That conversation happened more than forty years ago but it still haunts me from time to time: be careful of that zeal... none of us live out of pure motives. St. Paul frames this truth theologically: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.(Romans 3: 23) It has taken me most of my adult life to own this insight as foundational - and I am still learning. As I look backwards, four things were essential:
+ First, the willingness of the nun and priest to call me out with grace.
+ Second, the sucker-punch of feelings that told me a truth I didn't want to recognize.
+ Third, 35 years of reflecting on the mystical message of Christ's life and death.
+ Fourth, consciously meditating on Ed Hays' "wisdom of our wounds."
There's much more, too - from the humiliation and rebuilding of my life after divorce to the ups and downs of learning to be a parent, a pastor and a musician - but the combination of being tenderly called out by people I respected, mixed with learning to discern what my feelings were trying to teach me, has been invaluable..
I liken it to the word relinquish - voluntarily ceasing to keep a claim - rather than surrender. It is akin to acceptance in the parlance of the 12 Step movement and comes about both consciously and intentionally. There is loss, to be sure, but it is a letting go born of going deeper rather than fighting or being forced to something give up. Fighting is a part of this, too, carrying our anger and hurt fully and as long as necessary, but only until the feeling is finished teaching us its wisdom.
I have learned that if I don't take regular time to sit with God in the quiet - or physically walk with God for at least 45 minutes - my feelings will play tricks on me. Like Loki, the Trickster, I am easily confused by feelings and can get lost in them. And when I follow the obvious path of my feelings, rather than the upside-down wisdom of these wounds, I always cause myself and others trouble. How many times have I had to recognize what the old apostle got right in Romans 7:
I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope.
When I am in that place it is because I haven't been resting/trusting/embracing God's quiet grace in silence. It comes every time I quit practicing relinquishment and go back to trying to control my life from the trap of my feelings. In the Henri Nouwen reflection for today are these words about brokenness:
And so it goes for me on this quiet Saturday in the Berkshires.