by Ken Rolheiser
Chasing the sun and the spirituality of subtraction

Our lives have many snapshot memories. When I was a teen, I remember my future brother-in-law courting my oldest sister. He was handsome and had muscles in the right places. His crew cut added to his dash, and I admired him.

I remember when my family and I were visiting the farm for Christmas breaks. Over the years I recall my brother and I making trips to town for groceries, beverages, party supplies and such. Always I loved those gravel roads and landmark places like Heart’s Hill, or even the green pail on a post that told us where to turn.

I picture a hot summer day on campus with the sun beating down on my future wife and me, studying in the shade near the Thorvaldson Building, U of S Campus. At least she was studying.

Snapshots of our lives, catching moments as we chase the sun! Sometimes we stop chasing to realize, like a summer at Madge Lake canoeing as the sun set and listening to the loons across the lake.

Life’s memories are rich! And wealth is not measured by money and possessions. The canoe and cabin at Madge were lent to our family by a friend. Wealth may be measured in letting go of things, especially non-spiritual things.

The great Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart said, “The spiritual life is more about subtraction than it is addition.” It is about letting go of things instead of accumulating and gathering. We may even need to let go of some good things, to follow and accept God’s love.

This is countercultural. Our world emphasizes consumption and accumulation. God’s world is different. Our spiritual world has other values. Enter suffering!

“There was never yet a philosopher who could endure the toothache patiently,” Shakespeare said in Much Ado About Nothing. Christian training has much to do with suffering and its meaning. Suffering and age prepare us to let go of the things of this world.

Suffering helps transformation to take place. Most world religions agree with that. Suffering prepares us for death and resurrection, and we tend to accept that as a truth, so long as it is someone else who is suffering.

Suffering and death will come upon everyone of us. We are called to allow this suffering to transform us, to let our old selves die away and make room for rebirth. This is a hard process, but it is not impossible with Christ’s help.

Jesus says, come follow me, to the cross and the suffering. Then transformation will follow. The mystics have it right: we die to ourselves, then we are reborn in Christ.

This is not easy; it is painful. But it is what leads to the resurrection. If we practice letting go of things, the spirituality of subtraction, we will be preparing for the last challenges of life, the really hard ones. Faith will lead us through the challenges of letting go.

The story is told of a man who arrives in heaven. God asks him, “Well, how was it?” “Oh, it was pretty good, until the last twenty minutes.” 

Our lives have many bright moments in the sun, but they all lead up to 
those last moments of life.

(inspired by “Suffering and dying bring transformation”, Brendan McGuire).

(551 words)