Resolving to Let Go of Some Tar in 2021

This reading from Father Clay started out as a response to Pixar’s movie Soul and then also became a meditation to work through a really unsettling conversation I had this week. And also, I think it’s a good one for New Year’s Resolution season. I’m going to try to do all three here.

  1. Soul: The part that hit me was when one character was trying to help a lost soul find herself, and had to walk through a black tornado of crud and toxic self-talk to find her. So much of the “You’re not good enough” talk lives in me and has often pushed me to work harder than I really needed to. I often feel like I need a metaphorical tiger to chase me if I’m going to be in shape or deliver sufficient work product to earn my keep. Self-employment has helped me tame the professional tiger, but I still hear those mean inner voices in my personal life. I definitely recognized the ick that that lost soul was fighting through and appreciated the character who guided her out of it. (Side note: I think it’s unfortunate that the black character is voiced by a white woman for much of the film. I’ll let you do your own research on that and the other cringy race dynamics.)
  2. Unsettling Conversation: I was telling a confidante how much effort and emotional energy it takes to look after the well being of my entire family. To satisfy the kids’ need for connection, and look after their academic performance, and work through their attention and focus challenges, and keep them safe from a pandemic. I must have said something like, “I can’t be okay until they’re okay.” I probably feel that way a lot of the time. She wasn’t having it and came down on me hard about it not their job to make me okay. Yikes. She suggested a heavy dose of self-compassion. Which felt weird because she was NOT being compassionate with me. I did not enjoy that conversation. But I recognize my choices: I can linger in my resentment toward her and keep suffering/hurting my family or I can recognize the truth and work on the self-compassion.
  3. New Year’s Resolutions: They’re probably a bad idea. Because if I’m serious about self-compassion and undoing the toxic voices in my head and feeling “okay” despite the pandemic and pre-teen angst in my house… I can’t hold myself to a regimen of change and track steps or calories or number of books read or pages written and judge myself on succeeding or failing without a fairly toxic talk track. I guess my New Year’s Resolution – or the thing I’m starting now because it’s begging to be started now – is a more compassionate inner voice. Probably more yoga (because that’s where I practice releasing all the gripping tensing muscles) and more walking (because that’s good for getting the icky energy unstuck) and less drinking (because it makes me so tired) and more local food/whole grains/veggies/stuff prepared at home (because yum!).

I’m going to work on the black tar that Father Clay talks about below. (I gave you an excerpt and the full homily.) In particular I’m going to release myself from the pressure I’m putting on myself to protect my kids from all the mental, emotional, and physical threats of the pandemic and distance learning. I’m going to admit to you that this is hard for me. I’m going to do my best at all of this.

Excerpt of “Spiritual Growth”

We need to gradually remove the black tar that covers the surface of that dazzling diamond. The way to do this is to face all of the difficult things that are there. We have to face them directly without blaming, condemning or judging. It takes years to look at all of the hates one by one, but we have to do that. We have to ask, What are the ways I have been hurt? Then we need to face them.

All of this is extremely painful, because of what was done and often because of who did it. We have to feel the resentment, the hate, the desire for revenge. All of these emotions are difficult for us, but we need to feel them. It helps if we can do this with someone who loves us and understands. Every time we do it, it’s as if a laser beam removes a little piece of that black tar. Then a little bit more of that dazzling light can come out and transform us.

This happens when we pray. It happens when we rest in the great love that is God. When we are resting in the Love, we can allow ourselves to be aware of all the things that have happened to us. We can also look at the terrible things we have done. We all hurt people and do destructive and abusive things. We have to face not only what has been done to us but also what we have done to ourselves and other people. We have to face all this, knowing that we are good and that deep inside us is that brilliant diamond.

It’s best not to blame, condemn or judge ourselves. We need to look at the actions and choices we have made and say that they were terrible and destructive. It’s so easy for us to think instead, I’m not good. I’m bad and unlovable. This stops the process and we don’t heal. In the presence of God and all the love that God is, it’s good to look at the ways we have sinned, some of which are horrible. I know that from my own experience. We need to do this without judging ourselves. I’m bad. I’m a sinner who’s terrible.

