“You used to be much more ‘muchier’. . . You’ve lost your muchness.”
~ The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland
A few children come to mind when I consider the word muchness. My daughter is one. There is much muchness to her spirit and way of being in the world, whether she’s creating an original rap song or throwing her Legos against the wall in frustration.
As an adult, I can relate to the Mad Hatter’s assessment of Alice. For we all have it, muchness, and most of us have probably lost touch with it. I was once much more ‘muchier.’ Burdened by challenges with work, finances, and relationships, it is easy to lose sight of our unique way of experiencing the world and contributing to it. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could reclaim and maintain our muchness? I would like to be someone experiencing a full existence and helping those I love to do so as well.
Richard Rohr would probably suggest we could cultivate our muchness by accessing what he calls our true self—our innermost essential being—a concept he explores in his new book Immortal Diamond. He says our true self is the part of us that is not reaching outward for affirmation but the sacred part of us that lovingly connects us with ourselves, God, and the world.
What I like about Rohr is that he guides me toward a more loving perspective of myself and others, and I think this is essential to experiencing a fuller life. It is helpful for me to think of Rohr’s concept of the true self as synonymous with love. When we love ourselves and others truly and deeply, our best self has the freedom to expand and inhabit the world.
This is what I believe shaped Jesus’ life: love. It seems to undergird nearly everything he did. While considering the last days of Jesus’ life, I see his love in the midst of physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering. Despite the hatred and violence thrust upon Jesus, he speaks of forgiveness and trust. He does not waste his energy defending himself against false testimonies. He does not spit back on those ridiculing him. If Jesus had not loved, he could have avoided such suffering.
Being re-shaped by love, grief, and loss, just may be a requirement for muchness. We cannot be available for love if we are not open to loss and pain. This is all too apparent in the life of Mike Stavlund, who shares the process of being re-shaped by grief in his book Force of Will written in response to the death of his four-month-old son. Grief, Stavlund says, is not something to be overcome but something we can weave into the fabric of our lives.
I appreciate the holistic and realistic portrait of grief Stavlund offers and his advice to listen carefully and empathetically to those around who are suffering. If we resist the urge to offer platitudes and advice that may ease our own discomfort when someone we love is suffering, we can provide much relief to those who are grieving. Stavlund says we tend to say too much and when those we love are hurting, simply saying, “I’m sorry,” can be the best way to help those who have lost deeply. It is also the path to building empathy that extends us, helps us access our connection to the divine, our muchness.
Muchness is not some kind of armor that shields us from harm. If we focus entirely on protecting ourselves from pain and loss, we live a muted, repressed existence. I think I’d rather be throwing Legos at the wall in frustration like my daughter, than the blandness offered by a life without reckless, risky love. While this kind of love just might bring us closer to the suffering of the cross, it also offers the potential of hope and resurrection in the midst of such suffering. Muchness is what comes when we embrace ourselves and others wholly in love, rendering ourselves vulnerable to the most intense pain. Without that vulnerability we could never experience the expansive, vibrant magnificence of a life full of love.