Monday, May 10, 2010

Worldly Accomplishment or Spiritual Satisfaction?

Nine months spent in Washington, DC, has provided valuable insight. Beltway insiders and area professions are their own breed. As I've gotten my sea legs, more and more of their world makes sense to me. Once I arrived here that I was immediately given some particularly infuriating advice, namely that other people were just as smart as I was, if not smarter, and that I ought to get used to it. I think he assumed I was just like everyone else---the latest newcomer eager to play the game in a town with more than its share of naked ambition and power plays. Perhaps he was the latest candidate for burnout, having recognized that institutional idealism is often an exercise in minutia. Though my background and my academic career may be relatively humble, I am no stranger to elitism when I see it, and I am just as repulsed by it now as I ever was.

Frustration aside, in certain spaces I have begun to make more and more of a name for myself. The slow process of building connections and gaining trust has borne growth. What has been accomplished up to this point thrills me and brings great joy. It is certainly nice to admire one's handiwork from time to time. To me, the satisfaction of a job well done is one of the best feelings in the world. It caters to my own deepest ambition. Since I became an adult, I knew, innately that I was to someday take on a leadership position, and in so doing come into my own. Achieving my fullest potential is the ultimate goal I hold for myself and I am not completely there yet, of course. Still, what has been granted me up to this point leaves me hungry for more results and motivates me to keep at it.

One concern I will give voice to is that I never used to worry about letting selfish, worldly desires dominate me. When one is completely unknown, the temptations of ego, at least in this context, are minimal. Yet, once one gets a taste of the inner sanctum, it is easy to crave more and more of it. Once doors have begun to open, one fights the impulse to throw them open through force of will alone or to be resentful of those who hold the keys. Being around others similar to myself both in aptitude and drive can be quite a comfort at times and quite a challenge, also. Many of my contemporaries are far better connected than I and with common aims comes competition and the inevitable urge to race to the top. Sometimes I feel as though the secret requirement of my career requires me to engage in a scavenger hunt of sorts, with an ever increasing list of hidden items to locate and then cross off the list. My day-to-day existence, then, is proof that my spiritual life and my earthly life frequently are at loggerheads.

Jesus said,

"Watch out! Don't do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven.

When I am Spirit-led, not self-led, there is no limit to the eloquence and beauty of the words I write. Any number of well-received posts that I've recently written bear this out. When, however, I go it alone, the results are not nearly so inspiring. What I write frequently contains awkward wording, typos, and various grammatical mistakes. What the Light provides arrives perfectly formed and has no need for subsequent revision. I need an editor. God does not.

"But when you give to someone in need, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

Taken at face value, this verse can be very confusing. What is meant here is that it is easy to give to others with mixed motives, doing something for someone if it will benefit us in the end. Selflessly giving, Jesus states, should be our own reward. Again, this runs contrary to that which I encounter multiple times a day, where quid pro quo is a way of life. One seeks constantly to pad a resume, to overtake and undercut someone else for one's own sake, to network with the established power brokers, and throughout it all, to let one's ambition blatantly show. This is considered initiative, not the beginnings of losing sight of what truly matters in this world.

"When you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

I never expect to change the culture of the city in which I live, but I do make a conscious effort not to emulate it. Modesty and restraint is a quality often in short supply, particularly in politics. If only politics pertained only to government! There are politics in the smallest of gatherings and groups, and not just in our nation's capital. I see it in my faith group, the activist groups I frequent, and certainly in my workplace. Needless political conduct has been an equally destructive force in musical groups and garden clubs, so one can hardly escape it, though it should be noted that one is under no obligation to play along.

"Don't store up treasures here on earth, where they can erode away or may be stolen. Store them up in heaven where they will never lose their value, and are safe from thieves. If your profits are in heaven, your heart will be there too."

If we build our faith and trust within people, then our life will follow suit. Of course, nothing wrought by human hands or brought to life by human means will ever be perfect or immortal. Expecting otherwise has proven to be the undoing of many who came before us. The first lesson of politics is that nothing ever stays the same and that conditions are subject to change at any time, for any reason. Thieves arrive in many forms and are probably just as smart and just as motivated at what they do as we are. Turnabout is fair play in this world.

As much as I might be compelled to force the issue or pony up at the card table, ultimately my own selfish motives and compulsions are far less important than what God has in store for me. For example, everyone who reads this post will probably get something a little different out of it. It would be foolish for me to overplay my hand and demand that everyone's interpretation must conform to my terms alone. The best art speaks to us individually and gives us the ability to personalize that which we have observed. Disseminating a message successfully requires merely that I speak from within myself and let you form your own conclusions. I trust the guidance of the divine first and foremost and have a rough ambivalence with my own leanings. In a universe where one juggles plates long overfull, learning to let go might be worthwhile to consider. Death does not thoughtfully provide a Styrofoam container allowing us to take leftovers home with us.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

No comments: