Seeds and the Gratitudes

Monday, July 18, 2011 — Week of Proper 11, Year One

Bartolome de las Casas, Friar and Missionary to the Indies, 1566

To read about our daily commemorations, go to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 976)

Psalms 41, 52 (morning) 44 (evening)

1 Samuel 24:1-22

Acts 13:44-52

Mark 4:1-20

My colleague Chuck Walling recently preached a sermon on the parable of the thorns. He offered some nice metaphors for the allegory.

The hardened path where the seeds fall and cannot grow is our status quo, he said. It is the way of the familiar, our habits that block us from the new possibility that God might throw our way. It is our hardened opinions and certainties — the way we’ve thought before. Our interpretive paradigms that channel our perception and understanding so that we only see what we expect to see and we think along comfortable and well-worn paths.

He called the rocks in the landscape, our “never-never” rocks. These are the buried places that we protect from God’s prying roots — never-never will we let God go into that part of our lives. There are some behaviors and thoughts that we shield from God’s intrusion. “Never-never will that change. Don’t go there.”

The thorns he spoke of as the distractions that waste our energy and choke our attention and time so that we attend to lesser things, he said. We fail to learn and grow because we don’t give ourselves time to attend to the things that bring growth.

To this last point, I’m reminded of something. Positive Psychology guru Martin Seligman suggests that our well-being can be enhanced by our pursuit of what he calls “the gratifications” as we tone down our pursuit of mere pleasures. Gratification comes when we involve ourselves in challenges that require our best efforts and use our signature strengths.

Seligman references research by Mike Csikszentmihalyi about “flow” — moments when we get so caught up in something meaningful to us that time seems to stop. Csikszentmihalyi tells of his eighty year old half-brother Marty who has a passion for minerals. One morning after breakfast Marty took up a crystal to study under his powerful microscope. After a while, he noticed that it was harder to see the crystal’s internal structure clearly, and Marty thought that a cloud had passed in front of the sun. He looked up, and found that the sun had set. (Seligman, Authentic Happiness; Free Press, 2002, p. 114)

Seligman offers eight psychological components that describe a gratification:

• the task is challenging and requires skill

• we concentrate

• there are clear goals

• we get immediate feedback

• we have a deep, effortless involvement

• there is a sense of control

• our sense of self vanishes

• time stops ( Ibid, p. 116)

It is interesting that there is no experience of positive emotion as a component to this sort of gratification. If feeling is involved, it is usually in retrospect. “A mountain climber may be close to freezing, utterly exhausted, in danger of falling into a bottomless crevasse, yet he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” (Ibid, p. 119)

Seligman is convinced that the good life is related to our use of our signature gifts in challenging and meaningful activities that create more gratification in our lives.

I’m interested in recognizing the ways that I let my life get into a rut, blocking God’s creative presence, letting distractions and little pleasures deter me from more meaningful and challenging opportunities. There are so many activities and things that produce gratification rather than mere pleasure. But they take do more effort and a willingness to risk. They are things that I can fail at. Sitting in front of the TV is so easy. Can’t fail at watching a TV show. But sometimes, just to do so, is a simple failure itself.

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