Our Congenital Complexity

Ronald Rolheiser
February 24, 2020
Reproduced with Permission

The renowned spiritual writer, Ruth Burrows, begins her autobiography with these words: "I was born into this world with a tortured sensitivity. For long I have puzzled over the causes of my psychological anguish."

Unfortunately, to our loss, too many spiritual biographies don't begin like this, that is, by recognizing right at the start the bewildering, pathological complexity inside our own nature. We're not simple in heart, mind, and soul, nor indeed even in body. Each of us has enough complexity within us to write our own treatise on abnormal psychology.

And that complexity must not only be recognized, it needs to be respected and hallowed because it stems not for what's worst in us but from what's best in us. We're complex because what beguiles us inside and tempts us in every direction is not, first of all, the wiliness of the devil but rather the image and likeness of God. Inside us there's a divine fire, a greatness, which gives us infinite depth, insatiable desires, and enough luminosity to bewilder every psychologist. The image and likeness of God inside us, as John of the Cross writes, renders our hearts, minds, and souls "caverns" too deep to ever be filled in or fully understood.

It's my belief that Christian spirituality, at least in its popular preaching and catechesis, has too often not taken this seriously enough. In short, the impression has too much been given that Christian discipleship shouldn't be complicated: Why all this resistance within you! What's wrong with you! But, as we know from our own experience, our innate complexity is forever throwing up complications and resistances to becoming a saint, to "willing the one thing". Moreover, because our complexity hasn't been recognized and honored spiritually we often feel guilty about it: Why am I so complicated? Why do I have all these questions? Why am I so often confused? Why is sex such a powerful impulse? Why do I have some many temptations?

The simple answer: Because we are born with a godly fire within. Thus the source of so many of our confusions, temptations, and resistances comes as much what best in as from the wiles of the Satan and the world.

What should we do in in the face of our own bewildering complexity?

Some Counsels for the Long Haul: