Meditations on Nurturing the Believer

 

June 1

Surrender

It is through love alone

that we can become pleasing to God,

and the only way

that leads to Love's Divine furnace

is the way of self-surrender.

It requires the confidence of the little child

who sleeps without fear in its father's arms

Through the mouth of Solomon

the Holy Spirit has told us:

"Whosoever is a little one,

let him come unto me.

To the one who is little

mercy is granted."

            - Therese of Lisieux

June 2

Surrender

Many presume faith to be the last refuge of someone unable to deal with the harsh realities of life in an unforgiving world.  It seems obvious to them that faith is a flight, an escape, a retreat from reality.

To be told furthermore that surrender is the root of faith is to reinforce the conviction that the pursuit of God is the last refuge of cowards, of those not equal to life.  Physical, emotional, and psychological courage of the kind recognized and celebrated by the world, we are forced to admit, is not our strongest suit.

But there is another kind of courage, different from that required to stare down the world and force it to accept your terms.  There is the spiritual courage required to surrender your heart.  There is the bravery that is required to let go of what is known, of what gives your security.  There is the courage of faith.

It is the courage known to everyone who has ever fallen in love, who has ever put their heart in the hands of another, who has ever let down the walls of their soul to let someone else in.

There is still another kind of courage.  This is a courage that is not dependent on our possessing overwhelming strength or irresistible power.  It is the courage of someone who comes to God empty-handed and undeserving, without any pretense, knowing that he cannot conquer God, but only surrender.  It is the courage of humility.

It comes hard to those who have come to trust the hard-won virtues of their adulthood to be told that they must be like children.  But that's that way it is.  Faith is not about power.  It is about weakness.  It is about humility.  It is about surrender.  It is about being childlike.

"Truly; I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  But whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."

It is a very hard message that requires of us "the confidence of the little child who sleeps without fear in its father's arms."

This is not easy for those of us who cling to the belief that, even in the presence of God, we are all grown up.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 59-60

June 3

FAITH

The ultimate conviction and decision of faith

comes in the last resort,

not from a pedagogic indoctrination from

outside,

supported by public opinion in secular society

or in the church,

nor from a merely rational argumentation of

fundamental theology,

but from the experience of God,

of his spirit,

of his freedom,

bursting out of the very heart of human existence

and able to be really experienced there,

even though this experience cannot be wholly

a matter for reflection

or be verbally objectified.

     -Karl Rahner

June 4

FAITH

Faith and its spiritual expressions only appear to be abstractions, changeless states of our mind and soul.  Karl Rahner knew differently.  He knew that they are always lived out in a specific time and place.

He foresaw, for example, that faith in the future would not be just "more of the same."  There was a time when faith was supported by a sociological homogeneity.  Everybody in the county was Irish or German.  Whole countries shared a common religious faith.  Support was in the air they breathed.  We practiced not just the faith of our fathers, but of our next door neighbor and everybody else in town.  Not any more.  The extraordinary support system of a shared belief, of a shared religious experience, of a shared religious language is a luxury that is no longer ours.

The conclusion Rahner reached, however, was not to whine about the change or try to reconstruct a no longer possible world, but to strike at the very heart of faithful living in our times. 

In the future - read now - he wrote our spirituality "will have to lived much more clearly than hitherto, out of a solitary, immediate experience of God and his spirit in the individual.  In such a situation the lonely responsibility of the individual in his or her decision of faith is necessary and required in a way much more radical than it was in former times."

Rahner is proclaiming a time of radical faith.  We have to shape our spirituality in an "historical situation imposed on us and not made by us." 

The act of faith has always involved personal responsibility.  It has never been something we could shift to someone else - an individual or a whole community.  Living faith has always required much more than joining the club or living in religious synch with our neighbors.

But history has made mysticism imperative.

Ready or not, we believers must be mystics or "we will not exist at all - if by mysticism we mean, not singular parapsychological phenomena, but a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of existence"

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 171-2

June 5

FAITH

God, who is our absolute future, is the incomprehensible mystery.

-  Karl Rahner -

Because our spiritual journey is not a theological exercise, it does not reward us with increasing clarity.  Rather it submerges us ever more deeply in mystery.

So long as we see God as our future, the depth of our surrender to what is beyond our comprehension will be the measure of our life.  Mystery will be the air we breathe, incomprehensible mystery our destined and chosen future.

Faith will be our way of life.

It is not an easy path to walk. We like to see where we are going. More to the point, we like to know where we are going.  And, it seems we forever want to know whether we are there yet, and more importantly, if there is any "there" there.

Our future, however, is not in knowing.

It is not in God or about God.

Our future is an incomprehensible mystery.  It is God.

Let Us Pray

As this night begins

I am more aware than ever

that I cannot see where I am going.

More to the point

I don't even know

where I am going.

Only this:

with every step,

with every prayer,

I go further into the dark,

further into the mystery

that you are.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 176-7

June 6

FAITH

God desires to be the ultimate happiness of man, in his incomprehensibility and not despite it.

- Karl Rahner -

And Rahner adds:  "this is the key to man's own self-understanding."

Our ultimate happiness lies not in understanding God or inventing an understandable God, but in resting our hope of such happiness in the fact that God cannot be understood.

An understandable God could never offer us ultimate happiness, because the other side of this coin is that in accepting the incomprehensibility of God as our ultimate happiness, we become aware that our happiness depends equally as much on discovering and accepting our own incomprehensibility.

Our self-understanding can go only so far, reach only so deep.  We understand that beyond our understanding, our search for happiness is a tale of mystery confronting and confronted by mystery.  At that moment when we accept our own mysterious being, our life begins, our hopes takes root, we can accept that it is in mystery and not despite it that we will find our happiness.

Mystery is where we come to life, where we come to live.

We are a mystery in search of mystery.

Let Us Pray

As this night begins

I want nothing more than

to bring with me into its darkness

my own darkness,

my own mystery,

for here is where

I come to life

where I have always been

meant to live.

It is precisely the darkness of the night

that assures me that I am

where I should be.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 178-9

June 7

Enmeshing Body & Soul

Spiritual life is an enfleshed life.

- Henri Nouwen -

It took Nouwen almost a lifetime before he could write in one of his final books: "There is no divine life outside the body."

Sharing with him as many of us do a heavy historical burden of disconnect between body and spirit we can understand and sympathize with Nouwen's long journey.  We are on the same road that he traveled, but for many of us the end is still not in sight.

We don't trust the bodies that God gave us and which in the Christian tradition God assumed.  We proceed on our spiritual journey half convinced that God didn't quite know what he was doing when he embodied our spirit.  We take pious shelter in a belief that somehow the body God assumed was not like ours.  His was mere costuming.

But if that body was a real as our is, it means that to become intimate with God I have to be on loving terms with my body.

The spiritual life is an enfleshed life - or it is no life at all.

Help me to understand, that I should look for you

in the last place I would expect to find you.

I don't have to go anywhere.

You are here in a body tired from a day's work,

and all the days that stretch out behind me,

in a body that finds new ways everyday

to remind me how fragile life is.

How strange of you to wrap yourself

in weakness.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 48-9

June 8

Your heart is greater than your wounds.

- Henri Nouwen -

Who can deny that we carry with us wounds too deep to be cured by even the best efforts of our mind? "Who but a God," as a poet wrote, "goes woundless all the way."

It is hard to accept that there is no talking away such wounds or explaining them out of existence.  There are no miraculous cures for the soul.  Healing it is not a matter of finding the right words for our pain or the right category for what ails our humanity.

Our wounded being must be taken to heart, that is to that place where God awaits us, that sacred center of our being, that meeting place where God is forever present and accessible.

Our heart is greater than our wounds, but even here our wounds are not healed.  They remain as a badge of our inescapable humanity.  We come to this place not in search of a cure, but in search of a God who offers love and acceptance to the wounded.

"Here I am Lord, wounds and all - safe in your hands."

I know I have to trust

that you will be with me,

however broken and wounded my soul,

I do not have to earn your love,

I do not have to be healthy and whole. 

I need only to remember

that my heart is greater than my wounds,

that you await me there

with your healing presence.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 52-3

June 9

I Need Not Be Great.  On the Contrary, I Must Remain Little.

- Therese of Lisieux -

Therese is in love with being "little."

After all, much less is expected of us when we are little.  We need not prove to God over and over again how great and deserving we are.  We are who we are.  And it is enough for God.

The problem, of course, is that what is good enough for God is frequently not good enough for us.  We're adults and we don't like building our sense of worth on undeserved gifts.  We have a rather nasty word for clinging to childhood: regression.

We have been led to believe that life is all about qualifying for eternity, about piling up enough points to let us pass through to another life.

And along comes Therese saying in effect: get over your adult posturing.

Here's one place where merit badges don't count.  But childlike faith does.

Remind me again that I need not

posture in your presence.

Here, I am a child

and need not be anything else.

Let me lay aside for this brief moment

everything I use to convince myself and the world

of my worth.

You need no convincing even though I do.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 64-5

June 10

Think of yourself as a little child

just learning to stand on her feet.

