Spiritual Essays

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  • Worthless?

    How interesting that “worthless” is in our vocabulary, with a strong negative meaning, but we do not have “worthmore” as a positive word. Of course we can resort to two words, “worth more,” but to say that someone is worthless is a complete dismissal, whereas if we say that a person is worth more, a comparison is required. How do we think of and describe ourselves  and one another as having absolute worth, not by comparison with someone else and not according to an arbitrary standard of measure?

    The words are not nearly as important as the reality: no human person is worthless, nor are any of us of more worth than anyone else. Our worth is both incomparable and immeasurable. But there might be days when we think that we or someone else is worthless. The antidote to such poisoned thinking is not a single word with opposite meaning, but rather an interior movement from surface to depth, from being in storm-tossed waves that blow any which way, to being in a peaceful but strong current purposefully flowing. We can gracefully focus our attention on a basic existential truth.

    We do not confer self-worth upon ourselves as some kind of quality, compliment, or honor. Rather, our value is determined before we might ever acknowledge it. We determine, to a large extent, whether or to what degree, we will accept the truth of our innate value. Avoidance, comparison with others, and even denial are some of the causes of possible mental confusion and consequent emotional discord we can experience if we literally misjudge ourselves or others.

    Just as we are free to believe that the earth is flat, or that no human ever set foot on the moon, we have the capability of accepting that we are personally chosen to be who we are, rather than being some kind of accidental occurrences on earth. We are able to choose others to become friends, teammates or to engage with us in some kind of project, but even parents do not have the capability of choosing a human person to be who that person is. God is actively, consciously, and with absolute love, choosing each of us to be, giving us our true worth. And yet, we are free to think of ourselves or others as worthless, even though each of us is a unique creation of infinite value.

    While it might appear to be an exercise of pride to think of ourselves as being so highly valued, do we refuse to admit that anyone, including friends or family members, cares for us just as we are? When people do not accept love in any form, we understand that they have probably been deeply hurt, and so are incapable of believing that they are loved. We do not encourage or support that kind of thinking, recognizing that no one of us could possibly be unworthy of being loved. For ourselves, and all others, we might as well acknowledge what God does, loving us into being. To do so is not being falsely proud, but is accepting of a reality which we did not create.

    No one is worthless to God, so who are we to judge otherwise? 

  • Holy Water

    Churches have Holy Water that has been blessed and used as a reminder of Baptism. And some people keep a small amount for private use at home. All of us, if we take a little time to reflect on the importance of water, might be willing to believe that most water, and especially the water we drink, is holy. It is not just a sign of the presence of God, but an active loving presence of God’s very self.

    Any reflection that leads to gratitude is worth the little time and thought we give to it. Taking a drink of water is generally good for us; when we are grateful for the positive effects upon us that water brings about, our bodies benefit and our spirits as well. We know the difference between unconsciously gulping down whatever water is at hand, and enjoying a refreshing drink of water. We can, if we wish, consider the Ignatian insight that God “works for us” even in water, and give a bit of our attention to how that affects our sense of gratitude.

    Store shelves are filled with containers of water that come from springs or sources at a distance, even from other nations. But whatever water we happen to drink at any time, whether from the tap or from a bottle, has been brought to us, and was very likely tested to ensure that it was safe for us to drink. We might take clean water for granted, but gratitude for such a truly life-giving gift, is wholly appropriate. Water that is carefully provided for us is holy: God is “at work” not only through the cycle of rainfall and evaporation, but in human organizations that operate for the common good.

    Not everyone involved in gathering the results of rainfall and making it available to us does so out of conscious love for humanity, much less intending to be of service to us as individuals. But we who appreciate our drink of water can be thankful that human societies can and often do fulfill their purposes of serving the welfare of all, not just a select few.

    Water comes to us through the processes of ongoing creation on this earth, our home. Like God’s love for us, water is essential for all and given for all through the cycles it makes through earth and sky. Water is not manufactured; it is not itself a product, though it surely is transported, contained in dams and in small bottles, and forcibly separated from salt and other chemicals and contaminants. But fresh water means life for every one of us, and is very much a part of God’s holy creative care for us, and is certainly a legitimate cause for gratitude.

    Water becomes consciously holy for us when we occasionally thank God for the amazing and gracious connection there is between life and water. We often think of “spirit” as ethereal, and non-physical. Water is a clearly a physical reality, but there is no accident in water being used for Baptism.

    Life-giving water, any way you choose to consider it, is holy.