james martin on being holy

i’m really into james martin. he makes me want to be a jesuit. i debated being a monk for about a year when took two years off from undergrad. i ended up not doing that because i like sex, but listening to him talk about the world and stuff… it makes me think i could do it.

in the last five minutes of his on being interview he discusses what it means to be holy and i love where he lands. his story:

“As Merton said, for me to be a saint means to be myself. And I remember in the novitiate, there was a young novice who would get up in the morning at 6:30 and pray all the time. And I thought, “Well, gee, to be holy, I guess I have to do that.” So I’d get up, and I’d pray, and I was falling asleep all the time. And then there was another novice who was super quiet, so I thought, “Oh, I have to be really quiet, and diffident, and sort of soft spoken.” And my spiritual director said to me, “What’s wrong with you? You’re so quiet.” I said, “Well, so-and-so’s quiet. And he’s really holy.” And he said, “In order to become holy, you don’t become someone else. You just become yourself.”

and then he has this little followup section about why putting the saints on pedestals (in catholicism but other faiths, too) is a self-defeating practice:

“So, there’s a sense that we forget that the saints were themselves too. And Jesus was himself. We tame them, take all the rough edges off of them, and we put them on a pedestal. And then they make no claim on us because we say, “Well, we can’t possibly be like that. We can’t be perfect like they were without any rough edges. So therefore, I don’t have to be a saint. I don’t have to try.” And that’s what happens. And that’s how we let ourselves off the hook from the call to holiness.”

i love both of these ideas so much. in some ways, they reinforce things i’ve been working on. the first point about being more yourself is where my productivity coaching fits and the second is my personal branding stuff work.

a lot of my productivity coaching is about helping people learn how they move through the world. by experimenting with what works for you, you can build a personal system that allows you to do you better.

and my personal branding work is all about learning how to tell your own story, identifying what work you feel best doing, and connecting that to your role in your communities and societies.

i think this also takes some pressure off of the non-saint saints of the social change world. the mlks, gandhis, and mother theresas. the angela davises, anne bradens, and malcolm xs. they all did great work, but none of our great work will look like theirs. similar, maybe, but not the same. phew, right?

ok. last thought: i don’t think james was technically responding to krista’s perennial question about what’s learned about what it means to be human, but he answered it. and it sounds like his answer was that being more human is to learn how to be more holy and that means learning how to be more ourselves. and, thankfully, that is in reach of each one of us.


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