Stages on the Way to a New Spiritual Life
God is not the reward of our search for God. God is present in all of life and it is our task to discover God. Spiritual disciplines can unblock the channels of communication and vision between us:
Communication, because we lose the ability to hear God in the din and roar of our own inner chatter and the words the world hurls at us;
Vision, because we lose the ability to see God’s Presence in a world where pain mingles with pleasure and suffering with joy.
Prayer, fasting, and other disciplines are means to experience God through our senses once again.
The Spiritual Life begins and ends in poverty. We stand impoverished before God, with no riches to offer to buy the presence of God. Our poverty is, on the other hand, the major asset we bring before God, insofar as we acknowledge and reflect on it. We cannot own the riches of God; they must come as gift. For us to be gifted, we must recognize how poor we are: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
We are poor in many ways:
- because we move toward death, and nothing can buy us life;
- because we are unique, and nothing can buy us the life another person leads; we must learn to accept our own lives and ourselves as we are;
- because we are needy, and nothing can buy us out of need for the natural, material, and human resources by which we live;
- because we have limits, and nothing can expand those limits; we were born in a particular time of particular parents with a particular heritage and particular physical limitations which become more evident are we grow older;
- because we are vulnerable, and to become more fully human we must increase our vulnerability by loving.
The spiritual life calls us to recognize and live with our poverty. It is only by accepting our poverty that we learn to live in history and stop imagining fantasy lives in which we “escape history.”
Our poverty becomes an asset when it becomes simplicity. Simplicity does not mean simplemindedness. It means, first of all, the opposite of duplicity. Duplicity means that we operate with a host of different agenda items, rather than to realize and embrace what the Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard said: “purity of heart is to will one thing.”
We must avoid all multiplicity of motives as we approach God with the one motive that may be expressed in several ways: “What is the will of God for my life?” or “How may I give glory to God through my living?” or “How can I will just one thing?” Prayer centers on seeking the answers to these various questions.
Simplicity may also mean freedom from artificiality.
Simplicity directs us to be attentive to the here-and-now, to cut off our frustrating worry or fretting about the future and our endless recitation of the past. Simplicity calls us to live “just as I am, without one plea.” To this end we seek prayer.
Prayer begins and ends in silence. It begins with our silence in the presence of God and end with our presence in the silence of God.
All prayer rests on the prior word of God which emerges out of the silence – God has “spoken” to the world in creation, in the act of love in Christ, and through the Spirit. Prayer is one response to that word, whether alone or in community. Through prayer our poverty and our simplicity are both affirmed and transformed, and the spiritual life is born.
published 16 Sept 2011