The Annunciation Trust

to help you discover the God you already know

Category: Opinion (page 1 of 3)

What shall we do?

This year I have started out trying to live all my waking moments in conscious listening to the inner voice, asking without ceasing, “What, Father, do you desire said? What, Father, do you desire done this minute?”
It is clear that this is what Jesus was doing all day every day. But it is not what his followers have been doing in very large numbers.

Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic (p. 4)

What shall I do? What is the best thing to do? How shall I make best use of my time? These are perennial human questions.

I have written before about the question people ask God: “What do You want me to do?” This may be  posed in a grandiose way, “What do You want me to do with my life?” The last time I wrote about this question I suggested that if we are going to presume that listening to God is a good way to get an answer, then this question is not the right place to start. You have to know God – to be in relationship with God – before you can know what God wants. And, because you are not separate from God, knowing God goes hand-in-glove with knowing yourself.

The experience of being human is to live as multiple personalities. Our thoughts host competing voices from several sources. Discernment is a life-long, often heart-breaking process of careful sifting to identify the authentic voice – the voice of God that speaks in us and as us.

When we ask, “What does God want me to do with my life?”, we set up an impossible conundrum. The question is based on the old, worn-out model of a god, an alien will somewhere out there, with a plan for all of our lives. If only this god would let on what is in his (sic) plan then we would know what to do.

The world is not like this. God has desires for us, desires for life, for happiness, for joy. A universe in which a god had a plan for every life would be a universe in which everything was foreordained. But God is more like a flow, a flow in the direction of life, love, and joy, a flow that constantly shifts with every turn of events – like a river running to the sea and flowing in response to the lay of the land. Then one day there is a landslide – a divorce, a death, illness, loss of employment – and the flow is blocked, for a while, and has to find another way.

Of course, it can be worth making long-term plans in life. It can be worth thinking about the unique person you are and the unique calling you may have. But oftentimes we will struggle to know what we want in the long-term, we cannot know what our lives are for, and we will never get to the bottom of who and what we are.

In line with Frank Laubach, I propose a different question.

What do You desire now?

When I ask myself this question I experience a kind of relief as time and space collapse into a point located in my chest. I am connected to God here and now. I stop thinking about the future. I stop worrying about outcomes. It is like I come home to myself. I no longer have to have a plan and think of the long term. I stop obsessing about ‘my’ life. All I am asking is, “What now?”

I have found that we can establish ourselves in a sense of the presence of God by continually talking with Him.

Brother Lawrence, Practising His Presence, p. 42

Immediately the whole thing becomes simpler. I am able to listen more intimately to myself, to what I really want at this moment. I am not burdened with worries about whether I am doing the right thing and what other people will think of me.

Life becomes an exploration, more playful, a set of experiments, trial-and error/trial-and-success. I ask the question, “What do You want me to do now?” I listen briefly for an answer and then I act. Sometime later I assess. How do I feel now? Was that worth doing? Did that seem meaningful? Do I have a feeling of satisfaction? Was I loving? Do I feel more or less satisfied by how I spent my time? Do I feel more or less enlivened, centred, content, present to God?

This requires a kind of trust in God, in the Universe, in Life – whatever you want to call it. It is trusting that I am part of something greater than little old me, something that has a better perspective that I can ever have, the “affirming source”. If I just ask about what comes next then I inhabit something beyond myself. I can go with the flow.

(For more on trust, read this and that.)

It is also trusting that it is ok to play and to make mistakes. So much rides on the answer to the question, “What does God want me to do with my life?” The fear of getting it wrong is potentially catastrophic and we can be petrified into inaction for years. The question, “What do You want me to do now?”, has very little riding on it. Made a wrong turn? Readjust the course. Said the wrong thing? Apologise and try again. Wasted your time? Do something more satisfying now.

(To hear God speak about play and mistakes, read this.)

To me, the question “What do You desire said or done (or not), now?” is less narcissistic, less of the grand narrative, more grounded and ordinary, more humble, less about how I look to others and more about an inner authority, less about comfort and more about contentment, less striving or soothing and more satisfaction, and frequently less about getting things done and more about simple presence. It is less about Heaven (a future destination and reward) and more about Eternity (a present reality). It is just about now, doing this with love and presence.

(To read my thoughts on meaning and purpose here.)

