The Annunciation Trust

to help you discover the God you already know

Category: Opinion (page 1 of 3)

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.]

An affirming source (2): Emancipation

stars

… 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.

Conversely, if God is “an affirming source” everything changes. If God is the source then I am because God is. God is the ground of my being. God is the source, and is a source that affirms. God is not alien, and not wilful. Surprisingly, it is rather like there being no god at all. What a relief!

This one, fundamental idea is at the very heart of a way of being in the world. I belong and I have everything I could possibly need. It is how I want to live. In essence, this is what I want to convey as a spiritual director and writer.

This is not identity: I am not God; I am not the Universe. This is belonging: God is what I am, my home, my birthright, “my place in the family of things”. God is the stuff I am made of; just as the Earth is the stuff I am made of; as stardust is the stuff I am made of. When I look at the stars (as I did last night) I know I belong: this body is made of the same matter, despite the loneliness of separation by distances too vast to imagine let alone traverse. Loneliness signifies kinship. And so I can call everything and everyone a sister or a brother, for that is what they are. Nothing is alien now.

God is “an affirming source.” God says, ”Yes,” to me and about me. Could it be that God’s first ‘word’ was “Yes”? And that I am, and you are, and everything is because of this “Yes”?

If God is “an alien will” there is always a tension between who-and-what-I-am and who-and-what-God-is. If God is an affirming source then I am who-and-what-God-is. There is no possibility of separation between God and me. I am not separated from myself. I can relax.

I look to and gaze at God, not to find out how to live and what to do, but to see revealed there the depth of the reality of who and what I am…

… and, more fundamentally, that I am.

I will never finally know who and what I am. But I know that I am – my presence as this body, as the being of God in this little scrap of the world, the outworking of God’s “Yes”. This is the cradle of joy.

[Coming soon: Part three]

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

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