Ronald Rolheiser speaks to this truth in his essay entitled “Life is a Messy Business” from the book, Forgotten Among the Lilies.
Nobody goes through life antiseptically without dirt, pain, mess and death…..Life may be messy, but it is real, not plastic. We are not Swiss clocks, infallibly ordered, made to tick meticulously, precise and antiseptic. Rather our lives are anything but ordered and clocklike. We cannot live without messiness, complications and much emotional and physical pain.
It begins when we are born. Birth is a messy process which causes pain, dictates involvement and complicates peoples’ lives irrevocably. Living does too!
Work, interrelations, love, sex, friendship, aging, all of these are complex, earthy, messy businesses which are always at least partially full of pain, pettiness, limit, compromise and death. They are full of joy and meaning too, but these are seldom given purely. Moreover no one goes through life without having his or her dignity, freedom and dreams frustrated and stepped on. There is no antiseptic route through life…..
Often this leaves us discouraged and questioning. More seriously, this often leads to a subtle despair. Stated simply the algebra of this despair, and ultimately of all despair, reads like this: If all is muddled, then all is permitted.
That attitude is viral and deadly. It is perhaps the worst temptation faced by an adult. Because of it we sell ourselves out, give up, throw dignity and dreams to the wind and settle for second best. This single factor is perhaps at the root of most of the infidelity, sexual irresponsibility, and unbelief with our culture…..
The messiness of life also leaves us tempted in another way, namely to try to live antiseptically.
Since we cannot live and love deeply without hurting, without pettiness, enslaving and humiliating entanglements, without smear, we opt not to live and love deeply at all. so we hang loose, refusing depth. We stay away from all that might hurt – or heal – us deeply.
In doing this we make life plastic – antiseptic, clean, without dirt and smell but totally lifeless and without meaning, like a plastic rose. We need to accept the contours of our own existence…..Our souls are born enfleshed in soil, pain, blood and smell.
Ah, these words of truth are good for the soul. Life is messy and complicated and we need to embrace that. We do not want to be people without resiliency who toss their lives away in quiet despair. We also do not want to scrub and clean away all the texture and flavor.
As always, I write for you, I write for myself. I write for the fifty year old woman struggling to stand up on a beach road after having fallen off a bicycle due to a dumb decision to ride with the seat too high. I write for that woman covered in dust and dirt, that old lady with aching wrist and rib bones and muscles that will need time to heal. I write for the long list of messy and complicated situations – far more difficult than a fall off a bicycle – that I’m facing today because I know you have a list as well. Embrace your list. Live it and be grateful for it. Fight the despair that creeps into your soul, ride the bicycles, do daring things, get dirty, fall down. An antiseptic life is not a life.
The morning after my fall, Oswald was writing on a different topic, but asked a very relevant question.
Now where does God come in this?
Onward my friends!