Given the current series of conversations about spiritual formation I thought a recent post by Sr Mary Meg Funk, OSB, on Spiritual Ambition was appropriate. Sr Mary describes herself on her blog as “a nun seeking God through the monastic way of life under a Rule and a superior.” She is a member of Our Lady of Grace Monastery Beech Grove, IN.
Sister is involved in ecumenical and interfaith dialog about monastic life. Her words bring a helpful mix of insights not only from Roman Catholicism, but also Eastern Orthodoxy, Protestantism and Buddhism. I would encourage people to take a look at Sr Mary’s blog. While I am on the subject, I would recommend as well Vow of Conversation by the Roman Catholic Cistercian nun Sr Macrina. Post for both blogs will appear under My Blog List in the lower right.
Humility thrives without ambition. Yet, the ascetical life has the root word of an athlete. I’ve heard the Dalai Lama say competition for monks is desirable to assist the weak and encourage the strong.
We rightly esteem our Olympic Athletes. We applaud their discipline and mastery of skill demonstrated through their sport events.
St. Paul uses the athlete as an ideal for us to measure our efforts to life Gospel values with such dedication.
Benedict says he wants to temper the rule to have nothing harsh to discourage the weak, but also keep the strong motivated and on the path during the whole of his/her life all his/her life.
So, when is ambition opposing humility?
Spiritual ambition has attachments to special clothes, using objects and appropriating gestures without authentic initiation and ordination lineages. Spiritual consumerism has a profit motive rather than sacrifice.
Spiritual ambition implies competition that could foster violence rather than the warm community known as koinonia in the Acts of the Apostles.
Money exchange for services rendered is blessed and helpful for stability and good order. The services rendered by a competent and authorized minister warrant wages. To take advantage of spiritual hunger and exploit through consumerism is an affliction of vainglory.
Ambition is about motivation. Spiritual ambition risks the self-willed agenda rather than selflessness that gives honor and glory to God and right effort to the seeker.
Towards others we teach by example and words of encouragement. Here we see how the teachings on laughter fit with the teaching on spiritual ambition. We would not laugh or make fun of another. We applaud any effort toward doing the right thing with right intention.
We also imitate the good we see in others and remain supple to catch our next point of conversatio. on our spiritual journey. It comes from the inside, this impulse of grace. Spiritual ambition comes from the outside, i.e. impressing others, being higher and taking the places of honor. Leadership roles can be seductive as can be scholarship and academic rituals of advancement.
Our American culture sponsors ambition. Business, sports, musical accomplishments have a place in society, but in the realm of the Spirit there is Soul to Soul calculus.
Our ambition is helpful to repent and wait upon the subtle graces that come to ready hearts.