Radical Discipleship

Contrasts (2005)

In the Spiritual Legacy group at my church, we are using Ronald Rolheiser’s book, Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity (Image, 2014) as a guide on our spiritual journeys. Rolheiser describes three stages of the journey:

  1. Essential discipleship: the struggle to get our lives together
  2. Mature discipleship: the struggle to give our lives away
  3. Radical discipleship: the struggle to give our deaths away (pp. 15-20)

In the next couple monthly meetings, our group will focus on radical discipleship. The ten of us gathered around the table yesterday are at this stage in our lives. Later, we will work backwards in our reflections of our respective journeys.

According to Rohlheiser, “our childhood, adolescent, and adult years are a lot about accumulating (a name, a self-image, a language, an education, a home, a career, a certain amount of security.) Our final years are more about shedding, about returning to God as naked as we were born.” (p. 296) Our purpose in the final years is to purify our natural attachments so as to connect ourselves to the world, to others, and to God more radically. What we have to give we have already given through the last fifty years.

In reflecting on yesterday’s group meeting, two questions arise about my “older years.” In some ways, these questions are a continuation of an earlier blog on letting go.

Q1. What do I now allow myself that I did not in the past?

Q2. What do I continue to ask of myself that I would like to let go?

A1. Now that I am in my sixth decade, I allow myself:

  • Help with cleaning my house. For the most part, I am still able to clean my own house, although it takes me longer. I had to admit to myself that housecleaning is not how I want to spend my time. Besides, accepting this help means employment for another woman who needs the work.
  • Not to set an alarm clock, even when it might mean missing morning Mass on the days I work at the church.
  • Leaving dirty dishes in the sink for the following morning, even though I still don’t like waking up to a sink full of pots and pans.
  • Fresh flowers instead of potted plants. I never liked gardening and always postponed transplanting and re-potting flowers and green plants. Now, instead of green plants on the lanai, I have fresh flowers on the kitchen table.
Nativity from Guatemala (2011)

A2. A good friend from MIT taught me to say, “I will not SHOULD myself today.” The list of things I SHOULD do seems to get longer, with the ever increasing guilt that accompanies not completing the SHOULD list. The feelings and activities that I most want to let go at this stage of my life include:

  • Sending a card and note every year for everyone’s birthday, wedding anniversary, anniversary of the death of a loved one, and writing on the wall of every Facebook friend and friend-of-a-friend
  • The guilt over enjoying food and drink, especially when eating is an occasion for sharing others’ company
  • Some longstanding family traditions around the major holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas: baking cookies and breads, decorating the house inside and out, hosting dinner parties, sending Christmas cards, etc. In recent years, I started a collection of Nativity sets from around the world. I’m up to about 12. Really, who needs 12 Nativity sets?

Maybe, letting go is not an all-or-nothing process. Maybe, gradually reducing the volume or frequency of the activities is what I need to do. Is this the radical change that Rolheiser talks about? So, now I’m left with a few more questions: Can I let go of these feelings and actions without replacing them with other attachments? If I let go of these things, how will I fill the void? How will I let God fill this time for me?

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