Ann Rennie Reflects

Tim Costello, when he was CEO of World Vision wrote in The Age: Happiness surprises us when we live consistently and consequentially with our deeper values. This encapsulates the possibility of truly living a good life – a life where what we value is lived out in our words and actions. Finding and keeping that essential congruence between the internal and external, the public and private values we espouse, enables us to reach our better selves. 

In the Christian context, we subscribe to a set of values of which Jesus is the foundation. These values are the touchstones for our individual and communal attitudes and actions. Embedded in a Catholic cosmology, our sacred stories, creeds, beliefs, rituals and practices reinforce the primacy of these values. Such values are not subject to voguish vagary or the caprice of commerce, nor are they manipulated into paler versions of themselves for expedience or ease. They stand true, our deep anchors in the times and tides of man, the absolutes of mercy and justice and compassion and the ultimate value of our faith, salvation and eternal life. Paul’s letter to the Colossians 3:12 sums up this up:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Here we are reminded that we are loved as God’s children, in a love beyond all measure, a love beyond human understanding, a love transcendent. Here we venture beyond the narrow isthmus of individualism. Our community flourishes as we share a common purpose and look and act beyond the hollow prescriptions of status and success. If we act on these deeply human values of good will and the common good, we come close to fulfilling John Donne’s vision where No man is an island …  every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main. Our efforts at love for one another, even though halting sometimes, grow that sense of spiritual communion; that sense of individual and institutional congruence where what we say and what we do are truthfully aligned.

I inherited my values from my parents who had me baptised into the faith as a mewling infant in the English Midlands half a century ago. These values were happily reinforced through the years of my education by consecrated women who knew me and my family and our family story and loved the raggle-taggle difference of all of us. At school I saw kindness and integrity and humour and forgiveness as we learnt the catechism and celebrated saints’ days and learnt multiplication tables by rote. At home, my parents gave each of us the best love they could as we squabbled and built cubbies and set the table and said grace and ate what was put in front of us without complaint. In the tumbling up of family life, we seven siblings began to understand there was a core belief about who we were and how to behave that was somehow a building block for the adults we would become. 

Thank God, we turned out ok.

Saying we are solid citizens hums with a sort of startling mediocrity but dig away at that phrase and under it there are lots of good things; enduring, solid, truthful things that matter, values that count for something. When joined to those values held securely by others, they create a community where imagination and hope and revelation and happiness are possible.

We all value different things. I value time to write and dream and make to do lists which never get done. I value beautiful words and the sounds of silence and the potency of prayer. I value the grit and grace of growing up as I witness my students stumbling forward finding themselves, sorting out the good and real from the vapidly glossy. I value a really good laugh with old friends and the family folklore that expands over the years with retelling and wild embellishment where the truth was last seen scurrying from the scene somewhere in the seventies – and everyone is in on the joke. I value old songs and new ideas, a bit of whimsy on a winter’s day to keep me warm and the routine contentment I enjoy because I have support, structure and relative predictability in my life. I value the work I do, even on lack-lustre days. I value the truth, beauty and goodness at the heart of who we are, even though this can sometimes seem like a simple wish-list when we are distressed by our impotence against the machinations and malevolence we witness across the globe.

We are what we value. For me, this is best summed up by Matthew 6: 19-21in words taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:  

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

This is a reminder to check the difference between the temporal; what I have, own and possess now and the transcendent, what I hope for in the life to come. Earthly treasures will fade because they are impermanent. Heavenly treasures are everlasting. This means I put my heart, my values and my effort where they matter most to me.

In a society beleaguered with key performance indicators, satisfaction surveys, peer reviews, staff appraisals, standardised measurements and testing, value-adding is a buzzword, another soulless calibration of purported achievement. It is time for us to pause and find again those essentials that, rather than value-add in a narrowly utilitarian or economic equation, values-add to the society we dream of becoming; that communion of everyday people for whom love, inclusion and forgiveness are the value standards of the gospel message we treasure in our hearts and do our best to live by. 

By Ann Rennie
Faith Reflections

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Betty Rudin

I love your way with words Anneand found this affirming and thought provoking

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