Read an Excerpt
"All These Other Things"
The spiritual life is not a life before, after, or beyond our everyday existence. No, the spiritual life can only be real when it is lived in the midst of the pains and joys of the here and now. Therefore we need to begin with a careful took at the way we think, speak, feel, and act from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, and year to year, in order to become more fully aware of our hunger for the Spirit. As long as we have only a vague inner feeling of discontent with our present way of living, and only an indefinite desire for "things spiritual," our lives will continue to stagnate in a generalized melancholy. We often say, "I am not very happy. I am not content with the way my life is going. I am not really joyful or peaceful, but I just don't know how things can be different, and I guess I have to be realistic and accept my life as it is. " It is this mood of resignation that prevents us from actively searching for the life of the Spirit.
Our first task is to dispel this vague, murky feeling of discontent and to look critically at how we are living our lives. This requires honesty, courage, and trust. We must honestly unmask and courageously confront our many self-deceptive games. We must trust that our honesty and courage will lead us not to despair, but to a new heaven and a new earth.
More so than the people of jesus'day, we of the "modern age" can be called worrying people. But how does our contemporary worrying actually manifest itself? Having looked critically at my own life and the lives of those around me, two words emerge as descriptive of our situation: filled andunfulfilled.
One of the most obvious characteristics of our daily lives is that we are busy. We experience our days as filled with things to do, people to meet, projects to finish, letters to write, calls to make, and appointments to keep. Our lives often seem like overpacked suitcases bursting at the seams. In fact, we are almost always aware of being behind schedule. There is a nagging sense that there are unfinished tasks, unfulfilled promises, unrealized proposals. There is always something else that we should have remembered, done, or said. There are always people we did not speak to, write to, or visit. Thus, although we are very busy, we also have a lingering feeling of never really fulfilling our obligations.
The strange thing, however, is that it is very hard not to be busy. Being busy has become a status symbol. People expect us to be busy and to have many things on our minds. Often our friends say to us, "I guess you are busy, as usual," and mean it as a compliment. They reaffirm the general assumption that it is good to be busy. In fact, those who do not know what to do in the near future make their friends nervous. Being busy and being important often seem to mean the same thing. Quite a few telephone calls begin with the remark, "I know you are busy, but do you have a minute?"suggesting that a minute taken from a person whose agenda is filled is worth more than an hour from someone who has little to do.
In our production-oriented society, being busy, having an occupation, has become one of the main ways, if not the main way, of identifying ourselves. Without an occupation, not just our economic security but our very identity is endangered. This explains the great fear with which many people face their retirement. After all, who are we when we no longer have an occupation?
More enslaving than our occupations, however, are our preoccupations. To be pre - occupied means to fill our time and place long before we are there. This is worrying in the more specific sense of the word. It is a mind filled with "ifs." We say to ourselves, "What if I get the flu? What if I lose my job? What if my child is not home on time? What if there is not enough food tomorrow? What if I am attacked? What if a war starts? What if the world comes to an end? What if ... ?" All these "ifs" fill our minds with anxious thoughts and make us wonder constantly what to do and what to say in case something should happen in the future. Much, if not most, of our suffering is connected with these preoccupations. Possible career changes, possible family conflicts, possible illnesses, possible disasters, and a possible nuclear holocaust make us anxious, fearful, suspicious, greedy, nervous, and morose. They prevent us from feeling a real inner freedom. Since we are always preparing for eventualities, we seldom fully trust the moment. It is no exaggeration to say that much human energy is invested in these fearful preoccupations. Our individual as well as communal lives are so deeply molded by our worries about tomorrow that today hardly can be experienced.
Not only being occupied but also being preoccupied is highly encouraged by our society. The way in which newspapers, radio, and TV communicate their news to us creates an atmosphere of constant emergency. The excited voices of reporters, the predilection for gruesome accidents, cruel crimes, and perverted behavior, and the hour-to-hour coverage of human misery at home and abroad slowly engulf us with an all-pervasive sense of impending doom. On top of all this bad news is the avalanche of advertisements. Their unrelenting insistence that we will miss out on something very important if we do not read this book, see this movie, hear this speaker, or buy this new product deepens our restlessness and adds many fabricated preoccupations to the already existing ones.