Reflection for Sunday, February 10, 2019 (Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time) by Ewelina Frackowiak

 

Readings: Isaiah 6.1-2a, 3-8; 1 Corinthians 15.1-11; Luke 5.1-11

An interesting reaction we have just witnessed in Simon Peter. Something very fortunate for him happens, someone is very good, very kind to him and Simon responds: “Go away”. I am not worthy.

Why is he considering himself a sinner? Why does identifying as a sinner cause him to reject good things, kind things that come along?

This is not only about Simon Peter. Identities, whether those of being a bad, undeserving person, a victimized-by-life person or a righteous person, are our modi operandi, our means by which each of us presents oneself to oneself and to others.  They are like comfortable pairs of shoes which we do not feel we are wearing. Because of a particular identity, particular mindset you are inhabiting in a given moment, you react to life in a certain way.

Remember Simon’s fishermen companions, John and James? They once asked Jesus if they could sit near him when he is in his glory – one on his right site, the other on his left.[1] You would agree – a totally different mindset from that revealed by Simon’s words: “go away”. What must have been behind John and James’s question was jealousy, fear of being worse than others, the feeling of competitiveness.

What sets us up towards a particular identity, a particular mindset is a reactive emotion. Before anyone of us can say to something good: “go away”, one first feels neediness, longing that can never be satisfied. The feeling of neediness project a whole world view, a whole mindset – you think of yourself that you are a victim, that no one ever loves you enough, you feel always left-out. If something happens that clashes with your poor-me identity – Jesus catches a lot of fish for you, your partner is kind to you – you reject the whole experience as it is not consistent with your view of yourself.

Similarly with anger. Something triggers you, you feel angry, and soon after the whole world seems to be an aggressive place where everyone is against you. Because of the anger a projection is made.

Important questions: what is a way out of these mindsets? Who are we beneath these identities we project?

The way-out is actually a “way-in”. As we cycle through the different mindsets daily, we can train ourselves in being aware of them. When we are conscious of our state of mind, we are not on an automatic pilot, we do not act mindlessly. It may feel like a split – there is the I now observing what the me is feeling and thinking. There is now the sense that behind all these colors of emotions and turbulences there exists a white canvas.[2] You can get in touch with the white canvas if you allow yourself to feel what you feel with compassion and kindness. Do not reject the whole painting altogether. Saint Paul wrote “when I am weak then I am strong”.[3] I heard a Buddhist teacher saying something along the same line: “in your neurosis is your wisdom”.[4]

Another way out of an imprisoning mindset is presented in today’s Gospel. We can find it also in the response Jesus gave to John and James when they were anxious to get a guarantee of their place in Jesus’s glory. But let’s start with Simon Peter. Note that Jesus does not buy into Simon’s story. And not only does he stay with him contrary to Simon’s wish but he announces that from now on Simon will be catching people. He is helping to shift his focus from the misery Simon’s mind created to other people. When you are caught up in a story line, let us say you feel unloved and miserable, start thinking of other people. Think that they also go through the cycles of identities like you do and train in feeling compassion. That’s your way out.

To John and James caught up in competitiveness and to the other disciples who became angry with the brothers, Jesus responded: “whoever wishes to be great among you, will be your servant”.[5]

Today here at the Saint Joe’s, we have our ministries’ open house. Many of the parish ministries that serve us all are looking for volunteers. I am thinking that if you would like to practice staying present with difficult feelings and if you would like to practice developing compassion, kindness and sense of oneness with everyone – here is a great opportunity. If you are like me, you will be triggered while working with people. All these emotions: anger, jealousy, ignorance will show up. And that will be great! You can train in observing them in yourself compassionately without acting out. You will also get an opportunity to think of others – of all the fear, hunger, lack of love, mindless destruction out there in the world. You will develop compassion and tap into the white canvas that’s underneath the beautiful painting of your ego.

 

[1] Mark 10:43

[2] The simile of white canvas and the idea of a “way-in” from Trungpa, Chögyam.1992. Transcending Madness. Shambhala.

[3] 2 Corinthians 12:10

[4] Pema Chödrön in “This Sacred Journey. An Interactive Online Retreat on Living Purposefully and Dying Fearlessly”. Shambhala.

[5] Mark 10:37