I was lost – tired, overwhelmed, and angry. A wise woman once said to me that underneath anger is hurt or fear. I felt hurt. And frightened.
I s(k)ulk through the night.
In the early morning I leave resentment on the other side of the door. I find a way back to myself. I become my breath, become this body, become, by and by, the sensation of being alive.
This is not about inside vs. outside – the ‘inner’ journey as opposed to the ‘outer’. It is the present moment – which I undergo in only snatches. It is being alive, “breath by breath, heartbeat by heartbeat,” as James Finley says. It is joy relishing being unexpectedly alive. It is knowing this now, not waiting for it, not seeking it. It is realising that I have never been anything other than rapt.
People say they want depth. What is meant by ‘depth’? It is a word pointing at an experience that has nothing to do with what may be fathomed. ‘Depth’ is life pared back to its essence. It is the no-feat-of-mine, ordinary (extraordinary!) awareness of life happening as me, God happening as me, always present, always given before and beyond any act of mine.
‘Me’ is a fraction of God-as-life happening as everything.
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.
Spiritual direction relocates authority from out there to in here.
The language of much religion conveys the impression that God is a distinct and separate being out there. This image underlies the very way prayers are said in church, requests formed in the thoughts and spoken out into the space. Authority rests with a distant God, a set of scriptures, a leader, or the way we do things around here. Often these are power-and-control-games, and conflicts are set up between my own innate wisdom and these other authorities. I lose basic self-trust and self-confidence.
Spiritual direction offers the rediscovery (for you knew it once) of another authority, not in the person of the spiritual director – God forbid! – but your own, authentic voice. [author, authority, authentic – ed.]
There are two ways of thinking about this. In the first God is no longer imagined as out there, but in here. I begin to distinguish the authentic voice of this body from all the other voices clamouring for attention, and know that this voice is not separate from God. I may not be the author of my life but the authority that bodies me into being speaks in and through my being.
and there was a new voice which you slowly recognised as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world
In the second, I realise that all is God, that I am not separate from the world, that there is no inner and outer, and I recognise that there is no possibility of discontinuity from Divine nature. God is what I am, what everything is. I am the voice of the author speaking with authority as this little life.
Of course there is discernment to be done. Not every wish I have is Divine. The cacophony of voices echoes in the chambers of my head. But the true voice is not in the head; the head is merely an emissary. It is elsewhere in this body. Where in this body? Some say the heart. Others the belly. I urge you to listen. And take your time about it. [See “A beginner’s guide to this body”.] The authentic voice, the voice of God, is like a shy creature that needs you to be still and quiet before it can trust you enough to venture from its refuge.
So what can we know? We can know when our lives, our choices, our actions feel meaningful and purposeful. This is the purpose of discernment. We listen to our life, to each day, to the life of this body, and in this attention to ourselves we start to notice what challenges us into life, or joy, or contentment, or fulfilment. (Note: I do not mean complacency or inaction or freedom from anxiety.)
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive…
Being emancipated from the idea of an alien will, through yielding to the affirming source, and being freed into the authority of our own presence (which is God’s Presence), we are empowered for the life and work that is ours. We no longer have to ask, “What do You want me the do?” Rather we can say, “What do I most deeply want to do? What feels most true to me? What satisfies me most? When do I feel joy? When does life feel meaningful?” It may only be an inkling, a whisper, a frisson. Trust and follow this authority that is deep in your being. This is what spiritual direction is ultimately about.
I’ve come to the end of this series on “an affirming source”.
What do you think? What have you found helpful? What have you struggled with? What would you like to hear more about? When does your life feel meaningful?
I’d love to read your reactions to this. Please leave a comment.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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