Stop asking God for what you think you want.
What God is waiting for is not a right conclusion to a matter but for our suppleness in falling into His hands for Him to work in us.Benedicta Ward, Discernment: A Rare Bird
When I ask people what they say to God, they often tell me they ask God to change their, or other people’s, attitudes, behaviours, and situations.
A manager asks God for more patience (with her difficult colleagues).A mother worries about her adult children’s standing with God and prays God will make them come back to church (which bores them stupid).
A man feels guilty that he feels angry towards his husband (who never helps out at home) and asks God to help him be kinder.
A vicar (who is harried by a demanding congregation) asks God to help her enjoy visiting the sick.
A city dweller (who is fed up with the frenetic lifestyle and noisy, dirty streets) asks God for help to find a place to live in Cornwall.
I’m feeling a lot of fear at the moment (more on this another time). I want God to stop me being afraid.
This is the pre-emptive strike. I make my request before giving God an opportunity to comment: “I know what is wrong. Please sort it out.” Not that I think I know what I need better than God does; rather, I fend off being vulnerable with God.
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?”Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic (p. 4)
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.
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 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.
[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]
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?