It is easy to allow our spiritual quest to lead us into self-gratification. It has always been the perennial problem associated with “spiritual growth.”
This story is told of the sage Ramakrishna.
Once a man came to Ramakrishna, sitting on the banks of the Ganges. “Master,” he called to Ramakrishna, “Look! After fourteen years of dedicated practice I have finally achieved my life’s goal. I can walk now on water.”
“Fie on it,” Ramakrishna replied. “You have achieved what is worth only a penny, for what you have spent a lifetime acquiring, ordinary people do by paying the ferry boatman a penny.”
The fruit of God’s spirit is always a freedom from self that allows us joyously to serve others. (In the paradox of grace, we always come away from such service more blessed than blessing.) But it is easy for people who are eagerly religious or spiritual to become self-absorbed—just in the name of God or faith or spirituality. I remember Richard Rohr once saying that he became tired of seeing the same people at retreats, over and over again. He suggested that before people were allowed to sign up for a retreat, they ought to be required to have sallied forth into the world and done some service from which they truly needed a retreat!
If our “spirituality” does not lead us eventually to bow in humble service before some other human being, we may be using “God” merely to fluff up the comfy pillows of our own little self.
“We are here on earth to serve others,” said W.H. Auden. “What the others are here for, I don’t know.”
My entire life is one big paradox these days – by being selfish one can become selfless…What?! But strangely, it works. My first thought is always wrong…huh?! Death, taxes, and first thought wrong, 3 certainties. I had always thought I could escape self-absorption by reading a self-help book but 43 years later I learned I can do it by I dunno…helping someone!
Btw, who is Richard Rohr to decide who qualifies for a retreat?! 😉
During this holiday season that can become one big self-obsessed day after another this is a great reminder for me that the “Christ” in Christmas celebrated his life and his gift by helping others…thanks