Every new year, I vow to clean up a lot of things in my life. My diet. My house. Even the apps on my phone and the files on my computer.
I also make plans to “clean up” my spiritual life. I’ll resolve to finally get into a prayer or contemplation routine. Or that I’ll get to a church service every weekend (or thereabouts). And I’ll start a gratitude practice.
Then life intervenes and things get messy. I fall behind and don’t do what I’ve set out to. I beat up on myself, and the negative self-talk begins. Finally, I just give up, saying to myself, “Well, I’ve never managed to keep it up so why start? I’m just going to fail.”
It’s a bit of a self-defeating cycle. And, I wonder, if it’s what spirituality and engaging with the Divine is all about. Do I really have to become Kevin 2.0 in order to be spiritual? Is spirituality merely a never-ending self-improvement project?
So, lately, I’m thinking about whether focusing on somehow making myself “better” is kind of an issue. It’s also, I’m coming to understand, not the point. Rather than “cleaning up” maybe I try to live out of that “messiness” instead. It’s what’s real, after all.
I was thinking about all of this when the Christmas issue of Nadia Bolz-Weber’s email newsletter showed up in my inbox. She’s a Lutheran minister and public theologian in the United States. Bolz-Weber writes a lot about grace, and this holiday missive was no exception.
Bolz-Weber writes there’s a reason she’s “obsessed with grace.” She says our world is fixated on “making judgements and hoarding wealth and being best and OPTIMIZATION,” and that’s she’s “tried trying harder,” but that doesn’t make her free. It just exhausts her.
I really resonated with this, particularly when she went on to write, “Maybe you too vow each morning to try harder so you can finally feel like you are enough…Today I will start meditating and become a vegan and start training for a marathon and go back to college and go to the container store to so I can organize my life and be in control.”
Grace, says Bolz-Weber, is the exact opposite being in control. You can’t earn it, but you receive it just because you need it. Grace might be inconvenient, but it’s what is necessary. You don’t find grace, it finds you.
Not to quote Oprah, but I had a bit of an “ah-hah” moment at that. Why not meet the Divine where I am? After all, God is everywhere, just waiting to be noticed. That’s grace. It shows up in all the messiness of life. In fact, grace exists because of the messiness of life.
Yes, spiritual practices are good. A regular routine is good. Worshipping in community is great. You are more likely to notice the Divine when you make time to really look. But, God is in every moment, jumping up and down and waving ecstatically, waiting for us to see. Or whispering that we might hear.
So, this year, I’m resolving to embrace my messy spirituality. It’s just as grace-filled and valid as the one I think I should have. Maybe more so. Because it’s real and grounded in what’s going on, right now, in every moment. It’s where God arrives to meet me.
And, like the best kind of company, there’s no cleaning required to invite the Divine in.
(If you’d like to read and subscribe to Bolz-Weber’s e-newsletter, it’s called “Just Throwing it Out There” and you can find it at nadiabolzweber.substack.com)
Kevin Aschenbrenner is a Victoria-based writer, poet and communications professional. He holds an M.A. in Culture and Spirituality from the Sophia Center at Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif. He blogs at www.dearpopefrancis.ca.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the print edition of the TImes Colonist on Saturday, January 4th 2020