Stories of our experiences shape our lives. In fact, Canadian Jesuit Monty Williams asserts, the imagination creates the real or, with William Blake, ‘we see through our eyes, not with our eyes’.
Monty Williams was in New Zealand in October to give workshops on spiritual literacy based on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola. ( Click here to read the first in the series).
In his workshops, Monty talked of the myths that we live by. These can include such closed myths as images of Christmas in snow-laden holly trees—‘I’m dreaming of a white Christmas’, which makes little sense in the southern hemisphere, or in tropical Guyana where Monty was born.
Closed myths give an illusion of security allowing us to justify ourselves and to demonise what is not ourselves as ‘other’—the stranger, the alien, the refugee.
When we try to live in stories that we impose closure on, we destroy part of ourselves and others. ‘We eliminate or distort relationships.’
Conversion is the process whereby we move out of closed myths by facing our fears. ‘We abandon the illusions of clarity and the myths of transparency, simplicity, ease and comfort.
We realise how trapped we are in ways of seeing that have been sanctioned by personal habits, society’s laws, cultural norms, and the many levels of tradition which inform us about who we are. We come to the realisation that we live, not out of a closed myth, but within broken myths. These trap us in the past, into nostalgia for some mythic time when ‘things were perfect’—‘the good old days’.
The way forward is to live in the context of an open myth, accepting the past and being open to a future which moves us into relationship.
‘We are defined by the past but also by our awareness that that past is shaped by the future, and so our present comprises broken myths but also myths that are open to ongoing transformation, as creation is open to constant ongoing transformation by the Creator. We journey into love and that love, like our journey, has no end.’
Monty invited the workshop to consider the impact on Jesus of the slaughter of the holy innocents (Mt 2:16-18) that he would grow up without anyone of his own age group – or the impact on the lives of Mary and Joseph of Mary’s ‘yes’ to God. Mary gave up the liberty and security of continuing her life as a girl of her time, betrothed to Joseph, for the freedom of doing God’s will and accepting God’s love.
‘Liberty links us to the society that gives us social structure. Freedom links us to God.’
Life for Mary and Joseph was not easy. They became outcasts for a time. Monty says he often thinks about the fact that there was no room in their families for Mary and Joseph at the first Christmas. This was highly counter-cultural. Mary’s visit to her cousin, Elizabeth (Lk 1:39-55) is also worth pondering. Mary needed to get away from the cruelty of the women gossiping at the well about her pregnancy.
Seeking the mystery we call Father is not easy. ‘God does not promise us a utopia. God promises a relationship with God.’
Defining moments for Jesus occurred when he encountered the Syrophoenician woman (Mk 7:24-30) and his horizons were broadened and when he asked Peter who he thought Jesus was (Mk 8:29). In Peter’s answer Jesus realised that Peter had a particular insight, that he and the Father were thinking in the same way.
Monty says people need to ask themselves whether their values are indicative of a relationship with God, or whether they indicate a form of narcissism that captures God and puts it in a particular theology?
‘I would say that that narcissism operates across the board. We might see it in forms of fundamentalism but it is also in forms of liberalism, and sectarianism.
‘I’m not saying that we can stand outside any of those forms. We need to admit that those dynamics, those forms, are in each of us. So where does this leave us? I think it leaves us with two things—it leaves us with a stance of humility, incredible humility. It leaves us with a stance of gratitude.’
The bottom line is that any meaning in our lives must lead us to seek intimacy with the mystery we call Father. Only then will we learn to love and serve God which is all that matters.
In the February issue of Wel-com, we will examine some of the perceptions of spirituality in world history.
Monty Williams SJ was in New Zealand at the invitation of the Society of Mary. His paper, quoted here, is available from firstname.lastname@example.org.