Family folklore held that if my saintly mother was in the car, we would always find the perfect parking space no matter how crowded the lot was. Moreover, you always wanted Mom around during the World Series to root for your team. If you bought a lottery ticket, her number choices were luckier. We all believed that because mom was a daily communicant and constantly in service to others, God immediately heard and answered her prayers. She also had “pull,” with the angels and saints and could ask them to do her favors. The message to us was loud and clear: those who followed the commandments, adhered to a strict moral code, and lived with integrity, were the recipients of tangible rewards both here and later.
I remember with a smile when little miraculous events or everyday blessings would grace our lives, my brother-in-law would proudly proclaim, “Clean living does it every time!” Everyone would laugh but a tacit agreement about God’s transactional nature was undeniable. This belief prevails today, even with the more “enlightened” among us. Think about it. How many times do you hear people say they are “blessed” to own a house, to earn money, to have escaped Covid, or to have “amazing children?” Granted, it is nice to feel gifted by God but where does that leave those who do contract Covid, have imperfect kids, cannot afford to buy a home, or live paycheck-to-paycheck? Are they simply “not blessed,” not “doing” Christianity right, not engaging in the correct “clean living?”
Nowhere in the gospel does Jesus promise us greater rewards for working longer or harder. Think about the parable of the vineyard, for example. There are dozens of places in the Scripture where Jesus tells us that we are more blessed being poor, marginalized, scoffed at, neglected, or hated. The powerful and the pious are not promised a thing. In fact, the “clean living” Pharisees are constantly denigrated for their perfect adherence to religion. Those who seem to be blessed with wealth, health, and possessions are warned repeatedly that it will be easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for them to get into heaven.
Mature and wise spirituality raises our awareness of how we speak, for words do shape our prejudices. (Linguistics 101) Wisdom seekers constantly need to revisit our images of God so that we do not fall into the trap of believing that health, wealth, power, and prestige are signs of God’s approval for our clean living. Frequently, the most elevated or saintly among us look just the opposite. More saints than I can count experienced dark nights and double the trials of everyone else. Well, just look at Jesus and his best friends. We need to evolve from our childish notions of reward/punishment to a more expansive definition of the divine. Everyone is blessed. Everyone has grace at their fingertips. Everyone is loved equally and unconditionally, no matter what they do. Even the mega-devout St. Paul said, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” This does not mean that we should not strive for “clean living.” Leading a moral life of integrity has its own intrinsic rewards. Deep peace, happiness and freedom are but three of them.
Now that Mom is deceased, my family has tried to foist the holiness role on me. They say they are happy to ride on my coattails, touch the hem of my garment, and bask in the hope that parking places will always be available if I am in the car. I just smile and look at all of the cars parked in prime places. Signals of transcendence are everywhere and rain falls on the good and the just equally. In the end, every one of us is simply graced in more ways than we can ever realize.
One thought on “Clean Living”
What an insightful & wise blog, loved it! I still say “clean living” when we find a parking space…got that from you & Dana, of course!