When I was ordained, I was asked the question: “Are you going on to perfection?” That question is based on the 18th century writings of John Wesley, who is credited with beginning the Methodist movement in Christianity. In case you are wondering, I answered “yes!” with gusto, when asked. After all, I wanted to be ordained!
What a perfect question that was, for me! In the years following, I began to know more clearly and intimately those parts of myself that did want to be perfect. Those parts of myself were not easy to acknowledge and to accept. After all, most of us work hard to be perfect to make up for something about ourselves we do not think is perfect. The word for that, I believe, is “shame.” Unless you have confronted your shame – and we all are victims of that beast – you cannot be rid of the powerful and oppressive voices that demand you be “perfect” in order to face the world, your world. I know I am not the only one who has been oppressed by shame. I have friends who actually talk about those things.
Confronting the shame and the voices led me to freedom. If you are in the process of looking your shame in the face, I salute you, and I will pray for you. You are one who has embarked on a holy journey. It will not be easy. But you are being led to freedom. Maybe it is the dark and shadowy voices themselves that lead us to freedom. I am not certain about that. I do know that we cannot be truly free, that we cannot be fully ourselves, unless we have had the courage to face those darker places, those shadows. Those shadows are demanding and unrelenting. But unless we face them, we will not, we cannot be free of them.
Now that I am older and I have the time and the perspective to look at my life in a different way – perhaps through a different lens – I begin to see that those who have taken the path of faith and growth before me meant something else by words like: “perfection.” They meant instead, wholeness. We don’t get to wholeness by ignoring our shadowy selves. We don’t get to wholeness by simply demanding of ourselves and our partners in life that we be happy, or good, or smart. We don’t get to wholeness by refusing to accept our fears and our pain and that shame that is in us. We get to wholeness by looking at those things, by bringing them into the light.
“Come into the light,” Beauty, to the Beast.
I have less patience these days for folks who have not looked at that darkness in themselves. Something is missing, there. I suppose I could be more kind, have more patience, but I want more, something is missing when I find myself with people who only want to see the shadow, the darkness, in others. Because if we have not looked that part of ourselves squarely in the face, seen it for all its power and pain, then we can only project it out, into our own world. And if that darkness has not been seen, been acknowledged, then that darkness is still there, lurking under the positive attitude. Unless one has “gone on to perfection,” they have not had the courage – or the stupidity – to take that journey to the deeper places in themselves.
And so, I continue to “go on to perfection,” in the words of that 18th century seeker of life. I continue the journey, although it is easier these days than it has been in years past. I note that the words are “going on,” implying movement. Yes, life is movement. The learnings of the past are not the same as the learnings of today. The world, the universe gets bigger, all the time. I am not as limited by my own values and what I think is right or proper, or good.
Ahhhhh… that feels fine, for the moment. And I’m not even perfect – yet!