Monday, March 5, 2018

The place that motivation has in our spiritual lives.

There is a plethora of motivation videos and talks available on the internet these days.  It used to be that one had to pay quite a princely sum to attend motivation talks by experts in the field.  Nowadays, with the advent of media like YouTube, talks on motivation can be accessed gratis, and there are a wide range of such talks, from the very engaging ones to those who could do with the help of some motivational gurus themselves. 

When one deliberately searches for such material, one often has to sift through a sea of what is available, and could be akin to looking for a needle in a haystack.  Sometimes one stumbles on a gem without even trying, and when one is found, it makes the find all the more sublime and meaningful.  I had this happen to me this week when I was looking at some video interviews of chef David Chang, known in the foodie world as the owner of a noodle bar in New York called Momofuku, which has morphed into quite an empire with restaurants in other cities like Toronto, Washington DC, Las Vegas and Sydney.  My interest in him was piqued when I came across a series of food documentaries titled Ugly Delicious (the strange 'benefits' of post-operation convalescence time).  Apparently, he has two Michelin Stars to his name.  You may be asking what an American-born Asian chef have to do with a spiritual blog.  Well, in one of these interviews, a reporter asked him why he was on the search for chefs who feel the integrity of what they are doing.  His answer was so interesting because he shared that at some point in his life, he actually started caring, and wanted to do a good job at this (cooking), following this by saying “life is too short to be bad at something”.  If you watch the video, you can see David going deep into his inner self to put into words what he truly believed before giving that answer to the reporter.  It was something he truly believed in.

Seeing this was like seeing grace at work, and grace being responded to.  Even though what he was referring to can be considered banal, earthy and insignificant (cooking), we mustn’t limit grace to only things that are spiritual and eternal.  After all, we see in the person of Chef Chang someone who is not just a maker of a meal, but someone who is flourishing, someone at the top of his game, and someone extremely motivated, and someone certainly very engaged.  If he was lackadaisical, if he was just contented to passively place a cooked bowl of ramen haphazardly put together in front of a patron at his eatery, he wouldn’t be where he is now.  It was as if a light went on in his head/heart when he realized that life is too short to be bad at something.

More and more, as a carer of souls for the Church, I see the great urgency for my congregation to truly own their faith, to be invested and to be engaged.  However, the fruits at motivating them seem to be progressing at the speed of flowing molasses, but I have to respect the fact that conversion is primarily an act of grace, and not predicated on human action.  The conversion stories that I have come across are very often those where the life of the person became awakened, where there was a ground-shift, like as if a bulb suddenly lighted up, and they could, because of this ‘enlightenment’, see the folly of their former ways.  It’s as if scales suddenly fell from their eyes, not unlike Paul of Tarsus.  Addicts of various types began to see just how destructive their addictions made them to not only those who loved them, but to themselves.  Adulterers who had previously been unable to grasp how their affairs had broken their marriage vows could see they were somehow selfish in ways that they never did before.  Like David, grace allowed them to see that life is too short to be bad at something.

Perhaps part of the problem with many of us is that we take the reality that our lives have a ‘use-by’ date with a lot of levity.  After all, mortality rates are declining worldwide with the advance in medicine and science, giving many the mistaken notion that we can side-step and cheat death indefinitely.  But that is a lie we must never believe in, even as we do our best to live healthier lives.  Even if we live to be nonagenarians or centenarians, this would amount to just a flash compared to eternity that we have when we breathe our last.  Indeed, life is too short to be bad at anything, what more at life itself?  

Delaying our response to true conversion further and further away from us may be seen to be a good thing, especially if we have a strong belief that a converted and authentic, engaged and personally invested life is one that will see us not being happy and missing out on parties and fun, when in fact the opposite is true – that when the blinkers are lifted and we are responding to grace, our happiness becomes much more genuine and our love becomes purified, and we are able to see the folly and shallowness of the delights which the temporal world promises.  It’s not that parties are no longer fun, but we will see that our locus isn’t only fixed on our pleasure-centres.  The truly integrated person is able to discern the different levels of pleasure and delight, and can differentiate between shallow pleasure and deep and lasting joys.

Our prayer should always include the desire to be responsive to the grace of God that constantly invites us to cooperate with Him, to be motivated by Him, resulting in our entire lives not just existing passively, but truly engaged, giving us the ability to flourish and like Chef David, be at the top of our game.  Only difference being that it is not our game, but God’s.

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