and then was very gentle and kind with others.  Saint Ignatius of Loyola had a temper, but normally used it after a process of discernment.  Teresa of Avila talked back to Christ and questioned him often.

Behaving in perfect ways and trying to feel only nice feelings is a complete distraction from the real task of life.  Holiness, or even wholeness in the most secular terms, is very simple.  It is the ability to listen in a productive way.  There are a welter of voices within and around us.  The culture, our egos, our pasts, other people, God and evil, however you understand it, are all part of the mix of voices in our lives.  Within ourselves we have many levels that all have a voice.  We have the imprint of our parents within our memories: ” Stand up straight.”  “Eat everything on your plate.”  “Susan is bright.”  “You’ll never grow up.”  We have a frightened voice: “You can’t do that,” or a confident voice: “That’s easy.”  There are the lists inside: “First, go to the Doctor’s; then go to the Drugstore; then get gas; then get the kids; etc.”  And, there is the emotional and spiritual report: “I’m uncomfortable.” ” I’m aware that I am procrastinating.”  “I really want to quit repeating this pattern.”  A friend many years ago told me that we had to get married by the time we were 25 years old because after that we would be “all washed up.”  I believed her and sped around trying to meet more men!  It caused me to join a lot of organizations and waste a number of Sunday afternoons listening to types of Jazz I did not like, hiking in places I did enjoy, not to mention the unusual experiences I had attending psychological “encounter” groups.

These days it is very un-PC to say this, but I believe in personal evil and prefer to use the Ignatian term for this entity: “The enemy of our human nature.”  When someone is not in a state of negative thinking and has every reason either not to feel bad or to feel happy and a random and destructive thought or feeling enters his or her consciousness and destroys his or her peace, the classic response from the Christian tradition is to interpret this as coming from the Enemy. We may be hearing, remembering or seeing something psychological, but the intrusion is not just random.  We are not always just talking to ourselves.  God is constantly communicating and so are the enemy and the other voices as well.  It’s subtle and not superstition.  Why is this complex communication happening?  What are we supposed to do with this?  What has this got to do with holiness and wholeness?

This life on the Planet is a exercise in growth.  In the process of life we make choices and determine what we value.  We  are determined by certain factors but we also determine some of the conditions of our lives.  The process of becoming holy, the process by which the world gets a St. Francis or a Mother Teresa, is a process in which those people work over and over at hearing the better voices inside.  When a voice said: “Compassion feels better than money,” these people felt drawn to that voice.  When an inner voice said: ” Status is nauseating, phony,” these people felt its authenticity and took a chance on goodness.  When a voice says: “eat right, drink less, watch less television” or “read this book,” holy people obey the voice if it carries a feeling of peace or rightness with it.  Sorting out the voices, listening to the voice of God or one’s true self and then obeying these best voices is what makes people holy and truly whole.  Listening and obeying are not easy.  It takes a commitment to my best interests.  It is in my best interest not to play games.  I can spend the rest of my life procrastinating regarding the things I need to do to be happy.  I can also stay in a perpetual program to be defensive or angry, to punish people that have hurt me, or to prove that I am fine just the way I am.

At some point I may progress beyond that and also see how awesome God is.  The reality we call God is immense in His/Her intellect and in love.  Many modern people cannot stand entertaining the concept of God.  It is so uncool to admit the possibility of such a reality in many circles today.  But, if God exists and I know God does, this reality can get me to an authentic life.  I could end up happy and fully realize who I am.  Taking time and quiet to listen and note the voices within is a decision.  Admitting that I prefer a sleazy voice is okay.  I want any excuse not to be a grown up.  If a voice says that I should not eat something, say something, or go somewhere or that I should go to bed at a certain time, By God, I want to ask that voice: “who do you think you are…..?”

The path to holiness, exceptional living, being special in the best sense is a surrender to the wisest voice inside.  It has taken me many years to accept this fully.  This is far harder than parading around trying to be perfect.  The authentic voice within might ask you to be better than you think you are; the author may believe in you more than you do.

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1 Comment

  1. Hi Susan,

    Great article!

    I’m going to risk making a comment based on some heresay, so I apologize up front for not having any sources.

    It is my understanding that cognitive science has shown that basically for every thought-discipline we have (which is essentially every discipline), our minds will construct an anti-discipline. For example, I get really weirded out about standing next to cliff edges because something inside says “jump”! This is in direct reaction to the discipline “stay away!”. Apparently they have done studies that indicate that when the antidisciplinary voice becomes the louder one, the preferred one, then the individual behaves against the discipline, and it is experienced as a “freedom”. St. Therese must have known how close she was to complying with the antidisciplinary voice!

    As in all human motives and capacities, this phenomenon likely has some sort of evolved function, but I have not spent much time dwelling on it. (Wait, I have a theory: every discipline, though likely beneficial, is to some degree an infringement on freedom, so the part of ourselves that wants freedom puts up a bit of resistance).

    For now, I no longer get panicked about the “jump” voice, I just observe it and smile. And yes, it behooves us to select the wisest voice, once we figure out which one that is!

    Wholeness, for me, is a reconciliation with all the “enemies”. :]

    Wholeness is an incorporation and embracing all the parts of the Self as gifts from God.

    Wholeness is understanding of the other, such that I can say, “I could have done that, given their motives and scope.”

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