“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”
It is easy sitting here peacefully at the monastery to imagine that the “world” Jesus is talking about is something “out there.” I might imagine that the world refers to the people and systems and structures outside the monastery, outside the Church. But Father Abbot is quick to remind me that the world in which we have tribulation and that Christ overcomes is not “out there,” but within ourselves.
Certainly people and systems and structures “out there” are to a great degree controlled by the world; but in as much as I allow myself to be caught up in worldly ways of thinking and being and doing, I too am the world. This worldliness in myself is the world that Christ must overcome–in fact it is the only worldliness that I have any real influence over.
There is a sort of schizophrenia in the Christian experience. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus was referring to when he said, “If you were of the world, the world would love you…but because you are not of the world, the world hates you.” Strong feelings accompanied by compelling thoughts convince me that I am indeed depressed or lustful or rightly angry or passionate in any of the hundreds of ways human beings are worldly. Yet at the same time another reality is knocking at the door. Christ in me does not deny the fact of these worldly feelings, thoughts and passions; but Christ in me is calling me to look to Him. And in looking to Christ, somehow Christ begins to overcome the world that has such a strong hold on me.
Christ overcomes the world. I do not overcome the world by figuring it out or somehow gaining mastery over my inner life. Truly, all I can do is to turn my inner gaze from the driving, tearing and often screeching world within me to Christ. Christ overcomes the world within me. And as I gaze at Christ, as I remember or attend to the peaceful place within myself, the place where Christ dwells, as I do this, I myself am changed. What I do begins to change. How I respond to those around me begins to change. Even in the world, even “out there,” where I am stuck in systems and structures that are inherently broken, still Christ is overcoming the world in me and thus through me.
I am no crusader. Perhaps because of calling or personality or maybe just hard experience, I do not expect that I will influence much the twisted, hurt and hurting systems and structures I must negotiate to survive in the world out there as it is. Nevertheless, I can be a round peg in a square hole, never quite fitting, never feeling at home in the world. I can march to the beat of a different drummer, even if that beat, that Christ-like beat I long to march to is sometimes faint within me, sometimes almost drowned out by the worldly beat, the passions screaming so loudly within me.
Attention is key. If I can attend to Christ, if I can remember the melody, or even just snatches of it when the loud tunes of the world play in my head; then it is possible. It is possible that within me the world will be overcome, that peace will reign, and that perhaps in the space of this one human heart the Kingdom of Heaven will be manifest; and as it is manifested, it will radiate out from that one heart and shine on the all that is “out there.”