Some Personal Words From Sean Astin
"NEW MEANING has been created, like the birth of a new universe...in a flash perhaps and maybe not to be remembered too long from now, but like a prayer, if people are spending a few moments feeling...actively...feeling for others...then surely my sense of mission has been advanced, and the world, however fleetingly is made a better place."
- Sean Astin on Carrying The Burdens of Others & The Nature of Prayer
Every now and again, I am blessed to come in contact with someone whom I genuinely admire for a bunch of reasons, and find that they are even more remarkable than I thought.
Such is the case with Sean Astin.
Sean blessed me with the opportunity to ask him some questions about his blog reflecting on prayer that I wrote about last week. His responses to me were remarkable, moving, incredibly articulate and deeply loving. With his kind permission to do so, I'd like to share a bit of what he had to say.
Lent is a perfect time to contemplate on what it means to carry the burdens of others. There is no small amount of theology about Jesus' life and death that centers around this very idea. In reflecting on the profound nature of taking on the burdens of others when trusted with such a responsibility, Sean reflected on what he called the "sanctity" of doing so:
"I think the same exists when someone asks you to run for their child who just died...and for someone being bullied...really anything that someone is willing to extend themselves about...and once we read it, we have a choice to take it on board or not...and if we do hold it/them in our thoughts or minds or hearts even for a moment, then we have become a link in the 'cosmic' chain or the world of natural law...or something :-)"
Sean's words remind us of some poignant realities about the nature of the burdens we carry: we must first, in trust and with courage, extend ourselves in order to share them in the first place. We are often too nervous, too embarrassed, too afraid to share what weighs us down with others. Many of us keep our burdens to ourselves far too often, whether the pain be physical, psychological or spiritual. We often even articulate it as "not wanting to be a burden." And yet we all know the truth of what it is to keep a burden to ourselves for too long - it gets heavier and heavier and runs the very real risk of breaking us. At some point, we need to trust in someone to help us bear our burdens.
The Truth of Sean's words is that when the decision is finally made, the often incredibly difficult and painful decision to share one's burdens, those who opt to receive that burden have a profound responsibility to receive it with grace. When we do this, we transform lives; if only briefly. But often, that brevity can be an open door to the journey towards real renewal, healing, and newness.
One of the other remarkable things Sean began to reflect on was the nature of Love; Love in the sense of genuine, universal Love we should extend to all things, especially one another, as God shares that Love with us. He says:
"I believe that God's love is total, unequivocal, permanent and reciprocated universally...bad actions, turning away from God's love...are a storm, not the landscape...personal responsibility, human growth and development all exist on a foundation of pure love...top to bottom...merely invoking it carries such a weight that is must be well worth digging in and actively cultivating the depth of the experience of love that we are capable of..."
This was my favorite moment of Sean's sharing, because it calls to my mind some very powerful and central themes of my own personal sense of faith: That God's love is steadfast, unending, and ever at work in the fabric of the cosmos. That when we chose to turn away from the ways of Love, it may cause great pain and sorrow but those are not the inherent ways in which we called to be with one another - thankfully we more often live lives rooted in compassion and grace, which is our authentic calling living in communion and fellowship with one another.
And invoking that Love, for the ways in which it will challenge our fears, our private prejudices, our own self-doubt and weakness, and what it calls us to do and be for one another, is itself a weight; a burden of sorts, because that kind of Love never leaves anyone unchanged. Sometimes, transformation is a frightening thing. But as Sean so lovingly states, it is a burden well worth carrying because it will ultimately lead us to the cultivation of living lives so transformed that they are ultimately free of any burdens. It takes work, commitment, strength, perseverance (is it any wonder Sean is a runner?), and ultimately trust and faith in one another.
Through his body of work, Sean has been a blessing of one sort in my life for a good many years, and now he has blessed me in a new way for which I am deeply thankful. With a heartfelt nod to a certain role of his where he played a very beloved gardener:
“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”