-  Therese of Lisieux -

It is not easy to accept oneself as dependent in a world that treasures only those who can stand on their own two feet.

But it's the nature of faith to reach out for a steadying hand.

And what is more important is recognizing and accepting the fact that you will always need that hand.  You will never walk alone.

To submit to such dependence means abandoning the very characteristics on which we have long hung our claim to value and self-esteem.  It is not easy to let go of what we have long trusted in order to put our lives in the hands of a God who demands absolute trust, absolute confidence.

But unless, Therese echoing the scriptures says, we become like little children eager to be taken by the hand, eager to borrow our strength from a loving father, unless we humble ourselves and forget that grown-ups need not apply, we will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  We will never know what joy and strength there is in surrender.

Let me admit that I need someone to lean on,

someone to carry me,

not just through the darkness of the night

but in the brightest moments of the day.

Remove from my soul's vocabulary:

"Thank you very much, but I can do that.

I don't need anyone."

For unless I become like a little child,

eager and willing to take your hand,

I shall never enter the kingdom

you have promised.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 66-7

June 11

As God has a dwelling place in heaven,

so has he in the soul.

- Teresa of Avila -

It is hard for us to take God at his word when he says that it is his delight to dwell in the souls of men.

Some souls, we think, might delight him.  Those souls where you would expect to find God, where by our standards we judge God might be comfortable.  We could understand that.

But it is not just "some" souls.  It is all souls.  At all times.  No exceptions.  His word is good.  None of us is left out.  None of us.

"As God has a dwelling place in heaven, so has he in my soul."  To believe this is to know, is to accept that God is always as close as our next breath and wants to be.  It's hard to believe that God apparently thinks better of us than we do of ourselves.

But he says it is so.  He invites our belief in his presence.  But he will not overwhelm us, nor compel our acceptance.  There is nothing insistent or imperious about him.  Nothing.  He is just "THERE" waiting to be recognized.

How ironic it is that we who seek God find it so difficult to believe that God has already found us, that we live as this very moment in the presence of someone who wants to b e with us, who is comfortable with us even when we are not comfortable with ourselves, with others or especially with a God who will not give up or go away.

I want to believe

that you delight in my presence.

But such faith is hard for me.

There are hours, whole days, when

I cannot believe in anyone,

especially you, would want to be with me.

But I will take your word for it.

I will delight in your presence

and confidently make a prayer of my hope.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 110-11

June 12

All things are passing, God alone never changes.

- Teresa of Avila -

We wake to a day when God is so present to us that we can almost see his face and feel his breath.  But this will pass.

We wake to another day when God is hidden from our sight no matter how urgent our hunger, no matter how we long for a hint of her presence.

But this too will pass.

One will take a second. Another will seem endless.  But will pass.

Our whole life will pass.

What will not pass, what never changes, is God.

We are never out of his sight, we are never unloved.

The more we change, the more God remains the same.  It is the cornerstone of our hope.  It is what makes our passing days livable.

Today will pass into darkness,

even as this night will become tomorrow.

Not all my clinging can stop their passage.

Whatever is, except you, will pass.

Help me to see beyond the passing moment.

Help me to live in hope of what never changes.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 116-7

June 13

The Heart

The Heart has its reasons

which the reason knows not.

It naturally loved the Universal being,

and loves itself naturally according to the

measure in which it gives itself

to one or the other -

to reason or to God.

And it hardens itself against

one or the other as it pleases.

It is the heart that is conscious of God

and not the reason.

This then is faith:

God sensible to the heart,

not to the reason.

- Blaise Pascal -

June 14

It is the heart that is conscious of God and not the reason.

- Blaise Pascal -

It was the English scholar and writer Ronald Knox who said that the primary value of rational proofs for the existence of God was to let you go back to sleep after waking at four in the morning with the unsettling thought that God might not exist.  They are also useful for protracting late night discussions into early morning profundities.

Even the most rational among us, however, is disinclined to share our life on the outcome of a syllogism or someone's else superior late-night debating talents.

That's not the door through which God enters our lives and gets a hearing.

It is the heart that makes us conscious of God.

We are not talking Valentine's Day or license plate hearts announcing someone's love for New York.

We are talking about the life that begins within, where our best efforts leave off, where our mind admits to a world beyond its comprehension and the heart much take over, where reason admits its limits and steps aside for what alone the heart can know.

The heart's knowledge is called faith.

Let me leave behind

the world where I'm expected

to answer every question and solve every problem,

where I am expected to prove myself over and over again.

Remind me of my limits.

