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The Wisdom of Imperfection

Rob Preece, a Buddhist spiritual mentor I am privileged to know, recently wrote a book entitled 'The Wisdom of Imperfection.' An excellent book understanding that, at heart, the spiritual journey involves encompassing all that we are, not a striving for a state of perfection, and encouraging us to have compassion on our vulnerability and fallibility as we travel our path.

But this is not a new idea, although it is one we have great need of continually revisiting. In the Christian tradition, St Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), in her 'Little Way,' understood that we don't come to God by eliminating our imperfection but by embracing it, because its gift is to make us more aware of our need of God's mercy and love, and keep us humble and open to God's presence; not unsimilar sentiments to those in the well-known lines of Leonard Cohen: 'There is a crack in everything, that's where the light gets in.' Brother Joe Schmidt describes Thérèse's method as, 'The way of being aware of your need for love, willing to give yourself to God's embrace like a child abandons itself with confidence and love into the arms of its loving parent, and then freely sharing love with others in creative good works of peace and justice. It is the willingness to be the person God calls you to be.'

There are two major approaches to spirituality and, you might say in Christian terms, our 'conversion.' We can try and exclude and triumph over the negative parts - the 'shadow' parts - of ourselves. However, this can lead to a kind of heroic spirituality based on will-power and the achievement of some sort of supposed perfection, although what we are often doing in reality is pretending, and excluding the 'dark side' we don't want to look at. The other way is that of 'integration' - of forgiving and accepting the imperfection and woundedness of life, including ourselves. This 'spirituality of imperfection' necessarily undermines the egoic use of religion for the purposes of our self-esteem. Such surrendering of superiority, or even the need for such superiority, is also central to any authentic enlightenment. Without it, we are blind (John 9: 39-41) and blind guides for others.

In this understanding of the path, our 'salvation' is seen not as a divine transaction that takes place because we are morally perfect, but much more an organic unfolding, a becoming who we already are in our True Self in God, just like Thérèse's willingness to be the person God called her to be.

St Bonaventure (1217-1274) saw God as 'a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.' You fall into this wholeness when you stop denying or excluding things, even the imperfect, dark parts of yourself. It is when we allow to coexist, and hold within us in paradoxical balance, the dynamic play of these opposites, that we find our wholeness and peace - our shalom.

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