Homily: To Be A Transparency:
First thoughts on the New Year: Reflection
as a necessary part of the religious and ethical life
The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.
The spiritual, and I would say, the essential human activity of reflection is an important part of our lives…. While there is the almost inescapable task of doing ethical reflection on the consequence of choices and actions that range from Global warming to self deceit, there is also the more heartfelt and the more intimate living dynamic process of being a reflection.
Since nothing is ever truly hidden, and everything can be revealed when it comes to the light- the shape of our personal images, the content of our characters, the whole of our interior and exterior lives, we can easily comprehend that the essentials of our lives become accurately reflected in all that we think, feel, and do.
Because of its theological and psycho-dynamic complexities, the theme of reflection has to be looked at as comprised of a few component parts: They are: Reflection, Mirroring, & Transparency.
First, the art of reflection… I say art, because there are creative techniques one can learn or when we elect to enter into a more formal reflection, there are intuitively religious and psychological constructs, and we would be taught to use journals, dream logs, and along with directed exercises and cogent dialogues with mentors, therapists and close friends, etc..
The art of reflection, like the music of the soul, reveals the essential human need- the need to reflect or look back on one’s life, one’s priorities, loyalties, and the quality of our participation in life is an emotional and sensitizing process…
Reflection, as contrasted with mirroring and transparency is primarily a passive activity that usually involves us in looking back and evaluating or assessing our past actions and feelings. A common theme is the act of delving into the emotional and situational past to look for clues and hidden meanings in our previous behaviors that might influence or reveal current insights. Much of psychotherapy and spiritual direction involves us earnestly in this work.
However, many of us practice reflection informally whenever we come to a time in our year or in our lives when we reminisce or look back on the times, events, and experiences that has gone by and we wonder silently or out loud…. To ourselves or with others… These times of reflection are often started around personal and significant milestones such as our birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, retirements, and deaths… However, reflection can be generated randomly, by a stray but poignant song, or a random movie scene or by those events that do not seem so compelling, yet are still influential, such as the start of a school or church year, any time we are embarking on endings and beginnings. Often, we ask ourselves about the twists and turns, the challenges and the choices, the roads taken and left untrod, and how they might have made a difference in our lives. The famous depth psychologist, Carl Jung, once stated that the most meaningful incidents in our lives and “the right way to wholeness are made up of fateful detours and wrong turnings”… What we wound up doing on our way to somewhere else…
The next part of the theme of reflection involves us more ethically and more directly. It is the process of mirroring which is rarely, if ever, passive. The act of mirroring usually engages us in a more instant insight or feedback because we can receive information about ourselves and about our actions and choices more quickly, even acting as a “boomerang” effect.
Mirroring is not something we ponder, for it provides us the immediate capacity to see the effects of the behavior we do, and how it impacts another person, a family, or a congregation. Children, so its seems, are adults more sharply focussed mirrors- rarely out of focus, neither concave or convex… Well, maybe vexing! Our children act as immediate sources of equal opportunity embarrassment, and will often imitate or reflect some of our least flattering, most revealing qualities or traits!
Mirroring states rather succinctly that WYSIWYG- what you see, is what you get, or more directly, and more poignantly, what you do, is reflected back to you! We are earnestly advised by ethical and religious teachers such as Jesus, Buddha, and Gandhi, to personally become the change you wish to see in our world; that is, to be courageous enough, and to be soulful enough to realize that whatever you do will have an effect on others, and if you truly wish to change some aspect of the world we live in, some part of your personal or relational life, you will have to mirror that change, embody, and directly reflect those changes in your thoughts and actions. This is one dimension of how our liberal religious principles and their concern for justice and compassion affects us on a direct and personal level. I hold them to be true because I believe that all true change starts in our personal minds and hearts and is then mirrored out into the world. You and I need to mirror back to one another the values you wish to have, feelings you would like to share, and the wisdom, justice, and compassion you would like to generate and spread among others.
You and I have to consciously mirror the experiences we want or need to have reinforced in our culture and that we want to see repeated in our daily routines. When there is some injustice or imbalance in the world or in my life, I have to ask myself how I might have contributed to it? And more importantly, once identified, how is that I can reflect, redirect, and correct my life so that I can mirror the solutions and the outlooks that heal, rectify, forgive, transform, and uplift?
The last facet or segment of the process of reflection is the most intimate and vulnerable one; the capacity to soulfully shine or to be a personal transparency. It is the ability to see and the willingness to be seen clearly- to disclose and to be revealed and perceived at the core of our being is the ideal quality of transparency. This is not to expose, as if others should act as detectives looking for damning evidence or criminal clues… Nor is it be seen as acting or being shallow or to be easily “seen through” to find their underlying motives.
Instead, the quality of being a transparency is to aspire to be free of our ego defenses, our so-called best strategies, game playing, bluffing, posturing, or any other such ego mechanisms. Transparency is an ideal that willingly admits that we are all works in process, yet it also affirms and asserts there is an inner conscience, a higher call, a real voice, or an ethical and spiritual imperative that speaks to us to reach for a life that can be lived that is beyond our fears, beyond our perceived limitations, beyond and above the media driven definitions and the worldly expectations we have all around us.
For me, being a transparency is one of the end goals of the spiritual life- to live as if I could be a transparency for wisdom and compassion that others can clearly see, and that I can act as a clear window, a human channel or as a mind, body, and spirit expression of holy ideas, virtues, and principles.
As a quality of ministry that each of us can share, transparency asks us to live as authentically as we can; to be willing to work to create a world without pretense, to engage in relationships without artifice, and to build and sustain a community without denials… It is to be one’s true self along with others who are also striving to find and proclaim their authentic being, and then together, we consciously and willingly choose to support and care for one another, our children, our whole selves and I would say, our holy lives. Well, as you can see, Vickie and I have quite a year planned for you!
Last thoughts…. Along my spiritual journey over the past 30 years, I spent some time among the Christian Scientists. While it was an important stop along my way, it was too dogmatic and restrictive for me. Yet, it did leave me with certain valuable and lasting insights. As a regular part of their worship, they include an expanded interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer, that adds to the text, some clarifying and inspirational remarks. …. When the line in the Lord’s Prayer is given, “Thy Kingdom come, on Earth as it is in Heaven,” the Christian Science commentary is “And Love is reflected in love.”
And love is reflected in love…. May we, as individuals learn to shine forth, may come to understand the power of reflection and the mirroring of the good to one another, and may this community, become be a clear reflection of the love we feel for one another.
Amen. So Be It. Blessed Be.