I do not think it is word play to say the activity of me seeking You IS the activity of You seeking me. Once my will says, “yes” to You, You are able to act in me. The first step, as with Your Mother, Mary, is saying “yes.” You take over from there. Now it does happen that we slip in a “no” here and there even after we have said “yes.” This is where we block You. So there is a constant opening and closing of the door. Of course it is up to us to keep it open, and we work on this; but once we say “yes” (that is, when the door is open to You) it is then no longer a seeking based on personal initiative. Our seeking of You becomes Your seeking of us. And You do this where we’re at.
It’s important for us to consider Your words in John 15:16, “...you have not chosen me, I have chosen you.” But we can even block that if we don’t allow ourselves to be chosen, to be graced, to be sought. One of the great, but slowly learned, lessons of a spiritual life is the importance of not allowing one’s self to become an obstruction to You. We are so strongly oriented toward actively doing things to pursue You that these activities can actually prevent You from enteringinto our lives. There is a plus side and a minus side to praying, meditating, helping others, reading, giving alms, going to church, even writing these letters. The plus side is that these activities help dispose us to opening the door and saying “yes” to You. The minus side is that they can become exercises in self-righteousness and idolatry forever barring the door while we, at the same time, think it’s open.
Allowing You to seek us often involves risk and discomfort, two parts of the deal we instinctively try to avoid. If the action of You seeking us is truly the action of us seeking You then it is incumbent upon us to actively keep all channels, all doors, open at all times and not surreptitiously try to counter You.
I recently read a statement that gave me pause for reflection. The statement was: “God does not choose those who are qualified, He qualifies those He chooses.”
When I think about the relationship between our system of education and the pressure contemporary culture brings to bear on the goals of that educational system, some issues about what is truly important arise. First of all, what do we really understand by the term “qualified?” I suppose it is most often understood to mean competent, trained, knowledgeable, or educated. To best meet our own needs we would choose a “qualified” individual: a doctor, mechanic, plumber, teacher, lawyer, TV repairman, engineer, politician, etc., etc. In each area of need we would try to avoid the unqualified because our needs might not be well met or maybe thwarted entirely.
In the realm of man’s relationship with God why would God not necessarily choose the most “qualified?” It would seem that the saints, popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, monks, mystics, deacons, theologians, and religious are among the most qualified of spiritual individuals. Yet, can it be true that God does not choose them? Or could it be that such individuals are not chosen because of their qualifications but because of some other reason? Perhaps before they became so qualified they were drawn (chosen) by God. That would substantiateGod’s qualifying the chosen.
The point of reflection most valuable here is that we do not qualify ourselves to be chosen by God. All my education, training, study, reading, writing, and praying is not the cause but rather the effect of being drawn and chosen by God. The process of my qualifying is ongoing. It is the work of God, not me.
In hearing the narration of Your life over and over again in the gospels it strikes me that You never led people so much as You invited them to follow. In fact, they came to You first, then You invited them. This coming to You and Your invitations often took place in out-of-the-way spots. The point being that there was no advertising or blatant aggressive recruiting or pursuit on Your part but rather a gradual “magnetic” attraction that developed, at least partially, because of its “soft sell.” It is not You but we who have put the “hard sell” spin on Your message. Preachers and evangelists abound and most of them, I guess, are pretty well-intentioned and sincere, but they are mostly devotees of the “hard sell” and, historically, people are more often put off than convinced by the hard sell.
The spiritual hard sell is inevitably attached to our inclination to control God and make Him conform to our own ideas. With the soft sell, the core is humility. With it we seek not God’s apparition before us but our own presence to accept His embrace.
There is the very strong human inclination to proselytize and to convince others of our beliefs. This can be born of a certain self-righteousness that is at odds with the humility inherent in letting our lives speak for themselves – as You did. If the life we lead is genuinely attractive to others or offers insight to them, the soft sell is in effect without conscious effort.
I am guilty of writing letters and sharing thoughts with my children in hopes of convincing them of my truth – my reality. With those we love most it is so hard to just live our lives and let it be. The nature of our witness compels us toward sharing and, hence, the hard sell. Learning to let go and allow You to work through us as the Father worked through You is a deliberate act of missing “opportunities.” But that is what we must learn to do. When the self is gone You will shine through and that will attract others and You will invite.
We like, for the sake of understanding, to distill what is expressed in many words down to a simple sentence or phrase that sums it all up. We love to latch on to that common denominator that runs like a thread through many and various interpretations of something we feel strongly about. We enthusiastically summarize, encapsulate, simplify and put into a nutshell. This reaches subjects that touch every facet of our lives including the spiritual. It’s easier to grasp if we boil it down.