We’ve all done bad things, but the love that is God can help us face it all. As we go through the process of facing what we’ve done, that laser beam removes more tar. As the tar comes off, the power of God’s presence inside each one of us is released and transforms us.


Full Text of “Spiritual Growth

Think of yourself. Try to imagine that deep in the core of your being there is a beautiful, sparkling diamond. This diamond does not reflect light from the outside, but there is brilliant light deep within it. That very light is the presence of God. That light shines out through the diamond and radiates through every part of our being. That light is meant to transform us into loving, generous, compassionate and grateful people.

All we have to do is look at ourselves and we say, “There is no diamond in me.” But this is who we are. The diamond image tells a deep truth that is difficult to put into words. in the womb, we start out pretty comfy. Then we begin to feel things. We feel pain. As awareness and consciousness grow, we begin to feel more. When negative things happen, it’s like a little piece of heavy black tar is put on that diamond. We may not be wanted. There are different reasons. Maybe it’s a difficult pregnancy. Maybe our mother says, “I’ve got seventeen kids already. I can’t take anther one.” We absorb these things. A little piece of that heavy black tar gets put on that sparkling diamond. In the family there may be fights and door banging and yelling, and that all hits the womb – more little black tar.

Then we are born. Something may happen then. Maybe forceps or a medical procedure is used that wasn’t quite right. All sorts of mishaps can occur. As we grow up, difficult things may happen to us or be done to us. Maybe a hospital stay leaves an impact on us. People may call us stupid. Every time this happens, a little piece of that black tar is put on that sparkling diamond.

We are called all sorts of abusive names. Maybe we suffer various sexual, physical or emotional abuses. We are all subject to these things in one degree or another, and it all puts more pieces of that heavy black tar on that sparkling diamond. Because we are caught inside, transformation is very difficult.

We are taught strange things in the family, school and church. Maybe teachers, family or priests have hurt us. We are hurt by all of these things, and more and more of who we are gets covered up. We get religious teaching that isn’t helpful. We are taught that we are unworthy and sinners. Sin is a real thing, but religious teaching can be done in a way that makes us think we are bad and unlovable. All the while, self-hate is building up. All of those pieces of black tar are self-hate inside of us.

We are told strange notions about God. “Be scared of God, because he will get you.” Our spiritual life has fear and hate in it. Fear is a heavy black tar. Not only does that kind of teaching put more black tar on us, but it also prevents us from healing.

I have just mentioned a few of the things that happen in different degrees and in different ways to all of us. This bright sparkling diamond with the light of God inside of it that is meant to transform and transfigure us is trapped. That’s why our relationships are so hard. If I hate me, I get into all sorts of crazy things. And if you hate you, you also get into all sorts of crazy things. When we get together, no wonder we have trouble. The miracle is that any relationship ever lasts.

We need to gradually remove the black tar that covers the surface of that dazzling diamond. The way to do this is to face all of the difficult things that are there. We have to face them directly without blaming, condemning or judging. It takes years to look at all of the hates one by one, but we have to do that. We have to ask, What are the ways I have been hurt? Then we need to face them.

All of this is extremely painful, because of what was done and often because of who did it. We have to feel the resentment, the hate, the desire for revenge. All of these emotions are difficult for us, but we need to feel them. It helps if we can do this with someone who loves us and understands. Every time we do it, it’s as if a laser beam removes a little piece of that black tar. Then a little bit more of that dazzling light can come out and transform us.

This happens when we pray. It happens when we rest in the great love that is God. When we are resting in the Love, we can allow ourselves to be aware of all the things that have happened to us. We can also look at the terrible things we have done. We all hurt people and do destructive and abusive things. We have to face not only what has been done to us but also what we have done to ourselves and other people. We have to face all this, knowing that we are good and that deep inside us is that brilliant diamond.

It’s best not to blame, condemn or judge ourselves. We need to look at the actions and choices we have made and say that they were terrible and destructive. It’s so easy for us to think instead, I’m not good. I’m bad and unlovable. This stops the process and we don’t heal. In the presence of God and all the love that God is, it’s good to look at the ways we have sinned, some of which are horrible. I know that from my own experience. We need to do this without judging ourselves. I’m bad. I’m a sinner who’s terrible.

