The Spirituality of Imperfection

In the ideal world, everything goes off without a hitch. But in the real world there’s usually a glitch. To some extent Hollywood and TV exaggerate the perfection notion for us. We watch movies and TV shows where everything goes off like clockwork and there are no failures, except where that advances the plot.

But the perfect scene on TV or in the movies may have required dozens of “takes” to get it right. Even then, splicing of scenes may be required to make the whole thing seamless.

But in the real world things are not always perfect. People show up late, or don’t have the expected reaction. Things go awry, technologies fail, computers freeze, accidents happen.

Every now and then things seem to go perfectly only to discover that not everyone liked what went perfectly! We once had what I thought was a perfect parish event, only to find out that some thought it was too long, others thought it was too short. And yes, a few liked it just fine.

Alas, the human condition. I read a book some years ago called, “Spirituality of Imperfection.” In effect the book argues that God has placed the perfect in our heart to make us strive for and desire heaven. But he allows us to experience imperfection to teach us humility, without which we will never attain to heaven.

Imperfection is something to be accepted with humility. If we do this we are learning wisdom. It is the human condition to strive for that which is best and perfect and never give up on that quest. But the human condition is also to be able to accept with humility that which is ordinary, and imperfect; that which is our very selves and a seldom perfect world. Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for heaven!

9 Replies to “The Spirituality of Imperfection”

  1. Can I use this is an excuse to the boss the next time I’m late for work? Just kidding. Seriously I think there’s a beauty in it but I also think advertising takes advantage of that yearning for perfection to sell us things we don’t need either. Like anything spiritual the secular world can distort and corrupt it.

  2. But he allows us to experience imperfection to teach us humility

    We can see God providing such a lesson right “in the beginning.”

    the LORD God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being . . . The LORD God said: “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him.” So the LORD God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man. So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib that he had taken from the man. When he brought her to the man, the man said: “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; This one shall be called ‘woman,’ for out of ‘her man’ this one has been taken.” (Gen 2:7, 18-23)

    God makes man in original solitude, but then says “It is not good for the man to be alone.” The man is imperfect in such solitiude. Did God make a mistake? Did He realize His error and then seek to correct it? And does He then compound His error by making all of these other creatures, none of which are a “suitable partner for the man,” before finally getting it right by making the woman?

    The answer would seem to be “yes, God made a mistake,” but God is perfect, He cannot make mistakes. Thus, it must be that He purposely made man in original solitude for a reason, that it was part of His plan, that He intended all along to later fashion woman out of man — He was actually trying to teach us something, graphically demonstrating imperfection to the man, allowing him to personally experience that it was not good (imperfect) for him to be alone, that he is a social creature, not one that is closed-in and self-sufficient. Rather, in order to be perfected, man needs to be in a communion of persons.

    I suppose that God could have simply advised the man that he is made for relationship, but would that have been as effective? Or does it sink in more if the man personally knows by experience what it is like to long for an other, to have that thirst for love and communion? It is all well and good to talk about perfection and imperfection in theory, but until one is humbled by the experience of personally confronting his limitations, until there is an outward and visible manifestation of those otherwise unseen imperfections, he is tempted to believe that it is all academic and hypothetical. But God wisely allows us to actually know the bad — and sometimes in His Providence not only allowing us to experience the imperfect but imposing that unpleasantness upon us — so that we might better understand the good and thus seek the good.

  3. “Every now and then things seem to go perfectly only to discover that not everyone liked what went perfectly!”–Well said. Very funny video too.

  4. Thank You for a really excellent take on imperfections. Many of us feel depressed, anxious, sad, and down on ourselves because even after great effort we can not look as beautiful as society demands. We can not achieve that perfectly decorated home, the very best Thanksgiving dinner, the wittiest comment on Facebook etc. As we grow older, our imperfections increase and we can feel marginalized even by our own children and grandchildren. God leads us through humility to himself especially through abject humility(situations not chosen by ourselves), as St. Francis DeSales has written about.
    A friar wearing an old brown tattered habit is choosing humility but a person with a serious facial flaw or who can afford only outdated clothing from Goodwill has abject humiliation. St. Francis said the latter is even more sanctifying than the first.

