When that day comes
you need feel no shame for all the misdeeds
you have committed against me,
for I will remove your proud boasters
from your midst;
and you will cease to strut
on my holy mountain.
In your midst I will leave
a humble and lowly people,
and those who are left in Israel will seek refuge in the name of Yahweh.
Zephaniah 3: 11-12
What do you think? A man had two sons. He approached the first one and said: “Son, go today, work in the vineyard.” He answered and said: “I will not.” But later he changed his mind and went off. He approached the other and said the same thing. But he answered and said: “I will, sir.” And he did not go off. Which of the two did the father’s will?”
Matthew 21: 28-31
As we enter the latter days of Advent, the scriptures challenge us to enter more deeply into our hearts, into a recognition of what is truly our treasure and the source of the direction we are giving our lives. What really motivates the words we speak and the deeds we do?
The psychoanalyst Karen Horney identifies three basic movements of the human heart: moving toward, moving against, and moving away from others. In the course of our own character development each of us develops a bias in terms of these movements. In terms of the parable in today’s gospel, our default answer to the request of others may be “yes” or “no” or running away. As our character develops, we deepen into our biased response, so that by habit and without thinking we tend either to appease, to counter, or to avoid the other and the situation at hand. These ways of living in the world serve primarily to defend the fragility and vulnerability of our hearts or spiritual cores.
Thus, the challenge in today’s scripture readings is to become aware of our own defensiveness (thus ceasing “to strut”) and to dare to live from the “humble and lowly” place in us that seeks “refuge in the name of Yahweh.” In the gospel parable, the “first son” spontaneously says “no,” but then reconsiders his reaction and gives himself to the appeal of the father. The “second son” says “yes” but clearly only on the surface and by the habit of appeasing and not by dedication of the will. The yes is really not meaningful because it does not represent a “yes” at the level of the heart. While the first son enters into a personal reflection that allows him to detach from his habitual reaction of “no” and realize his potential for a much deeper “yes,” the second never awakens out of the sleep of habit and reaction. In all likelihood, he would not even experience the inconsistency between his words and actions. He might well continue to live as an appealing and appeasing social presence, while never finding that place in himself which is capable of truly saying “yes” to another and meaning it.
Zephaniah speaks of a day to come when we “need feel no shame.” This “day” is very different from the everyday, when we cover our “shame” with strutting and proud boasting. It is the day when we recognize that we are loved in our fears and vulnerabilities and that we can come to the “yes” of our own being, even as we would reactively say “no” to it.
Adrian van Kaam says that our “no” to the full awareness of who we most deeply are and to our spiritual core is the primal act of human violence. The violence we wreak on each other and on our world springs from this refusal of our own spiritual awareness. As we enter these latter days of Advent, may we pray to “wake up” from the ways of living we have adopted over our lifetime that manifest our refusal to be aware of our own spiritual core and significance, a place in us that is our unique and profound “yes” to God’s loving will.
What is the primal act of violence? We believe it is the defensive refusal of the potential fullness of our awareness. It is the denial of the spiritual dimension of our life. All other acts of inner and outer violence against self and others are conditioned by this primal act.
Fundamental Formation, p. 158