(Thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)
Whack-A-Mole is a fun game to play. Five moles pop up in random places and you hit them with the large foam mallet. The more you hit, the higher you score. As the game continues the moles appear more quickly and sometimes in multiple places at once making the act of whacking more difficult.
Spiritual Whack-A-Mole feels similar, except there are more moles. I can be enjoying a pleasant day when up pops the Mole of Pride. I whack him down only to be surprised by the Mole of Gluttony. I turn quickly as Greed, Sloth and Anger make an appearance. As I knock those moles down by wielding a memory verse or two, Envy and Lust appear almost out of my reach, and, as I pummel those down Pride and Anger make return appearances.
The game continues at a faster and faster pace until I eventually collapse overwhelmed and exhausted. The game stops for a while...until somehow I put in another dollar and the machine springs back to life.
Spiritual Whack-A-Mole is a game that I have played for a long time. My definition of spiritual maturity was based upon getting as high a score as possible in the game. To be spiritually mature was to be able to wield my mallet efficiently and pound as many moles as possible and so for years I wielded bible verses, prayer techniques, small group accountability, conferences, or whatever was the latest in thing.
Now don't misunderstand me. Scripture memorization, bible study, prayer techniques, small groups, accountability etc are all good things. It's not the mallet that's the problem, it's the game.
Over the last few years I've begun to approach Whack-A-Mole differently. Instead of just hitting whatever pops up, I've begun to open the cabinet of my life and take a look at the mechanism underneath. Instead of fighting the mechanism I've begun to dismantle it.
It's much harder work than simply raising a mallet.
I find it relatively easy to look at the mechanism behind Gluttony. I can examine my relationship with food and hopefully change the way I relate to that plate of pasta while at the same time visiting the gym. Some of the other moles are more difficult. Envy, Pride, Lust and Sarcasm for example. When I hit them with the mallet I get them out of my sight as quickly as possible. I can almost pretend they don't exist - out of sight, out of mind. However to look at the mechanism underneath I have to admit that those moles are a part of my life.
The Jesuit Theologian Walter Burghardt once described Contemplation as "a long, loving look at the real." I've begun to see that spiritual maturity is not about keeping score of the number of sins that I do or do not commit. It's about opening the cabinet of my life to see what's inside, and asking the Creator to help fix my broken mechanisms.