  5. So, our Creator places us here (or in Eden then to here?) in imperfection where that imperfection is demonstrated early on by aquiring (against direction) the knowledge of good and evil without the understanding. Throughout history angels help Him to guide our growth and shape us in that growth as they follow that direction which is given by our Creator.
    Then, one archangel exhibits what appears to be older sibling jealousy and leads a group of others to work against us as God, in His perfect plan, uses the consequences of falling for the fallen’s manipulation of us to get through those imperfections and to teach us toward the light.
    Elsewhere is a place where a group is placed by their producer. Writers, directors, camera crews, etc. help the producer to show us that place where these wonderous people include parents who always have perfect guidance and something profound to say. James Bondian type characters outmanouver and vanquish bands of skilled opponents as many of them emerge at the end still natilly dressed and ready for a formal dinner at Buckingham Palace. No three day stuble or fartique after three days of conflict. So many other examples.
    These days, many chidren are more exposed to the interaction of the t.v. and movie characters than to real people in real life. How many of these children feel guilty that they, or their adult mentors, don’t compare favourably to the producers creations which they see when sent to the “baby sitting machine” as it was sometimes called several decades ago?
    A machine that keeps them from making noise, such as asking inconvenient and uncomfortable questions so that their mentors miss the opportunity to share on their experience and, thereby contribute to healthy growth. A machine that inhibits the chilldren’s growth as it keeps them glued to the plot as they’re diverted from interactions of the real world.
    Speaking of plots and looking back to the fallen ones … I wonder whose plot it is. Illusionary god like people who overshadow parents, teachers, pastors and other mentors in the real wolrd. Possible exception with the pastors. I haven’t watched the “entertainment” much lately but the pastors displayed years ago seemed pretty shallow and uninspiring. Down right lukewarm.
    And the parents with the great, and profound, advice seem to have pretty shallow relationships that leave the budding adults badly unprepared for the challenges of adult relationships as they expect themselves to also come up with an endless supply of the profound and are confused with the challenges of a true relationship. Challenges that no longer inspire one to take them on but, instead, to abandon the existing one in order to seek the perfect, harmonious and lukewarm ones they learned about on the baby sitting machine.
    Also, what about the giant “FAIL” on the picture. I often see this in the home page news of email providers and wonder if everything which is less than perfect in the real world is a fail.
    Sure, those examples which are labelled as fail are usually pretty horrendous but, what about in the larger context. When I take a test after being taught or engage in a task in life there can be some pretty sloppy blunders but; the entire test, or task, may have enough successes to counterbalance and to help me learn as I correct the errors, so that the overall context is of sufficient merit.

    1. Speaking of sloppy blunders, during the prepost review I missed spotting the James Bondian lack of “fartique” instead of fatique. Would a tv/movie character have seen it, or even made such and error. Maybe a father whose children would spot it and point out that they never made such mistakes.
      Also, from the time I clicked on submit, until my response was posted (with the awaiting moderation thingy) my virus guard displayed a medium “risky” warning. This led me to think back to the attack page warning the virus guard gave when I checked archives a little while ago and the time since, when the site was down for maintenance.

  6. Ha ha ha ha! Like.

    It is very, very good indeed that God puts the perfect in our hearts. Thank you, Msgr Pope.

  7. Actually, from the divine perspective imperfection in this world is perfection on a higher level.

    In living in the Divine Will, it can be seen that our flaws, mistakes, imperfections in our environment (apart from sin), are all parts of God’s will, and are thus parts of the perfect will of God who permits imperfection as components of His perfect plan.

  8. Msgr.,

    If you have never seen a Jackie Chan movie, you should. He does most of his own stunts, and at the end of the movie shows for certain scenes the “takes” where the stunts failed. Very amusing!

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