Henry James' "The Golden Bowl" concerned, among other things, a bowl with a flaw and that in the process of removing the flaw, the bowl was broken. It was an odd thought in the sense that, at a time when I read books either for fun or for homework, Henry James was one of my least favorite authors ... kind of like swimming through much used motor oil. After a quick bit of research, "The Golden Bowl" does seem to include a flawed bowl that is broken, but that's hardly the focus of James' latest (1904) bit of murky motor oil. So much for the tricks of memory.
For all the trickery, the image stuck with me -- that of the utterly desirable object which, when improved by removing its flaw or flaws, is inevitably broken to smithereens.
How much of spiritual adventure partakes of this activity -- positing a bright and beautiful and 'perfect' possibility that -- uh-oh! -- has this flaw or that and then the entire adventure is given over to removing the flaw or flaws? How much of institutional religion devotes itself to this pastime: For every flaw that is removed, there is yet another to be dealt with ... and another and another and another and another? How often is the priestly profession (or the individual effort) dependent on inveighing against or looking down upon (in subtle and gross ways) the 'lesser' aspects -- "I am deluded," or "I am a sinner?" Well, it fills the pews and the collection plate, I suppose.
How many go to the grave trying to make these improvements?
From where I sit, an unwillingness to address the flaws of spiritual adventure is really stupid... and who would know better than someone who has indulged in such stupidity? But there is a difference between seeing the flaws and fearing them. Seeing the flaws and then investigating them enhances any real beauty that may be inherent in the adventure. But fearing them merely elevates and enhances the flaw itself ... sort of like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Institutions may make a good living in this way, but individuals suffer and any honest usefulness in spiritual adventure is irrevocably lost. Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden egg!
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., once observed, "It is not what's wrong with the world that scares people. What really scares them is that everything is all right." This may sound kool and sound profound and any two-bit hustler like me can quote the line, but as an individualized, actual-factual experience ... ah, wouldn't that be better than quoting other people or imagining with oozing goodness how "deluded" you, I, or anyone else was?
OK, the bowl is flawed.
Do not cringe or anoint!
The bowl is flawed ...
The bowl is ...
Give it a rest, for Christ's sake!