Mother Teresa or Janis Joplin? Quite a spectrum

We had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend – reunited with people and traditions we missed so much last year. We ate a lot of turkey, lasagna, pie, fudge, quiche, cake and charcuterie. We played games and played with cousins and walked the dog. I reveled in things I’d been missing, and I worried about things I can’t control.

My attention lately is everywhere and nowhere.

  • Professionally: I have lots of small projects for several clients. I want to write a book and in the process interview dozens of people for my book. I want to keep up with this blog. I want to help other people as they make job transitions or look for new business.
  • Socially: I want to decorate for the holidays and go on walks with a million people, and bake and share and celebrate.
  • Personally: I want to hunker down with Mike and our kiddos and read books and pet the dog. I want to fix their challenges by direct action or by loving them enough that the challenges don’t matter. (I know, neither is realistic or healthy.)

My goals aren’t very lofty or extreme. They certainly don’t rise to the level of the drugs and caring-for-the-poor of the women Father Clay writes about below. Still, I like the stories he shares. Metaphorically, at least, I can relate. I am overwhelmed with possibility and responsibility and opportunity.

I don’t have a resolution to my feeling of overwhelm or a clear definition of my “one thing.” I keep hearing a voice urging me to organize my chaos – if I put structure to the too-much-ness, I’ll be able to work through it smoothly. Compartmentalize. We’ll see. I’m going to think / meditate / pray about where I am on this spectrum from Mother Teresa to Janis Joplin and ask for clarity on how I get more focused on my one thing.

Finding and focusing on “The One Thing”

We now turn to the three erotic women. Mother Teresa was not sexually active. She was erotic. She had fire in her belly. Fr. Rohlheiser says that she was a dynamo of energy. She was disciplined, which means that her dynamic energy was channeled. It was channeled toward God and the poor. It wasn’t spread in different directions. This is why she was considered a saint. Her spirituality was focused on “the one thing,” God and the poor.

Janis Joplin, like Mother Teresa, was a woman of fiery, energized, strong eros. The difference is that her energy went in all directions. Fr. Rolheiser writes: “Unlike Mother Teresa, however, Janis could not will the one thing. She willed many things. Her great energy went out in all directions and eventually led to an early death. But those activities – a total giving over to creativity, performance, drugs, booze, sex, coupled with the neglect of normal rest – were her spirituality.” She split open her humanness. She was not whole.

Princess Diana was also a person of erotic energy. This energy was split in two ways – channeled into a luxurious jet-setter life and into helping the poor. She was not whole. This split must have caused her much pain. Her focus on the poor made her like Mother Teresa, but she was unlike Mother Teresa in that she was not focused on “the one thing.” She was like Janis Joplin in her focus on the high life, but unlike Janis Joplin, she also focused on the poor.

I guess that many of us, probably most of us, are somewhat of a mixture, like Princess Diana. Our lives and our will are not focused on “the one thing” only. We are are focused on other things as well.

To be focused on “the one thing” doesn’t necessarily mean that we are doing exceptional things. It means that we are willing to be drawn into Love and Compassion, which is God. And that overflows into love and compassion for those in need. There are saints who are largely unknown. Becoming a saint is a gift. It is by the grace of God.

I suggest that we not ask ourselves this foolish question, “Am I a saint?” I believe that if we think that we are a saint, it is a sure sign that we are not. I further believe that if we even ask ourselves that foolish question, it is a sure sign that we are not.

Spirituality is not something far off and remote. It is not the same as belonging to a religion. It is for everyone. It means accepting that we are erotic humans.

When religion is doing its job well, it will help us be willing to be drawn into Love and Compassion.

As Christians, our best example of someone focusing on “the one thing” is Jesus. As his disciples, we try as best we can to emulate him.

Smile, God Loves You

Father Clay

From “The Fire of Spirit and Eros” in Awesome Love by Father John Clay, (c) 2013

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