Every nook and cranny of a building as large as the Pentagon could be wallpapered with what has been written about “injustice” in the world – and have plenty left over. But if we really wanted to take all that and distill it, summarize it, and put it in a nutshell we’d find that there is but one common thread to all injustice – injustice to You! Our notion of justice is almost always perceived in regards to other people. Seldom, if ever, do we consider justice in regards to You.
Implicit in the notion of justice – indeed, almost synonymous with it – is the concept of fairness. Let’s take a look at fairness to You. If we would understand and extend justice and fairness we must be able to grasp the historic dynamics between God and man recorded in scripture. From day one of the rise of mankind we have sought to keep the scales of justice tilted in our favor. Where was the justice or fairness in our constantly betraying God’s trust? Where was the justice or fairness when, after being told what our part of the bargain was, we broke it? Early on we learned the “benefits” of injustice by rejecting the very One who gave us life. What’s fair or just about the ways we have treated You? This mania for cleverly using justice and fairness in ways that only serve our own selfish interests is at the very heart of the injustice and unfairness we extend to others. From our injustice to You we extend it to others.
Our own utilization of justice, consciously or unconsciously, rests in this: that we treat God the same way we treat others and we treat others the same way we treat God – but, in either case, it may not be the same way we ourselves expect to be treated. Where’s the justice in that?
I am pondering extensions from Merton’s statement of Gilson quoting Duns Scotus: “God is free to set up any moral code He pleases as long as it deals with rules of human conduct whose relations to His own essence are not necessary ones.” The matter for consideration that I extrapolate from this is that much of what we grow to accept as coming from God and reverting back to Him is, indeed, of little or no actual concern to Him. Rather, it is we who have given such things the proportions of divine dicta. How much of the human relationship with God is based on conceptions of restriction? We have made codes, laws, rules and statutes the foundation of religion. But, in truth, nothing is more important to You than our freedom to seek You, each in our own way.
Men seem to have a natural penchant for setting laws and guidelines to govern others lives or to channel them into a certain way of thinking or believing. But to get to a state of union with God one must touch the essence of God which is in each of us identically. The true self is the essence of God in us. It is difficult to get to this true self when it must be negotiated through a mine field of restrictions that are thought of as necessary. I do not think that God wishes laws and codes to define His essence or ours.
Much of what results from this penchant for making laws comes from an enthusiastic pursuit and embrace of “how to” spirituality and/or spiritual literature which codifies our otherwise free responses. The restraints imposed by rules are apparently meant to regulate any aberrations from the essence of God – which is love. The relation of our aberrations to the love of God – His essence in our true self – is superfluous to it. Love is love! And, as You said Yourself, “Love is the fulfillment of the law.” It also seems fundamental that love precedes law; which is to say, God’s essence in us precedes law.
Among the many valuable lessons You have taught us which we have not yet learned is the one expressed by You in the words, “I do not judge as the world judges.”
In a homily I heard recently it was pointed out that in our age Judas Iscariot’s job resume probably would have included such words as, “assertive, highly competitive, and motivated,” and such a profile, in all likelihood, would contribute to his landing a job. Such is the world’s judgment.
But the resumes of those for whom You were looking to become Your closest followers and the foundation of Your movement might have read: “few marketable skills, lacking aggressiveness, unmotivated, passive and sheepish.” – not the people the world looks to hire.
What this says is that minds that are still open and not so self-structured would be Your friends. It’s like the difference between the apostles and the Pharisees. The apostles wanted to be Your friends. The Pharisees wanted You to be theirs. It’s more comfortable and easier to make You fit us than it is to make ourselves fit You. But that is what Your true disciples wanted to do. Maybe a big part of the spiritual life is the quest to learn how to see through Your eyes.
There is a trait in me that goes something like this: I fancy myself a seeker, one striving for spiritual knowledge and union with You. The context of my life is in the midst of other people. I look at them and characterize them by the way they seem to pursue You and I compare it to “my way.”I look at one and I think, ‘This person is on the level of rosary beads and statues;’ or, at another and think, ‘This person has ostensibly bought into the bureaucracy of institutional religion and its system;’ or, at another and think, ‘This person has never gone beyond what was taught in elementary religion classes;’ or, at still another and think, ‘For this person everything is about piety.’ What follows upon these judgments is some sense of self-satisfaction for “my way” – like the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke’s gospel.
