01 Jun The Good Place
Recently, Rosanne and I stumbled across a Netflix series called, “The Good Place.” It’s a comedy about the journey of the afterlife, filled with many twists and turns and surprises. I won’t comment on it in any specific way, so that if you want to watch it, these surprises will unfold as they are meant to for the viewer. What becomes clear as the episodes unfold is that human beings are flawed creatures, only vaguely aware of their true motivations and of how their behavior looks to other people. Being human is hard and we are capable of acts of beauty and also of constantly forgetting what our lives are about. The series begins to explore how help may indeed be coming to us from the other side, in ways that we do not perceive.
Today has been one of those days when everything seemed to go wrong or to be hard. This is not objectively true, of course, but there were enough frustrations that it seemed to me as if some powers out there were out to get me. I have been taught to engage in a practice called Welcoming Prayer where you attempt to consciously welcome triggered emotions instead of simply being overtaken by them or ignoring them. The idea is to acknowledge how you are feeling, move into an awareness of how the emotion is showing up in your body and to be with it for a while. The key is to remove your attachment to the story about what is going on and your various reactions ranging from self-pity to rage, and to simply engage the energy which is radiating in your body. After a time of being with the body’s energy, the final move is to attempt to let it go—at least provisionally.
Frustrations come and go. Most of them are minor and will be forgotten in short order. Some challenges are more substantial and lasting and mark us more deeply. But even these are not ultimate. There is something in us which is not totally at the mercy of our circumstances. Viktor Frankl was a psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust. He noticed how some people were able to keep touch with their inherent nobility even in the face of such dehumanizing conditions. He wrote, “Everything can be taken from a [man] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” He also wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
I am developing a practice of trying to be grateful for the hard things that come my way. I am not good at this, but at least I recognize this as a practice I want to develop. The challenges and frustrations and disappointments in life can enable us to develop true freedom and growth, by our conscious response. In a very funny manner, “The Good Place” explores how humans have freedom to look at themselves and to work on creating new responses, based in another energy—the energy of love. What the series also shows is that “The Good Place” and “The Bad Place” are not so much some final destinations, as they are realities which we begin to create now in the responses we make to the events of our lives.
“The Good Place” potentially is always with us. Jesus said that he would always be with us. The growth challenge is to consciously seek for Christ’s presence in all that is. It takes a lot of courage and effort, and apparently our striving serves some higher purpose that we can barely begin to imagine. That’s why I believe that help is constantly coming to us from the other side. Grace is continually flowing toward us. Let’s try to remember to reach out to receive it. See you in church!