All creation is in the state of evolution, in the process of becoming. Incarnation transforms us by grace, changing us into what we were made to be: love. We are instruments of incarnation…calling forth a new creation. We are mothers of incarnation by giving birth to the word of God by the way we live and work. The incarnation, life, and death of Christ teach not to place any limits on forgiveness and sharing. The mystery of the incarnation deals with the stuff of life—and the choices we make. God is with us…every moment of every day. If we forget that, we are doomed. Only in silence can you hear the vast, boundless depths of the Spirit speaking more and more clearly about the unlimited love and mercy of God. Be still. Be quiet. Be.
Spirituality is essentially a journey in which we move from what we are to what we will be; it is a journey to weakness. We truly learn to live when we begin to explore our weaknesses. Every experience of weakness is an opportunity of growth and renewed life. Weaknesses transformed by the reality of Christ become life-giving virtues. I was becoming smug about my spiritual progress when I was knocked off my high horse by this thought: I still harbor aspirations beyond Christ.
Spiritual life involves struggle and effort. Anyone who wants to love distrusts whatever is easy. The spiritual life does not lift us out of the human condition, with its misery, problems, confrontations, pain and difficulties. Oh but if it did. The spiritual life plunges us more deeply into our humanity. It would be nice to sit in church all day, our hands clasped in prayer, drinking in the ecstasy of the Lord. But that is unrealistic; we must enter into the marketplace, walk the alleys of commerce. We must help each other out of the ditches we fall into. It is in the streets of life, that we encounter God. Everything human is divine.
Oh how we long to find God in some moment of spiritual ecstasy, looking for the Divine in some spectacular or extra-ordinary event. Yet God comes to us, if we are to believe—fully believe—what scripture says, in a humble disguise, in unexpected places. God comes to us poor, hungry, thirsty, diseased, imprisoned, alone and lonely. God comes to us in a homeless old woman forced to use a public street for a toilet. God comes to us in people, places and ways that make it difficult for us to see Him or receive Him. We don’t find God where we expect or want to find Him.
We need each other to become whole. Human convergence comes through love. Love unites what has become fragmented and isolated. And in our unity we still keep our individuality, with each gift of life creating a beautiful particle that helps form the whole of life, the full body of Christ. God is unity. God pulls us out of our isolation by showering us with the grace to see that our lives and gifts must be put to the service of others and all of creation. Through acts of sharing and serving which shall move toward union. In reaching out to others we are reaching out to God.
We have not yet begun to tap the powerful and sacred energies of love, as Christ asks us to do, even to the point of loving our enemies. Through love we shall evolve to what we were created to be…fully realized children of God and heirs of heaven, which can be materialized right here on earth.
Clean and Whole
In God, there is no trace of vengeance, not even for a split second. Wrath and vengeance are human traits. God knows nothing of wrath because wrath is a turning away from peace and love. Wrath is born from a failure of wisdom and goodness on our part. God is the goodness that cannot be wrathful. Julian of Norwich said, “If God were vengeful for even a moment we would never have life, place or being. In God is endless friendship, space, life and being.” The Church was dreadfully wrong to say that sinners are sometimes worthy of blame and wrath. God neither shames nor blames us; God only loves us and always sees us as clean and whole. And, no matter how hard we resist it, God constantly showers us with the grace to see ourselves as God sees us. It is in our capacity to forgive that is a true sign of our holiness. When we forgive others, we are overcoming our own imperfection, selfishness, smallness, and spiritual ignorance and becoming more aligned with God’s love.
In our obsession with happiness we easily forget that depression is part of the human condition and that all sorrow need not be numbed with antidepressants such as Prozac. No pill can get to the root of the multidimensional causes of depression.
It’s in failure and rejection that we’re given the chance to truly face our inner demons.
In the space of life’s darkest moments, wisdom and light begins to flow.
What we need to become whole is hidden in our brokenness.
The loud drumbeat of fear and anxiety can be quieted by contemplation.
I think perhaps the first step in becoming more serious about our prayer life is a need to slow down. We have become addicted to speed. I can hear the words from the Simon & Garfunkel song titled “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” echoing in my head: “Slow down, you’re movin’ too fast, ya gotta make the morning last, just kicking down the cobblestones and feeling groovy.”
We live life in fast forward and efficiency is our top priority. We feel compelled to squeeze the most out of every hour. The cult of speed has pushed us to the breaking point. The pace of life is spinning out of control, leaving us feeling more and more exhausted from the non-stop rush. We need to rethink our relationship with time and how we use our time. Long ago, in a much slower age, Gandhi, a man Merton greatly admired, said: “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” I remember taking 20 to 30 minutes every night to read a bedtime story to my daughter. When I read a bedtime story to her three kids, they can barely sit still for 15 minutes. In fact, the marketplace has taped into our need for speed by creating One Minute Bedtime Stories. How insane is that? Family meals are a thing of the past. We eat separately, often in front of our own personal entertainment centers. Our fast food diets are killing us.
Within all of society there is a growing need to save time and maximize efficiency. We have become incapable of doing nothing. We’ve gone from the survival of the fittest to the survival of the fastest. Our love affair with capitalism is generating extraordinary wealth (for some) while gobbling up natural resources faster than Mother Nature can replenish them. We are working longer hours and in the process becoming less happy and more unhealthy. Stress related illnesses such as insomnia and migraines are on the rise. We have no time for sleep, no time for exercise. People are becoming fearful of taking a vacation; and if we do go on vacation, we take our work with us thanks to an array of portable electronic devices that keep us plugged in and up to speed. The lack of sleep, exercise, and relaxation gives rise to even more illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease, indigestion, and depression. Inevitably, life in a hurry becomes an unlived, superficial life…that is over all too fast. Milan Kundera said there is wisdom in slowness: “When things happen too fast, nobody can be certain of anything, about anything at all, not even about himself.”
When it comes to doing things too fast, I am as guilty as anyone else. I enter a supermarket with this thought in mind: how fast can I get out of here. I become impatient with people moving too slowly with their carts and blocking my rush down the aisle. I reach a boiling point over long check-out lines. Then I get made when I get home and realize I did not get all that I need to get because my primary goal had become getting out of the store. A long line is an opportune time to pray, perhaps simply repeating a mantra such as the name of Jesus. When I remember to do that, I am always surprised how quickly I calm down and become present to the moment at hand, which might include an otherwise unseen person in need of a smile.
A by-product of our fast-paced modern life is that most of us are so fully engaged in an endless stream of activities and endeavors that we have lost the aptitude for deep listening and as a result have alienated ourselves from the very source of our being. We have forgotten the clear biblical instruction: Be still and know I am God.
In my active life, I need to learn how to periodically, perhaps even on a daily basis, silence my intellect and senses. In doing so, I am not briefly fleeing the world but attempting to experience the essential reality of a full life in God. The “life in abundance” which Jesus promises is blocked by our whirlwind of activity which only leaves us feeling tired and impoverished.