It is trusting that if I do the next thing and the next thing and then the next thing, that a thread will emerge that will carry me into life and into You. Little by little I become more sensitive to the authentic voice inside me, the voice of God. Little by little God becomes my constant companion.

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

An affirming source (5): Relationship

[See Parts 1234, & 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.

Half a life-time ago I was a computer programmer writing in COBOL and Fortran on Hewlett Packard and Norsk Data mainframes. My favourite part of the job was being given a program to write from scratch. I loved mapping out the structure, solving the problems, writing the code, and fixing the inevitable bugs. I was good at it. Computer programming can be a creative process that includes writing code that is elegant, spare, attractive and clear on the page or screen, written in a way that makes it easy to understand and maintain by those who come after – although I strongly doubt that anything I wrote back in the 80’s is still in use today. I had a boss, Richard, who had many more years’ experience than I, who I respected and liked very much. He had some quirks, one of which was quietly to say, “Caution,” when I was about to press a wrong key. Another was to ask, “What is the real question?”, when I came to him wanting to know how to utilise an aspect of computer technology with which I was unfamiliar. He rightly intuited that I had come up with what I thought was a neat solution to a problem, and he wanted to know what the problem was so that he could offer other suggestions from his greater experience. Although this pricked my fragile ego, because he always had better solutions and he was a great exponent of Occam’s razor, I learnt a lot from him in this way.

Now, when someone comes to me and says, “I want to know what God wants me to do with my life,” I find myself wanting to say, “Caution,” and ask, “What is the real question?”

The question as posed above is predicated on “yielding … to alien will”. God is out there somewhere, holding (and possibly withholding) vital information about my life and His/Her wishes, and I want to know what They want me to do. This is often the way human relationships work: we need to find out what the government, the boss, the teacher, the parent, the lover wants us to do so we can do it – or assess the risks of non-compliance. I don’t believe this is how it works with God. It is crucial to see that God is not like people (perhaps is no-thingat all) or we start from the wrong principle.

God is not like a person who simply issues a command that I can follow (or not, as the fancy takes me). Mostly, we do not get unambiguous communication directing us to one action or another. And mostly, my experience is that God’s ‘communication’ is much more likely to be an invitation into deeper relationship than a request to attend to a task or a project.

If the first question I ask God is, “What shall I do?”, it is quite likely the wrong question. It is starting from the wrong place and setting off on the wrong tack. I have to have some knowledge of God before I can know what God wants. (A parallel: I have to have some knowledge of myself before I know what I want.) With God the real question is, “Who are You?”, and, correspondingly, “Who am I?” Many enterprises turn awry because this foundation is not solid.

I’m reminded of the lyric from the song “Day by day” in Godspell:

To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by day.

Or as Ignatius puts it,

… ask for an interior knowledge of the Lord, who has become human for me, that I may better love and follow him.

The Spiritual Exercises, 104

Only when I have some first-hand knowledge of God can I know and trust what God wants. Only when I come to know God as “an affirming source”, calling me momently into being with a cosmic “Yes”, can I trust God without fear, knowing that God’s affirmation is for my one wild and precious life and pertains whether I ‘comply’ or not.

We are creatures. That is to say, we have been brought into being not by our own volition. We do not know who we are. We do not know what life is about. Oftentimes we do not know what we want or what we should do. We are not the authors of our lives. This is the condition of human being. We grow up under the gaze of human others (individual and corporate) whose desires shape our days, often in ways that limit and misdirect us. The affirming source, the One that likes to say “Yes”, offers another gaze under which we come to the original dream of ourselves and the inklings of the only thing we can do with our lives.

[Coming soon: Final part.]


Follow this post with further reading:

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

An affirming source: Inter-mission

[See Parts 123, & 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 LoyEcodharma: 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”?

It matters because we are killing the planet, our only home, and we will not stop. It is not looking good. Technological solutions short of radical restraint are not going to save us. Our only hope is a change of heart and mind, of understanding and relationship, a conversion, a waking up. Metanoia.

It matters because it asserts that God is the source. I don’t have to be.

It matters because it asserts that Love is our source – what we are made of.

It matters because it asserts that we belong here. I am home. I have arrived.

It matters because it asserts that the actuality of our being is all the justification we need.

It matters because it asserts that we are good enough.

It matters because it asserts that we have enough.

