“Where is God in all this?”
I am running a training day for spiritual directors entitled, “Where is God in all this?” It is being hosted at the London Centre for Spiritual Direction, as part of their Developing Direction programme.
Here is the blurb:
“Where is God in all this?” is a question much-beloved of spiritual directors. However, if God is “in all things” then this question makes no sense. What is the purpose of this question? What are we really asking? What are better ways of addressing this? These questions get right to the heart of what spiritual direction is and what makes it different from other listening disciplines. This day will explore how we we might ask about God with those who come to talk with us.
The God we seek is here. As spiritual directors, our craft is to live this. On this day we will pray together, explore our notions of God, play with our craft, and seek courage to practise Presence.
[See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, inter-mission, & 5]
It’s about an authority that emerges from yielding not to an alien will but an affirming source … [We] are empowered, emancipated, to use the transforming energy we can exercise by acknowledging our dependence upon an unconditional source of affirmation.Rowan Williams: Being Human, pp. 72–3
Spiritual direction relocates authority from out there to in here.
[See Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, & inter-mission]
Our human identity therefore becomes one in which we both acknowledge in prayer this dependence [upon God] and respond to the gift that sets up not only our being but our renewed being in Christ; and in acknowledging that dependence we are empowered to ‘do the work of God’.Rowan Williams: Being Human, p.72
“I want to know what God wants me to do with my life.”
People often seek spiritual direction with this question uppermost in their minds. Spiritual direction is the right place to ask this question. Spiritual directors have training in discernment, and it is a question we ask ourselves frequently. My contention is that this is not the right place to start.
[See Parts 1, 2, 3, & 4]
If people destroy something irreplaceable made by mankind, they are called vandals; if they destroy something irreplaceable make by God they are called developers.Joseph Wood Krutch (quoted in David R Loy, Ecodharma: Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis, p. 16)
You may be wondering why I am banging on about this at such length. Why does it matter that God is “not an alien will but an affirming source”?
[See Parts 1, 2, & 3]
When God is “an alien will” I may feel the pressure to make amends for the mistakes of the past and to work towards an improved self in the future. When God is an alien will there is a to-do list.
[See Part 1& Part 2]
… yielding …
When we are freed from the idea of God as “an alien will” we can fall back into an utterly relaxing Presence that is our “affirming source”. The alien will is jealous and requires attention and conformity to an arbitrary set of standards. The affirming source is not alien, not demanding, not jealous because we are what it is. We do not have to do anything to earn this. We do not have to work for it. There is no rivalry.
… yielding not to an alien will but an affirming source …
The trouble with an alien will is that it is … alien, other. How can I know, respond to, and, in time, love something that is so far from and other than me? I will look outside myself, beyond this life, to another realm to know who to be and what to do. Then I am separated, as it were, from myself. Separation slips into anxiety: What is required of me to be acceptable, good enough, holy enough for God? How can I be more like God? I am in a catch-22 situation because I can never know the answers to these questions if God is alien.
Christians are adopted into a dependent relationship to that which Jesus called ‘Abba, Father’. Our human identity therefore becomes one in which we both acknowledge in prayer this dependence and respond to the gift that sets up not only our being but our renewed being in Christ; and in acknowledging that dependence we are empowered to ‘do the work of God’, to be ‘in Christ’, as St Paul puts it. It’s about an authority that emerges from yielding not to an alien will but an affirming source– recognising that we are here because there is an act that draws us into being and affirms our being. So we do not have to be our own origin; we do not have to try to be self-creators. There is a level of affirmation bringing us into, and holding us in existence, which we do not have to work for. … [We] are empowered, emancipated, to use the transforming energy we can exercise by acknowledging our dependence upon an unconditional source of affirmation.Rowan Williams: Being Human, p.72–3 (my emphasis)
I love Rowan Williams’ writing, though I find it frustrating at times because I am too impatient for the dénouement. The opening pages clear the ground, set the scope, and dispel misconceptions. I want to know where we are going. Are we there yet, Rowan?
Every day I go to my chair and I sit in the early morning light or dark. I set down my glass of water. I look into Your face. I’m pretty consistent about this. I get anxious if it is put off or I miss the appointment.
Every day I struggle.
I come with feelings of failure and inadequacy and waste.
I come wanting to be fixed.
I come to be sorted out.
I come wanting to know.
I come longing to be lifted up into a realm of light and eternity.
I come knowing there is so little time.
I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no nameAmerica, A Horse With No Name (Todd Terje edit)
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
I went to the desert. It was not entirely what I expected.