The Annunciation Trust

to help you discover the God you already know

Tag: spiritual direction

An affirming source (6): Empowered

[See Parts 1234inter-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.

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

Mary Oliver, The Journey

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.

I do not believe we can know the meaning of life. I do not believe we can know what our purpose is. What is a human for? What is the Universe about? The answers to these questions are above our pay-grade. How can a brain cell realise the meaning of mind, or a human person divine the purpose of the Cosmos?

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…

Howard Thurman

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.

[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 (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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