Daniel Berrigan once wrote a wonderful little book entitled, “Ten Commandments for the Long Haul”. It was intended as spiritual sustenance, sustaining food, for those who walk the lonely, long road of faith and often find themselves discouraged and running out of gas. Berrigan doesn’t offer a quick fix, but points out the right direction within which we should be walking and where, at key junctures, if we cast our eyes at the right spot, we might find Elijah’s jug, God’s food for the journey.
As we begin a new year, filled with new hope and new resolutions, here are ten such commandments that might serve us well as we walk the long road:
1) Acknowledge your contingency, your helplessness. You are a creature, not the creator.
You are not God, but a creature. Only God is “ipsum esse subsistens”, self-sufficient being. Like all creatures, you’re dependent and interdependent. Life works when you acknowledge this, when you accept that you can’t give yourself life. All is gift. If you try to live the illusion of self-sufficiency and try to guarantee your own immortality, you mimic the sin of Adam and Eve, complete with all the futility of effort, the lording-it-over, and the alienation from nature that ensues. Proper living begins with the words: “I am not God!”
2) Pray, prayers of helplessness, gratitude, and praise.
Pray always! Also pray formally each day. By your baptism you’re a priest. Pray as priest: Hold the world up each day to God. Hold up both its wonders and its pain. Pray in gratitude, thanking God, not just for “this or that”, but for life itself, for light, for this earth, for those who love you.
Pray from your weaknesses and helplessness: “Lord, hang on to me lest I slip away from you. Do for me what I cannot do for myself.”
3) Welcome and accept the present moment.
Life is what happens to you while you’re planning your life. Don’t let the busyness, pressures, and heartaches of life steal the present moment from you. Only it is real. Drink it in, with all it carries. It’s the only place you will experience love and joy. If not now-when? If not with these people-with whom? If now here-where?
4) Give yourself permission to be inadequate.
Both God and nature give you permission not to be perfect. Don’t be too hard on yourself and, especially, on others. Everyone falls short. God doesn’t keep you from falling and failing, but redeems you when you do fall. You’re loved as you are. Fear not, you are inadequate!
5) Be sufficiently loving and critical, both at the same time.
If you’re critical without being loving, you’re destructive. If you’re loving without being critical, you’re weak. Your loved ones, your church, and your community need you to be loving and critical, both at the same time. Don’t blackmail community by constantly threatening your withdrawal. Love, be critical, and stay. Pull from your bag the new as well as the old.
6) Be post-ideological, post personal-history, post-conservative, post-liberal, post-naive, and post-sophisticated.
Be non-classifiable. Have an unlisted number as regards being liberal or conservative. Admit that the right and left have both run out of imagination and that their sympathies are highly-selective. Don’t be naive, but don’t be sophisticated either. See both as phases to pass through.
Forgive your past.
7) Bless what’s good and beautiful, even as you stand where the cross of Christ is erected.
Bless what’s good in the world. Never, for the sake of cause, orthodoxy or justice, denigrate beauty. All that’s good and beautiful has God as author. Honour it, before speaking any word of challenge to the world. Imitate Christ: First bless the world and its goodness and, only then, go stand where the cross is perennially erected, where the excluded ones in the culture find themselves.
8) Be shockingly “Catholic” – earthy and wine-drinking.
Bask in the goodness of life. We have divine permission to be happy. God invented wine. Jesus scandalized people with his capacity to enjoy life. He drank wine and let his heart be warmed by friends. Don’t confuse John the Baptist with Jesus. John was the ascetic, not Jesus.
9) Accept aging.
Rely more on the paschal mystery than on cosmetics. All that dies brings rich new life, even our own bodies. Paschal wisdom will do more for your joy than a face-lift. Aging needs to be defined aesthetically. Your soul must be properly aged before it leaves and your body, like an old wine-barrel, takes on a different function and beauty as you age. Aging is an art form.
10) Serve the right God!
God, as Julian of Norwich assures us, “is completely relaxed and courteous, himself the happiness and peace of his dear friends, his beautiful face, radiating measureless love, like a marvellous symphony.” Don’t serve any other God than this One. Don’t bow to any molten calf, created in the image and likeness of our own tensions and bitterness.