On Giants' Shoulders

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Bowing to the Floor

One of the discoveries I made this week in reading a book about St. Therese was that the Carmelites in her convent were not allowed to defend themselves when unjustly accused or criticized. That goes so against our current way of thinking. We are so quick to defend our actions, defend our motives, and be very touchy if someone criticizes us unjustly. The Carmelites would bow and kiss the floor before their accuser. Now that goes about as counter to our culture as you can imagine.

I'm not thinking about adopting the bowing to the floor custom (imagine the reaction that would cause!), but I'm thinking that perhaps we should examine the attitude behind it. It's an attitude that attributes the best of motives to the person criticizing us. It's an attitude of acceptance of humiliation. It's recognizing that even if the other person doesn't recognize the efforts we are making, or misunderstands what we have done, that God does understand. God accepts our feeble efforts, our awkward attempts, and even our mistakes, just as we accept the bunches of weeds that our small children bring to us so lovingly. We want so much to be bringing God beautiful paintings, beautiful vases full of blossoms, and we find ourselves with love producing stick figures and juice glasses of dandelions. St. Therese embraced her "littleness" and it was that very embrace that made her a saint. Embracing littleness while still making every effort we can is difficult.We want so much for the other people in our lives to feel love in our actions when sometimes they simply don't because our efforts don't measure up to their expectations. And we sometimes don't feel the love in their actions for the same reason.

We don't live in Carmel according to a strict rule, yet we can practice some of the principles behind the rule. For instance we can offer up those criticisms instead of rushing to defend ourselves, and we can attribute good motives to those around us, even when they've done something we don't like. We can accept their loving efforts, even when it doesn't meet our expectations. Their efforts, like ours, may simply be dandelions offered to a Heavenly Father who simply revels in dandelions and stick figures as long as that's the best His little children can offer.


At 5:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As I read and write this semester about Medieval life this post sits well with my academic side: I try to be open to the differences of the past. I think that rushing to defend ourselves could be due from a vice of pride. Yet, those who accuse unjustly or who feel that they are so accustomed to the facts as to have the audacity to accuse an innocent of something need to be held in check as well. It is always better to let the guilty go free than to let the innocent fry. Maybe we could come up with a better way to carry out a strict rule for this religious order--instead of holding close to rules and a suspicious over-watching eye to the point of false accusation and judgment, maybe the Carmelite order of Therese's day should have had the would be accuser bow to the floor in front of the one that they felt the need to accuse. No words of indictment or argument of proof but just a simple bow as to say "I would accuse you of something but I am too lowly to judge." This would still show that one was in need of correction (if not really innocent) and it would also have the effect of humbling oneself before taking on the the great, nay, the greatest responsibility of being judge. But this is only my suggested adaptation for the order; it is in many ways only a middle ground fro what the order practiced and what we all would rather see: That each person defends oneself against the unjust accuser and the best proof and reasoning would decide the case. This would aid the mindset of Christians who are passing this brief period of earthly life to hold fast to what is true by principles of not just faith, but also of secure of reasoning. If we bowed to the floor every time we were accused of something we would have a society not unlike those extremist type Muslims who have forgotten what human dignity is.

At 9:14 AM, Blogger Apostle On Water said...

The innocent Bowing down to the unjust judgments others. No rule should enforce letting the innocent fry while the guilty goes free. For it is always better to let the guilty go free, if it means letting the innocent fry.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Liz said...

I think that perhaps the situation is different in a community of Christians pledged to each other in fraternal love than in the world as a whole. I think that perhaps having the accuser bow as well as the one accused might not be a bad idea. Therese herself always tried not to judge the other person, but to assume that even if they were doing something she thought was in error that they had a good motive behind it. However, in that situation, the issue was more about being willing to be humble than to secure one's on rights. In a political situation, or a legal situation there may indeed be a need to secure rights whether for one's self or for others. I'm suffering from a 101 degree temperature at the moment so forgive me if I'm not making perfect sense. I'm also responding to my own reaction to criticism (which is far too often touchy and taken far too personally).

At 3:10 PM, Blogger Apostle On Water said...

Liz, I hope you feel better soon. You'll be in my prayers.

Please don't feel touchy or take my criticism personally. I just have different thoughts on the attainment of healthy human interactions. And I am aware that my line of reasoning can obscure morality if taken too far. I admit that your line of reasoning is morally safe even when taken to extremes; yet it does not necessarily allow for healthy development of human potential within a community of other individuals. We are rational beings and are meant to deal with all our neighbors with our God-given rationally. Only my dog silently took a scolding for something she did not do, when if she could speak, she would not have shied away, but made good practice of making the truth known.

Love your soon to be son in Law ;)

At 5:37 PM, Blogger Liz said...

Oh it's not that sort of criticism that I take personally (that's just a good rational discussion). It's the times when I've made my very best effort (and ended up with a glass of dandelions or a picture with stick figures), and the people around me don't think I made my best effort, or when I do something that ends up offending one person in order to do the loving thing for someone else, you know - those sticky personal situations .I think that's why I could identify with St. Therese when she attempted to not take criticism personally. It's those moments that I have to struggle against over sensitive feelings (charity suffers long and is kind, etc. etc.).

You've never been guilty of that sort of criticism BTW

I think that we all probably struggle with when to turn the other cheek, go the second mile, think the best of someone's intentions, and when to battle against evil, corruption, injustice, etc. It seems to be something that Christians have struggled with since the beginning. It's why there are pacifist Christians and Christian soldiers. It's why there are people like Dorothy Day and people like Joan of Arc.

But even people like Dorothy Day protested injustice, as well as treating the individual poor person with compassion no matter what caused their poverty. And St. Therese could be fierce in dealing with her novices, she cut them no slack in their quest for holiness and honesty with themselves. I suspect that we aren't that far off in our thinking, we're just mostly looking at it from different contexts. But perhaps I'll put it more clearly once my fever goes down... Here I was so sure I wasn't going to catch this THING!

From your soon to be mother-in-law;)

At 6:04 PM, Blogger Apostle On Water said...


At 3:12 PM, Blogger Bridgesketcher4fun15 said...

Hey Liz, I realize I'm responding kinda late. I read the convorsation between you and Jeff (please excuse any unwanted interupion) and I thought of something.
The only reason that bowing down and kissing the floor would upset your pride is if there is pride to upset. Would you be ashamed to bow down and kiss the floor infront of God? The only reason I can see for bowing at all is to recognize and respect the presence of God in the person to which you are bowing. For what we do to the least of His brother or sisters, we do to him. Would it not be a joy to bow and kiss the floor then? Perhaps St. Theresa just made an excuse to bow and kiss the floor for her beloved husband. Am I making sense?


At 5:04 AM, Blogger mom v many said...

You have a very wonderful blog and I hope to pass it on. Any time I can find bread to bake as well as a slice of heavenly wisdom to boot, well, I think I may be eating quite well in the near future!


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