The fatal flaw in this trait is the reality that You speak to each of us in Your own way – not, as I perceive it, in “my way.” What I mean is You meet us where we’re at. That point is different for each person. The point to which my way has brought me may, as it turns out, be exactly the same point in their perception that the rosary bead person, the elementary school person, the company Christian, or the pious Joe has been brought. To touch us You use the means that we allow You.
The relationship we each have with You may be very similar in each case – only the externals are different. So, when I look at these “types” I only see the rosary, or the statues, the conformity, the simplicity, or the piety – I don’t see the relationship! And that is my problem – especially when I’m entangled in my own way.
What is needed is the practice of suffering the “martyrdom of unintelligibility.” Whatever is truly great, as Kierkegaard says, is equally available to all. I am not the arbiter of Your grace. You do not judge. Why do I? How faith is practiced is not nearly as important as having it in the first place.
There is no pleasing the Father except to the extent we resemble You. Only through You do we hear, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.”
It is what the Father sees of You in me that pleases Him. It therefore behooves us to study Your words, Your teachings, and Your actions in the gospels to learn of that which makes us more loved as we put on Christ. The words, actions, and teachings are where we begin and they will lead us to what is most important: in learning the heart of You. The longer we look reflectively into our own hearts the more we learn about ourselves.
Paying attention to the words and actions of people around us likewise eventually reveals their hearts to us.Erasmus of Rotterdam writes magnificently in praise of what the world would deem folly. The overlooking of our foolishness is a most endearing quality of Your heart. To the world, the more like Your sheep we are, the more foolish we seem.; but the lamb of God is enthroned in the heart of the Father. No man comes to the father except through You. The more we resemble You, the more like sons and daughters of the Father we become; the more our hearts are in tune with Yours, and, thus, with the will of God.
St. John of the Cross has a lot of insight to offer and I’ve gained much that has been helpful from his writings. But recently in reading and re-reading his Chapter 4, Book 1 of The Ascent of Mount Carmel, an inclination for rebuttal took hold of me because of a couple of statements he made therein which I will quote here. One was: “...the soul that sets its affection upon creatures will be unable to comprehend God.”The other is: “...the soul that sets its affection upon the being of creation is likewise nothing in the eyes of God, and less than nothing; for as we have said, love makes equality and similitude...”
Now I agree that we are dominated by what we love. Where our treasure is, there is our heart. There is a similitude and equality in us toward that which we love. But I do not agree that the soul who sets his/her affection upon creatures is nothing, nor that doing so disables us from comprehending God. The trickiest word here is comprehend . We, indeed, cannot comprehend God in this life. But we can know more and more about God as we grow in His love. So, for my rebuttal, know seems a better word than comprehend. To me it seems almost self-evident that the greatest and most powerful means we have of getting to know God is through the love of His creatures. I’m sure that the greatest amount of what I know about God has come to me by loving His creatures, because of what I see of Him in them. This is seemingly quite the opposite of what St. John says. I would say that other people are eminently instrumental in growing in love and knowledge of God. We see in other creatures the love God has for man, and we internalize it and our spirit expands.
Therefore, I submit that God’s creatures are not nothing. Neither does He, nor should we, consider any living thing nothing. We are far less “something” than God or the angels, but we are valuable to God – so valuable that He sent You to teach us and to die for us. How is that nothing? Humility demands that we have a realistic grasp on our utter dependency upon God and upon other people. It does not dictate that we consider ourselves nothing. What we are able to apprehend about God is close to nothing – but that is not saying the same thing as St. John.
In regards to getting some kind of handle on where we’re at in our own spiritual life, I was stopped short by a passage from a little book of meditations I’m reading. The passage was something like, ‘Am I living my life in a way that will have made it worth saving?’ Getting at an answer to this is emphatically enhanced by looking at and thinking about the image of Your body on the cross. In one sense, maybe I’m overly concerned about knowing where I’m at spiritually; but in another sense what certainty I can garner about it may propel me farther, or in different directions.
In the first instance my concern is trying to get a picture of me through Your eyes. But we have already been told in many different ways what that picture is. So, questioning it seems to indicate a lack of trust. In Your eyes we are constantly the same. So, in actuality what I can know about where I’m at spiritually is predicated upon what I know candidly about myself. We always nurture the hope that You see us in a better light than we see ourselves.
Really, any understanding of where I may be spiritually is not only a picture I paint myself but is also not an answer to the question of whether I’m worth saving. That has already been answered by You, and who am I that I should question Your answer? In Your eyes the center of my being is attached to You making it surely worth saving no matter what I may think of the self I attach to it.