On Being Holy

Rev. James Martin Permission Sought
Rev. James Martin
Used with Permission

I was listening to On Being with Krista Tippett, a podcast that tries to dive deeply into topics pertinent to life.  It’s one of my favorite podcasts (I’ve been listening so long, I remember when it was called Speaking of Faith), and I particularly enjoy the variety of people that Ms. Tippett interviews.  One week, I might be listening to the words of a Rabbi while the next conversation features an astronomer and religion is only peripherally included (or might be absent entirely).

The episode I listened to today was a interview with Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, author, and editor-at-large at America magazine, a national Catholic periodical.  At first glance, perhaps a Jesuit is an odd jumping off point for a post on a site authored by a Pagan.  But, considering my interfaith marriage and my multi-faith childhood, I’m perhaps more receptive to inspiration regardless of the source.

At the end of the interview, Rev. Martin shared a story with us about his days in the novitiate.  Copying from the transcript:

And I remember in the novitiate, there was a young novice who would get up in the morning at 6:30 and pray all the time. And I thought well, gee, to be holy, I guess I have to do that. So I’d get up and I’d pray, and I was falling asleep all the time. And then there was another novice who was super quiet, so I thought oh I have to be really quiet, and diffident. And, sort of soft spoken. And my spiritual director said to me, what’s wrong with you? You’re so quiet. I said, well, so-and-so’s quiet. And he’s really holy. And he said, you know, in order to become holy, you don’t become someone else. You just become yourself.

Becoming Yourself

As a solitary practitioner, I’m constantly trying to figure out how to become more truly myself.  For about the last eighteen months, if not longer, I’ve sought to deepen my spiritual practice and religious identity.  I’ve taken online courses, I’ve joined discussion groups,  and I dove as deeply as I could into the local Pagan community creating a monthly Pagan Night Out group and volunteering for Pagan Pride Day.  Going back even further, when I moved to Massachusetts, I used the Witch’s Voice to try and contact other local Pagans with limited success.  Regardless, I’ve recognized that something is missing for a while–that I am not as truly “me” as I want to be.

Two things seem to crop up a lot in Pagan circles as ways to create a deeper faith to become more holy in life:  daily practice and a personal relationship with deity.  In 2014, I worked hard to cultivate the former and, through it, perhaps find the latter.

Both were less successful than I’d like.

Rev. Martin’s story made me think about the way that I had been going about the process of becoming myself.  I read books and did the exercises therein.  I read blogs and tried to internalize the wisdom that I found online.  But, today’s podcast made me wonder how much of what I was doing was trying to become more like others.

Were my efforts stymied because I was actually drifting further away from myself?

Honestly, I’m not sure, but I suspect that it is a distinct possibility.

The real pisser is that during 2014 while I was doing fairly regular devotions, I did feel as if I was edging toward that something deeper.  It was my own sense of guilt/frustration when I failed to live up to the expectations presented to me in print that sapped my motivation to continue.  That and a feeling that what I was doing was superficial in some way because it wasn’t a devotion to any specific deity.  I perceived that superficiality in the moment, even though retrospectively, I suspect that I was more successful than I noticed.

Part of my hopes for 2015 is to become more truly myself; to find a semblance of stability within the instability of my reflection.  It’s a nebulous goal, sure, but it’s usually the journey that matters and the lack of progress toward more concrete goals was dispiriting in the past.  Perhaps, if I keep things a little looser this year, I’ll (counter-intuitively) make better progress.