We’ve all done bad things, but the love that is God can help us face it all. As we go through the process of facing what we’ve done, that laser beam removes more tar. As the tar comes off, the power of God’s presence inside each one of us is released and transforms us.

Spiritual growth is not something that we do. It doesn’t work that way. It is something that God does in us. We need to cooperate, and our cooperation is the removal of those pieces of black tar. When we die, we still have a lot of black tar left. This is where that ancient, wonderful doctrine of purgatory comes in.

We have to understand that all doctrines are meant as metaphors, If we take them literally, we miss their deep meaning, and they will be no help to us The metaphor of purgatory says that even after we die, the remaining black tar that is covering that dazzling diamond inside will gradually be removed by the power of God. And when that happens, the power that is God inside of us will help us to become compassionate, loving, generous and grateful. That’s heaven.

I go through this process. So do you and everybody on the face of the earth. We are very different in some ways, but down deep we are all the same. We all want the same thing. Everybody wants to be happy. Everybody wants to be free from suffering. Isn’t that fundamentally what it’s all about? We’re all in the same boat.

Understanding this can help us have compassion for ourselves and compassion for each other. When you look at the people who are close to you, when I look at the people who are close to me, I have to realize that they are going through hell too. I am and so are they. Their beautiful dazzling diamond with the presence of God inside has been tarred up and covered over just like mine. So they get into all of these crazy destructive behaviors just as I do. We really share the human condition.

To a great extent, this is what the spiritual journey is all about. People go through it in many different ways. Some do it with church; some do it without church. Some do it with religion, some without. It doesn’t make any difference as long as we do it.

I encourage all of us gradually to face all the things inside of us. We’re scared. Some of these things are horribly embarrassing and shameful. We are scared to death. But actually, when we get down underneath, when we face all of these ugly and dark things, we see the human condition that we share with all of our sisters and brothers. Underneath all of this is who we are. The things that seem so terrible and so shameful to us are not who we are. They are the things that have happened to us and tarred over the brilliant diamond within us.

Gradually, as we acknowledge these things and face them and their darkness without condemning, blaming or judging ourselves, we will rest in the love that is God. If we can rest with someone who loves and cares for us, so much the better. The power in us that is God will bring all this out. You don’t have to do it. I don’t have to do it – but we do need to cooperate.

As we remove the black tar, the wonderful power that is God deep inside us will transform us. That’s what happened to Jesus. That, to me, is what the transfiguration is all about. It isn’t just a story about Jesus. It’s a metaphor of the spiritual life of each one of us.

We can pray about this. So just sit back, relax and close your eyes, keep your back straight, breathe slowly and deeply, slowly and deeply. Let the cares, teh worries, the fears, the hates, the anger, the vengeance and the cruelty, the bitterness, loneliness, despair and depression fall away.

We are surrounded by love, the love we name God. That love holds us, embraces us, cradles us, looks at us tenderly and with compassion. That love lives deep within our souls and bubbles up with powerful, healing energy.

Gracious love, help us to see the beauty deep inside us. It’s hidden, but it’s there. THe beauty is you, which you have shared with each of us.

I want the courage and strength to face all the difficult things in my life that were done to me, and to feel whatever I feel when I think of them. I want the courage and strength to feel the anger, to feel the hatred, to feel the resentment and the despair and helplessness.

Give me the courage to look at the thigns that I have done, the ways that I have sinned, and the people I have hurt Help me to face it all without blaming or condemning. Help me just to be open to your gradual change.

Help me to believe and experience how wonderful and loving you are. This is so hard because of the many messages I received that told me you judge, punish, condemn, and that you will get your pound of flesh. Help me to lose all of those terrible, terrible images. Help me to rest in the Love that you are.

Gracious love, help all of us to rest in your love, to be transformed and become the people that you want – people who are generous, loving and grateful.

God bless you.

From the homily “Spiritual Growth” in Surrounded by Love by Father John Clay (c) 2005

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