The theme of the 8-day guided retreat I’ve been giving at St. Ignatius (we finish this morning) is The Gift of an Awakened Heart. During the retreat, I identified with the retreatants several qualities of an awakened heart, including inclusive love, a generosity of spirit and a heart capable of fully responding to those around us.
Another quality, and one of the basic elements of how we live out of an awakened heart, is speaking and acting from the core of our being, speaking out of the truth of who we are. Timothy Radcliffe (in Why Be a Christian?) speaks of “that deep spontaneity characteristic of holy people who do not simply react, superficially, but rather respond immediately from the depth of their being, from the heart.’
I am talking about integrity here. Not in the narrow sense of not telling an outright lie, but of acting out of the integrity and truth of who we are. Of speaking out of our heart.
Robert Wicks in a wonderful book called Touching the Holy speaks of “true ordinariness” as being tangible holiness. He writes “This is what it really means to be oneself, to be ordinary: not to waste energy on subterfuge, defensiveness, envy or competitiveness, but instead to be at ease with oneself…To simply be who we are is already holiness.”
That means not having one sense of who I am with family, another with co-workers, another with Church acquaintances, but being who I am – being the disciple I am – in every context in which I find myself. If I believe my life belongs to God, that is the truth I live out of in everything I do.
People recognize this integrity when they see it and they are drawn by it. They can sense when people have the courage to be themselves. I remember the first time I heard Sr. Helen Prejean speak. I was drawn to her precisely because she spoke so fully from her heart, with absolute integrity. I remember saying to someone afterward that if she had ended her talk by saying, drop everything and follow me, I would have done so. I’ve heard the same thing said about Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of opposition to the Burmese government, who spent years under house arrest. I read a description of her characteristics once that ended by saying that the person “would have been willing to do anything that was asked of me at that moment: it was impossible to behold this woman and not be half in love.”
I believe this integrity, this living out of the core of who we are is what the Gospel writers meant when they referred to Jesus speaking as one who had authority. It is a central element of living out of an awakened heart, indeed, a central aspect of living a fully Christian life.