Viktor Frankl taught that a person with a WHY to live can bear almost any HOW.
He should know; he learned that in a Nazi concentration camp.
That’s why renunciation, self-denial & ascetical exercises – not for their own sake, but – for the sake of a Loved One can also liberate us, ourselves.
We thus all should aspire to be strong-willed persons, but, as Gerald May distinguished, not willful but willing.
How might we strengthen our will to grown in love, willingness & freedom?
How might we weaken our willfulness & break those bondages which separate us from those whom we love?
How can we transform our “bondage to” into – not only a “freedom from,” but – a “freedom for” the sake of whom we love?
Where might we find a “technology of liberation” that frees us to aspire to a higher love, to life’s finer things, to get us back in the high life again, where all the doors we’ve closed at times might open up again?
Growing one’s freedom to love requires dwelling in – neither the past nor the future, but – the now.
No need to get preoccupied with either the past (as “Jesus paid it all”) or the future (as the Spirit eternalizes all traces of human goodness, every beginning of a smile, all wholesome trivialities).
Nothing to fill in the blank with regarding “I’ll be okay when _______.”
Seriously, to grow my own freedom to love, I constantly sing in my head or even mouth the lyrics: “While you see a chance, take it!”
In each now moment, while I see a chance to strengthen my willingness to love, I have better learned to take it, with increasingly few exceptions …
because my WHY to live has become way more important to me than any HOW.
Here, I am less focused on loving, personal interactions, although that remains the end. I refer, instead, to gratuitous self-denials, ordered to what Cynthia Bourgeault describes in terms of exercising & strengthening our “letting go muscle.” She’s talking within the context of distractions in Centering Prayer, but the same dynamic operates here.
While I see a chance for denial, whether regarding something as simple as –
Googling or not to satisfy some seemingly pressing but genuinely idle curiosity,
consuming or not some morsel (digital or vittles),
replacing or not otherwise intrusive worries with psalms,
foregoing or not an indulgence of drama (news-cycles or soapy series), or, more proactively,
climbing out of a chair or not to go walk or
dedicating my time or not to spiritual writing —
while I see a chance for denial, I take it.
And I’m talking about gratuitous self-denials regarding anything & everything, including wholly innocent self-indulgences, which, in and of themselves would be rather insignificant & morally neutral.
Because this exercising & strengthening of my “letting go muscle” has formed an increasingly strong habit in me of turning my attention to and caring ever more deeply about life’s higher loves & finer things, I’ve slowly found myself back in the truly high life, again.
Beginners on the spiritual path get scandalized at first regarding John of the Cross’ severe asceticism or Francis of Assisi’s betrothal to poverty.
Later, they learn to quit beating their heads against life’s walls just because it feels so good when they stop. They better realize that our saints & mystics didn’t forsake all just for kicks, but, instead, for the sake of One, Whom they loved above all. Romance fueled desires inspired their renunciations, released them from bondages to _______ & freed them for the Most High.
The spiritual practices & ascetic disciplines of every great tradition will eventually come to the fore in every life, as each finds the mystical path out of either great love or great suffering, usually some of both.
There may be some biochemistry in the admonition given to addicts – not to smoke as it makes relapses more likely. Beyond that, whether a substance or process addict (and we all have some degree of both, just varying by degrees of dys/functionality), I see the clear psychological & spiritual benefits that would accrue in strengthening one’s “letting go muscle.”
Pascal’s Wager has normative impetus even for universalists. At the existential disjunction between nihilism & theism, where one reasonably opts to live as if the pursuit of life’s most beautiful, good, unitive & liberative realities will, more likely than other approaches, thereby gift the most true (as truth often has flown in on the wings of beauty & goodness, lifted by love), those pursuits are not merely instrumental but also happen to be their own rewards! As compelling as the spectre of eternal fire & brimstone may be, life’s Higher Goods, life’s Higher Loves, life’s Finer Things, which can be pursued without moderation, remain both necessary & sufficient to compel their own pursuits & celebrate their realizations, all quite apart from even temporal, much less, eternal rewards. Virtue truly is its own reward. It, alone, leads to the High Life.
So, in addition to the psalms & hymns of old time religion, I commend Disney’s “Let It Go” and Steve Winwood’s “Finer Things,” “Higher Love,” “Back In the High Life” and, most of all, “While You See a Chance.”
From “Finer Things”
And come morning
There’s a good wind to blow me home
So time be a river rolling into nowhere
I will live while I can
I will have my ever after
The finer things keep shining through
The way my soul gets lost in you
The finer things I feel in me
The golden dance life could be
From “Higher Love”
Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Bring me a higher love
Where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?
I will wait for it
I’m not too late for it
Until then, I’ll sing my song
To cheer the night along
I could light the night up with my soul on fire
I could make the sun shine from pure desire
Let me feel that love come over me
Let me feel how strong it could be
Bring me a higher love
From “Back in the High Life”
We’ll have ourselves a time
And we’ll dance ’til the morning sun
And we’ll let the good times come in
And we won’t stop ’til we’re done
We’ll be back in the high life again
All the doors I closed one time will open up again
We’ll be back in the high life again
All the eyes that watched us once will smile and take us in
From “While You See a Chance”
Stand up in a clear blue morning
Until you see what can be
Alone in a cold day dawning
Are you still free? Can you be?
When some cold tomorrow finds you
When some sad old dream reminds you
How the endless road unwinds you
While you see a chance take it
Find romance, fake it
Because its all on you
Amos Yong explores sanctification as deification in Eastern Orthodoxy, in general, & in the desert tradition of Orthodox spirituality, more specifically, proceeding in the hope that its “technology of liberation” will provide a bridge for dialogue with the Buddhist tradition.