Thursday, June 18, 2015


I've been reflecting on the difference between being a doormat, which we're never called to do, and turning the other cheek.

We're never called to say It's okay to abuse me. An example would be depriving ourselves of peace of mind or a humane living in order to supply our alcoholic kid, spouse, parent, or friend with drinking money, a place to live, and/or legal representation even though the person clearly has no desire or intention to get help and also starts attacking us when the help isn't forthcoming--or even sometimes when it is. (I use this example because it's played out so many times in my own life).

We should be open to discussion but we get to choose our discussions. If you want to try to convince me that watching bad TV is a good use of my time, for example, I simply can't enter in. If you want to tell me that you watch bad TV but "they" watch their own form of bad TV, too, I can't enter in. 

That is a gulf on the question of how we move and live and have our being in--as well as our responsibility to--the cosmos so wide there is no way we are going to bridge it on that particular issue. 

To turn the other cheek, by contrast, has to do with then refraining from trying to set the other person straight. 

Turning the other cheek means consenting to be misunderstood, minimized, and/or thought badly of, and that's why it goes against the grain. 

I'll give you an example. I just wrote a piece about the observatory at Mt. Wilson. I heard from an astronomer there and he copied the email to a priest who also has a deep interest in astronomy and and has been connected to the Observatory over the years. The priest writes to the other guy (who then copied me), "She wrongly attributed the Big Bang to Hubble. It was Georges LeMaitre." 

Now everything in me wanted to respond, "Well, I got all my info from the Mt. Wilson Obsevatory website, the tape that played at the 150-inch telescope, and the placards on the grounds so if I got it wrong, they got it wrong." 

But what purpose would that have served except to "set the guy straight?" To tell him he was wrong to notice the error. To emphasize that I am actually quite conscientious. To establish that I, though a rank layperson, did my homework. What I really wanted to say was, "Okay, but who formulated the Big Bang theory wasn't remotely the point! Didn't you notice the heart of the piece: the contemplative insight, the wonder, the awe, the literary excellence?"....

Instead, I wrote simply, "Thank you for the correction, Father."

That is not being a doormat. Being a doormat would have been to respond, "Oh my God, I could just die. What a stupid egregious error, please forgive me! Of course I know nothing of astronomy while you are an expert. I don't even deserve to write." Et cetera.  

And because (for once in my life) I exercised restraint of tongue and pen, I really was able to feel thankful. I got to realize that I am deeply attached to my opinions; why shouldn't everyone else be? If I get to notice what I notice, why shouldn't everyone else get to notice what they notice? To an astronomer, the error WOULD have been gross.  
Like all sound spiritual practices, turning the other cheek leads to self-discovery. Turning the other cheek helps me to realize that I am argumentative, defensive, and take things personally. I badly want to be right, to triumph, to lord it over, to be vindicated, to win. 

And the minute I start trying to win, man, I am like a dog with a bone. I will obsessively construct arguments in my head. I will build my case point by point. 

I will ruin my day.  

Maybe more to the point, I remember that I am afraid. I am lonely. I feel vulnerable. I am often cowardly.

So on my blog, in all my work and life, I can't try to set the other person straight. . 

I can only say how things have panned out for me and why (with the "why" always grounded in my understanding  and experience of the Gospels).  

The same principle of turning the other cheek was at work in a well-known incident told by Therese of Lisieux in The Story of a Soul. Behind Therese in chapel (where the nuns gathered several times a day, with seats assigned for life) sat an elderly nun who made a hideously annoying sound, "like two shells scraping together," apparently by clicking her rosary against her teeth. Therese trained herself, literally sweating with the effort, not to turn around and glare at the woman. 

She refrained, in other words, from setting the other nun straight. 

If you think it's easy, try it. It is just as hard now as -but no harder than--it was In Christ's time. 

I wonder if this capacity to turn the other cheek is not very much behind Christ's--"Blessed are the peacemakers." 

*Postscript: Later in the day, I rec'd a lovely email from the priest (Monsignor, actually) saying how much he liked the piece. Good thing I didn't shoot my mouth off!



  1. This is such a beautiful piece, Heather! Loved it. Photos too. I occasionally practice "turning the other cheek." It's not satisfying in the moment, but becomes so later. But on other occasions, I growl back at them. Ach, learning little by little....

  2. A sage reflection, this.

    I have never regretted forbearance. And have often regretted the lack of it.

  3. Wow, Heather, your reflection reminds me so much of the humility that is necessary to turn the other cheek. I'm not naturally gifted at this. I've always wanted to be "right," but I love how you explain the difference between lack of self-respect and Gospel humility. Thank you!

  4. Your very sensible approach, dear Heather, calls to mind the phrase I heard from Dominican Fr Vogt: 'Just because you're provoked, you don't have to react.' It changed my life. You mean I don't have to get snarky, insulting, snide, etc.? I suspect the phrase may originate in the 12 Step program. Thanks.

  5. Um, you talking to me? Haha! Timely, applicable, and why is this so dadgone hard to do? THANK YOU! I need to hear this and be constantly reminded. Once again, God bless you for listening so carefully and then responding with all your heart with this format.

  6. Thank you all so much! One tool I use is to write the looooooong email I want to, smartly setting the other person straight at every turn. Then after luxuriating in how good I THINK it would feel to send it, I edit down to the three or four lines which get across the operative point. "Humble charity is a terrible force; it is the greatest force in the world; there -is nothing like it." Fyodor Dostoevsky, via Father Zossima, The Brothers Karamozov.

    Along the same lines Peace Pilgrim, another of my heroes, observed that the way to settle a conflict is to make your goal not to win, but to settle the conflict.

    And if all else fails, we can always whisper along with Mary Grace, the character with whom I SO identify in Flannery O'Connor's short story "Revelation": "Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog."

  7. You are so human! I liked your piece on Mt. Wilson Observatory and thought about the great Jesuit astronomers, past and present, who to this day are a respected part of the scientific community. See Vatican Observatory Foundation on the internet. Faith and Reason, Faith and Science all in beautiful harmony in our Church. But they are also nerdy scientists other than wonderful priests.....and nerds sometimes lack social skills. Love from Rome!

  8. Heather,
    Thanks for writing this. It spoke to my heart and my soul. Of all of the teachings of Jesus, this Gospel message is one of the hardest to put into practice. As you noted, it goes against the grain to not return a "snarky remark" with another.
    There is a personal situation in my life that the message of turning the other cheek really calls into action, and your example is one I will strive to remember as I deal with it.
    Thank you for your work and your words.

  9. Yes. I'm surprised I have any teeth left, for all the gritting of them.

  10. It's got to be especially tempting to set the other person straight via your gift for words, a case in which one's greatest strength can be an enemy.

  11. By the way, given the views of Pope Francis on guns and television, I think he might be Heather King in papal drag. Has Heather and Francis ever been in the same room? I rest my case. Live long enough and you'll get a pope you love!

    1. No, but I'm going to Rome in October and will be happy just to be in the same city. I love that he recently said celibate women aren't meant to be spinsters--they're meant to be mothers--and that arms manufacturers should not call themselves followers of Christ. At every turn, he brings abundant life, light, truth. He also has a sense of humor, another sure sign his house is built on solid rock. Thanks, TS.


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