Let my heart take over,

even as you take over my heart.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 78-9

June 15

Happiness is neither outside us nor within us.

- Blaise Pascal -

"It is both outside and inside us," Pascal would say.  "It is in God."  He recognizes our taste for locatable happiness, for a "manageable" God, our very human temptation to pin God down so as to more easily put our happiness where we can lay our hands on it.

But happiness is not "out there" or "in here."  It is not in the world around us or in the spirit within us.  It is neither here nor there.  It is where the inside and the outside meet and dissolve into each other, where words like "in...out...here...there" are meaningless.

It is where our heart finds God, where faith takes us.

Our happiness, Pascal reminds us, is a matter of the heart and not the reason.  It is a matter of faith, not geography.

Because it is neither here nor there, our happiness is always close to hand, close to heart.

It is always here.  It is always now.

It is never a matter of "I could be happy if only I were somewhere else."

Let us pray

I am where I am.

To be here in the silence and dark

of this fading day is good enough for you.

I need not look

for some other more spiritual place,

some other more convenient time.

You are not here rather than there.

Not later rather than now.

You are where my heart is.

Here. Now.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 82-3

June 16

Let all my world

be silent in your presence, Lord

so that I may hear what you may say

in my heart

Your words are so softly spoken

that no one can hear them,

except in deep silence.

But to sit alone and listen in silence

is to rise completely above our natural powers,

it is to rise above our selves.

- Guigo II -

June 17

SILENCE

For many of us, most of the time, silence is just a welcome absence of noise or an absence of others.  The kids are in bed.  The TV is off.  The phone has stopped ringing.  Our space in the world, if just for a moment, loses its noisy patina.  In the "peace and quiet" we can for a moment, as a mother would say, hear ourselves think.  Maybe even hear ourselves pray.

It's "God's Time" - the quiet corner of our lives that the prayer books say we should seek out.

But even as the night washes away the surface noise another layer of our day insists on being heard from.  The outer quiet of the room gives way to the unquiet of the soul.  The worries, the aches, the angers, the surprises, and the jobs that were collecting just beneath the surface press on us, demanding to be recalled into being.  Our world is very much with us, waiting  with every passing moment to make its presence known.  There seems to be no escape.  Quiet beckons us from one step beyond every layer of our being only to slip through our fingers.

We are tempted to blame ourselves as though there must be something missing in our search for quiet.  But it is the same for a kneeling monk at down as it is for a bone-tired single mother when the dishes are finally done.  Inner quiet does not come readily to any of us.  It can seem disturbingly elusive.  It can seem at any given moment that we will never hear the voice of God whose words, Guigo tells us, are "so softly spoken that no one can hear them except in the deep silence" that seems forever to escape us.

Does this mean we shall never hear God's voice?  No, only that we will not hear it until we understand that the softly spoken words of which Guigo speaks are the soft-center of our nosiest day.

The silence in which God can be heard is not the mere absence of noise, or the absence of others.  The child at long last quietly in bed three rooms and a floor always is never more present, never speaks more clearly than in the quiet of the night.  What is most important about that child, what God most wants us to hear, has a chance to be heard.

The key is not to drown out his voice with our words.

Only in stillness can we know that the voice we hear is God.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 139-40

June 18

No one can be at peace until he has become humble.

- Guigo II -

There is no question that for most of us venturing into the presence of God is visiting another country where we are deathly afraid of not knowing the language.

We are even more afraid that he won't understand ours.  And still more afraid that we will embarrass ourselves by the triviality of our efforts at prayerful "conversation."

"What in the world do you talk about?"  And we dig about in dusty pages of approved topics and attitudes hoping to find the right things to say, hoping that God will find us interesting.  So we go "to and fro talking of Michelangelo."

When indeed the sounds of silence will do just fine.  After all, the substance of our prayer is and will always be that which escapes our understanding.  Prayer is about going where words cannot take us.

So we say what we want to say or say nothing at all with the confidence of faith that our stuttering, our silence, our very selves will not fail to be understood.

Let us pray

Let me be content with syllables of silence,

unembarrassed by my humanity

and unafraid of the dark.

Help me to feel at home in this other country

where whatever I say or leave unsaid

is heard and understood.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 144-45

June 20

He who is not silent cannot hear when you speak to him.

- Guigo II -

Perhaps it is because we think of faith as a God-search that we so often miss the central truth of our spiritual journey.  God is not at the end of some twisting road.  He's at the beginning and at every step along the way.  We don't have to go looking for God; we don't have to search for God, no matter how distant he may seem to be.  God is already present.  It is a question of getting out of his way, of removing the layers of self-absorption and self-importance that in the name of spirituality we insist on establishing between him and us.

