My eldest brother is in town for the first time in four years to help celebrate our mom’s ninetieth birthday. Saturday night my husband Donny and I took Mom and John out to dinner where I enjoyed myself tremendously, which was . . . a bit unusual. As I walked out to the cabin for my morning time, I was wondering what was “unusual” about it. It really wasn’t “enjoyment” that was unfamiliar, but something else, which I eventually identified as a feeling of contentment. From there I pondered further and saw that I felt “equal.” Does that sound strange? Well, in family dynamics, I don’t know if it is really all that strange. You can remain the “little sister” for life in a family. You can remain stuck in the family pattern.
As I considered my feelings I realized, perhaps for the first time, that I had transcended the family pattern. Did this happen last night, or months or years ago without my realization of it; without me putting my finger on, or “naming” the nature of the difference? My guess is, it happened in stages . . . slowly, slowly, as such things go. But as I came upon the realization of the meaning of what I felt, and the contentment I was still feeling, I remembered a discussion of contentment in the fourth Treatise of A Course of Love: A Treatise on the New. It is one of the only, perhaps the only place within the text of ACOL where Jesus refers to me in the third person. As I recall it, the reception of this chapter followed shortly upon a conversation I’d had with my Course group, about a statement made by Henri Nouwen (in The Genesse Diary). Here, Jesus is speaking of “learned wisdom.”
This example [of learned wisdom] arose from one of those already gathered who was questioning the state of contentment. She quoted a learned priest and scholar who spoke of how he knew, as soon as he was content within the life of the monastery, that it was time to once again move out into the world. What he was really saying was that he saw the dawning of his contentment as the sign that one period of learning was over and that it was time to move on to the next. During the time of learning, this statement was consistent with learned wisdom. During the new time of sharing, there is no “next phase” of learning for you to move on to. There is no reason for you not to exist in continual contentment. Continual contentment will not stunt your growth or prevent you from sharing or from expressing yourself anew. T4:12.12
Jesus then gives a few examples of “learned wisdom”—such as needing to work hard, and the ideas that the strong survive, the weak perish—before he finishes up with this:
What could be more invigorating, more challenging, more stimulating to your enrichment, than throwing out the old and beginning again? And doing so without effort, without struggle. What could be more looked forward to than the chance to create the new through sharing in unity and relationship with your brothers and sisters in Christ? T4:12.18
Before this reference in The Prelude to the Dialogues, the word contentment was last used in the Course Chapter on The Prodigal Son. There, Jesus says that we’ve been looking for what we think we’ve lost—looking in other people, places, and things. We don’t know what it is we’ve lost, but we know that when we’ve found it, we’ll know that it has been found, and we know that if, on our death bed, we haven’t found it, we will not leave in peace. C:9.39
These sections of ACOL seem far too substantial to apply to a dinner out. And yet, in the lives many of us live, this is where our realizations of the meaning of our experiences occur. My morning time gives me a chance to see “things that happen,” and the feelings associated with them, in a larger context. And as I sat this morning, I could see that there is a contentment that is spreading. I am so happy in my work! I have loved the re-publishing process—proofing every page of the book again—and now the work of “receiving” and recording the audio. I didn’t know I would love it, but I have and do. And I’m happy that in that same Treatise chapter, Jesus says not to grown impatient (with contentment) “before you begin to experience the joy of sharing and the new challenges of creating the new!” It is a rather sweet feeling to be ready for joyous challenges, to leave behind the “learning” challenges (a challenge in itself) and to begin anew. And, for me, at least, it is rather a flip to see and feel that contentment . . . is not going to be uninteresting or dull!