Friday, May 16, 2014

What is failure to you?

Dominic's 2nd way of prayer: God, be merciful to me, a sinner.
I learned this week about the dark time that St. Dominic spent in France, being ridiculed for his preaching and having his mentor and friend die suddenly, leaving him the leader of their then-fledgling band of preachers. Out of all the stories I had heard this week, that one really grabbed hold of me. I could imagine his anguish. I couldn’t imagine how he kept going, disappointment after disappointment; yet I know he did, and went on to establish the Order. To my surprise, Sr. Annie Willits, OP, after she told us the story, said to us: I invite you to fail.
Some part of me understood the invitation quite well. In dark times are when we are weakest, possibly also when we are most humble, most pliable, most open to the mercy of God. Yet another part of me resisted pretty vehemently. To welcome failure makes no sense. As I continued to reflect on this question, several things surfaced.
Scripture has some pretty epic fails: Sodom and Gomorrah; the Flood; wandering the desert for 40 years when there was a short-cut; Moses not seeing the Promised Land; the fall of Israel and Judah; Judas’ betrayal; Peter’s denial; Jesus’ Passion, if considered without the resurrection; Stephen, the protomartyr. What is failure in this light?
Failure is not the same as kenosis (self-emptying), but they’re cousins, to the extent that failure may lead to humility and the exposure of the false self.
What do we, in our typically dualistic thinking, consider a failure? Vulnerability? Under-achievement? Not getting something that we really want? Criticism? The disenfranchised? The false self? …and the list goes on.
Dominic's 6th way of prayer: for healing in our suffering
Dominic could not have been victim of our dualistic paradigm. Sure, the colors of our Order are black and white, but I don’t think Dominic’s world was like that, consisting only of either winners or losers. I suspect he did not consider himself a failure, even in his darkest hour. He loved God and his brothers and sisters too much to entertain such thoughts. Probably he kept going because he knew that that was the right thing to do, no matter what the outcome.
After all this, I do not accept your invitation, Sr. Annie. Even better than welcoming failure, I believe, is an honest examination of what I believe failure to be, which determines too what I believe success to be, and therefore my motivations. I’m quite sure there are dualistic tendencies there that do not serve me, or those around me, well. And I invite you to do the same. It’s an important consideration that could make a real difference in how we face our dark hours and whether we decide to keep going.

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