It matters because it asserts that we are enough. I lack nothing.

It matters because if we really knew, in our blood, bones, and bowels, that God is our affirming source, we would be able to give up the exaggerated attachment to getting and spending, to power and control, to affection and esteem, to safety and survival, to possessions, to entertainment, to food and drink, to drugs, to noise, to more, and to the legion of ways we try to stake a claim in the world and to silence the terror of our perceived emptiness.

It matters because if we knew all this we would stop and breathe and give thanks.

It matters because this is more than we have ever hoped for.

[Follow this with Part five: Relationship]

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

An affirming source (4): Presence

The early morning light in Busy Park

[See Parts 12, & 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.

I do not advocate that we abrogate responsibility for making amends and improvements. It is not possible to live without causing harm. Individually and collectively we make choices that have personal and planetary consequences. Meanwhile, politicians fiddle with short-term advantage and image-management while the world burns. The future of the world looks bleak precisely because of a lack of accountability for amending fatal mistakes and making resounding changes.

However, our liability is not like the burdensome imposition of homework on a reluctant schoolchild. It is not the encumbrance of internalised parental and political propaganda that I must become a nicer, healthier, prettier, more intelligent, better read, better informed, more efficient, more productive, more helpful, more holy person. The curriculum of the alien will arises from a feeling of lack; the delight of true work arises from the realisation that everything I need has already been given.

There is a level of affirmation bringing us into, and holding us in existence, which we do not have to work for.

p.72

To know the truth that nothing is held against me (that nothing is required of me, that as I am, here and now, is it, which is (as they say) ‘what God wants’, which is another way of saying that there is no god that wants something of me) is to be set free.

By “yielding” to the “affirming source” (which is relaxing into what I already am, “a place where God is happening”) I am “emancipated” from the sins of the past and the demands of the future. I am free to receive the gift of the present. I am released into presence. This is Incarnation.

This is the experience of being this bodyin this place at this moment, an experience that is gifted to us and enabled by the realisation that our source is affirming not demanding. Through yielding to our dependency we find we have everything we need, and nothing is required of us. This being the case we are freed to be present: the past is gone; there is no future to work towards. This, as they say, is it. We can experience the joy of being alive.

And the delight of responsibility arises from the knowledge that there is work to be done if I am to live with joy.

[Coming soon: Part five]

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

An affirming source (3): Yielding

[See Part 1Part 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.

If God is “an affirming source”, then simply by being we are God’s will (the primal “Yes”) in action. When someone asks, “What is God doing?”, the answer is, “You are what God is doing!” You are what God is doing when you do what comes naturally to humans – the everyday matters of living, breathing, walking, eating, talking, loving, sleeping. You are freed from anxiety because you already are what is required. You can relax – which is another way of talking about “yielding”.

“Yielding” is not easy for humans. We don’t believe we are good enough. We like to be in control. We have lost confidence in authority and cannot trust those in power to be for us. We take our lives into our own hands. We hold ourselves safe.

While independence and autonomy is laudable in many human affairs – it is part of becoming adult and taking some responsibility for self-care and the choices we make – as an absolute it is simply not the case. None of us can really be ‘off grid’. Like a foetus in the womb of the Earth, we are utterly dependent upon the light from the Sun, the air that we breath, the earth we walk upon, the fact of being (for we might not have been at all).

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.

p. 72

Through yielding (relaxing) into our dependency, we are “emancipated” from bondage to the gods – the self-improvement narrative. We do not have to justify or prove ourselves. There is no one to appease or impress. That we exist at all, like a mountain or a tree, is justification enough, impressive in its own right.

God is still awesome, still terrifying, still unknowable. God is not only my being, but the being of the vast, seemingly illimitable Universe that reminds us how insignificant we are. And yet, as we yield (relax), as we feel our way back into ourselves, into this body, we come to know ourselves in a visceral, embodied way, and we come to know God.

Later in Being Human Rowan Williams writes:

You can watch your breath, you can be conscious of your diaphragm rising and falling, conscious of the movement of life in you, and if you think at all about it you might just think, ‘Well, for this time as I breathe in and out, all I am is a place where life is happening.’ The breath moves in, the breath moves out; I am a place where life is happening. And if I am a place where life is happening, I am a place where God is happening.

p. 103

[Follow this with Part four: Presence]

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

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