Thursday, January 15, 2015

Against the Grain, Counterintuitive, and Not Quite Figured Out

Our society, particularly in America, preaches the fulfillment of self will as the driving force in our lives. Try hard enough, you can do anything. Make it to the top in your career, achieve your goals in all areas, even prolong your life by living within the current nutrition-and-exercise wisdom.

Now, if you are of a particular bent, add in the component of spiritual life. Seeking wisdom. Seeking what some would call the will of God. This is where the waters get murky. This is where the rubber of  rationalization meets the road of behavior. Many current spiritual leaders call for prayer, but prayer that seeks to bend the will of God to our own desires. This raises all kinds of questions. Chief among them is why some prayers are answered and some are not. I have asked this question a million times.

I recently re-read an article from 1960 by Catherine Marshall called The Prayer of Relinquishment. This prayer is the very thing that the 12 step program calls for. Giving up self will. In fact, the only good use of the will for an addict is to be willing to give up what the self wants, and seek to put in its place the thing that God wants. Catherine Marshall points out that God will never come between us and free will. So the only way God can actually work in us is if we empty out that space in the center of the universe where we normally put our own desires. 

That is simply against everything we are taught from the time we are tiny. Being our own advocate, trusting in our own intellect, our own hard work placed firmly on the altar of achievement...this is what makes sense. Concrete. Scientific. If you train harder, you run faster. Bootstraps, for heaven's sake.

How unnatural is it to actually trust God?  Why should we trust a being who lets bad things happen to good people? Catherine Marshall wrote that it is not some arbitrary original sin that separates us from God, but it is fear. Fear that we can't trust, should not trust, anyone but ourselves. Theologically, calling fear the wall between us and God is an old, old notion. It is fear that causes us to turn inward on ourselves, to stop looking up, to stop looking out. The whole inspecting-the-lint-in-our-spiritual-naval thing. Maybe it is semantics to replace "sin" with "fear". But to me, it makes sense. If I can't trust God with my life, with my loved ones, with my desires, then I have to pray that my own will be done. God, give me good health so I can live long and love my family more. What is wrong with that prayer? God, give me. God, give me. Me. Me. I know what is best for my life. Who is in the center of that picture? Well, I am American after all. It is me.

While I would love to think I've discovered some key to serenity that will never leave me, I know that my own human nature will fight back against this line of reasoning. Sometimes I am willful, sometimes I am just the lazy, acquiescing to habit. I'm in the habit of being self centered. It will take a lot of work to let go of that. my surrender dependent on hard work? Am I the captain of that ship? Well, yes. This is where Americans are right. It is hard work that will let me surrender. It is very hard to give up thinking I know best for myself. The application of my will to give up my will. Someone will think I'm ready for the loony bin. 

I don't have it all figured out. I just know it goes against the grain of human achievement. And, I know it is something I long for. So, I'll keep working on it. Working on not working. You know what I mean. Right?

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