And this includes, in the name of prayer, talking too much.

Until we learn to be quietly content in the presence of God we won't hear a word that is being spoken to us.

Until we really believe that remaining speechless is our most effective prayer, we will forever be caught behind a sound barrier that even God cannot penetrate.

Silence is faith's paradoxical mother tongue.

Let this night being and end in silence.

For once let me not try

to catch your attention with my words.

Otherwise I will surely miss

what you want me to hear,

what you will speak softly in my heart.

Help me to be content

To speak the silent language of faith.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 148-9

June 21

Let all my world be silent in your presence.

- Guigo II -

What if, after we have silenced our world and silenced our soul, we are met not with the soft voice that we expected at last to hear, but with silence?

What if our God is a silent God, who meets our silence with an even greater silence, a silence without beginning or end?

What if silence is not just a condition of our spiritual journey, but its destination; not just a matter of finding ourselves speechless, but accepting that the God we have sought to hear speaks wordlessly?

We were not, if we are honest with ourselves, expecting this: "Won't somebody say something?  Won't someone fill the empty space with what makes us comfortable?"

But God speaks not in words, but in presence.

It is said that those who love each other that at some time they achieve the ability to be silent together.  They don't need to talk.  They share in silence.  They may never grow used to it.  It may never be their preference.  But that's the way it is with lovers.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 150

June 22

Your face cannot be seen except veiled.

- Nicolas of Cusa (1401-1464) -

Our search for God is not some kind of spiritual game of hide-and-seek.

God does not veil his face to hide from us to play with our deepest desires, to make us look ridiculous - the butt of some humiliating divine sense of humor that leads us to think that he will be visible just beyond the next turn of an unending maze.

"Sorry.  You must have blinked.  Better luck next time!"

We have not been tricked into playing peek-a-boo with God because God, in fact, does not veil his face at all.

What seems to us to be a veil covering his face is not a veil, but our own humanity.  With limited eyes we cannot see what is without limits.  With words that are our creation we cannot describe what is uncreated.  With only the light of the world at our disposal we cannot pierce what is for our humanity an impenetrable darkness.

But our blindness is sight.  Because of it we cannot mistake God for images of our own creation, cannot forget that it is faith alone that allows us to live beyond the veil.

Let me embrace the darkness of night,

all that I cannot see,

all for which I have no words.

Let me treasure you beyond everything

that I know and see,

and find my rest in letting go of my desire

and my need to know.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 158-9

June 23

Even unveiled your face is not seen,
until we enter into a certain secret and
mystic silence where there is no knowledge
or concept of face.

- Nicholas of Cusa -

Nicholas's secret and mystic silence sounds more exotic, more unattainable than it is.  He is simply saying that until we leave behind any notion that we can know and understand God, we will not understand or accept the informed ignorance that lies at the heart of faith.

Such faith will elude us until we enter into and embrace that silence where we can summon up the courage and humility to say; "I don't know because I can't know."

In that same silence we will no longer seek to see what cannot be seen.  We will leave behind our temptation to settle for a divine face fashioned to our specifications and enter into a space where the very concept of face is not known.

Nicholas is not putting God beyond our reach.  He is in fact closing a distance cluttered with false Gods, clearing our way into that prayerful silence where we need not speak when we have nothing to say, where we wait in silence to be spoken to.

He is leading us into that prayerful silence where we need not put on our best face.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 162

June 24

In all faces is seen the Face of faces.

- Nicholas of Cusa -

Here is the mystery and the irony: The face that cannot be seen is visible wherever we look.

In all faces is seen the Face of the unseen.  In all voices is heard the Voice of the voiceless.

But it takes faith to penetrate the veil of our own blindness to glimpse the features of God in the face of our neighbor and to hear her voice whenever and wherever the voiceless struggle exists.

We see the unseeable God when we see each other.  We hear the silence of God when we hear each other.  But we miss the face of God when we look without seeing, and we miss her voice when we listen without hearing.

"When did I see you hungry and did not feed you?"

"When did I see you naked and did not clothe you?"

"When did I see you homeless and did not shelter you?"

"Look again. It is my face in the faces you see."

I pray that you silence my soul until I can hear

the voices that I was deaf to this day.

When did you call out to me?

When did I see you?

Here in the dark of the night let me see the faces I passed by.

Let me see in them

your face.

Let me hear in their voices

your voice.

-adapted from Raw Faith: Nurturing the Believer in All of Us by John Kirvan, p 164-5

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