Aspects of Spiritual Life

We tend to be driven to constantly pursue various tasks in life which in a few weeks or months will lose their urgency or even significance. This makes it difficult to be still and quiet and let God speak to us about the meaning of our lives. Yet, if we are attentive, the still small voice of God speaks from the deepest places of our heart inviting us to exchange our heavy burden for Jesus’ light yoke and receive rest for our souls (Matthew 11:28-30). Can we trust that voice and follow it?

The Scriptures tell us that God is love. If we accept and start living based on that statement, it means that as creatures of God, we are loved before any human being loved us. Yet we desperately want the love of others, seeking reassurance from parents, partners, and other people through questions such as: Do you love me, or more subtly, do you trust me, care for me, appreciate me? We often hurt because of our experiences of not having been loved well, because no matter what the intentions, humanly we can only be loved imperfectly. The great spiritual challenge is to discover, over time, that the limited, conditional and temporal love we receive from family, friends and others in our lives only reflects the unlimited, unconditional, and everlasting love of God. If we can make this great leap of faith, death, rather than being the end, will become the gateway to the fullness of divine love.

Fatalism is a common way of thinking about life. It is the attitude that makes us live as passive victims of circumstances beyond our control. In contrast to fatalism, faith is the deep trust that God’s love is stronger than all the anonymous powers of the world and can transform us from victims of darkness into servants of life. Jesus tells his disciples that faith can move the seemingly impossible (Matthew 17:19-20). It is important to identify the ways when we think, speak or act with fatalism, and step by step convert them into moments of faith. This movement from fatalism to faith will remove the cold darkness from our hearts and transform us into people whose trust in the power of love can, indeed, move mountains.

We tend to be grateful for good things that have happened to us but want to forget the bad. With our past thus divided and many things to forget, we cannot freely move into the future. True spiritual gratitude embraces all of our past – the good and joyful as well as the bad and sorrowful. Everything that has happened brought us to our present place and was a part of God’s guidance – even the bad didn’t happen outside the loving presence of God. If we look at the guilt, shame and suffering in our past from God’s perspective, we will see them as having brought us to a deeper recognition of God’s mercy, a stronger conviction of God’s guidance, and a more radical commitment to a life in God’s service. Remembering all of our past in gratitude, we are free to be sent into the world to proclaim good news to others. Our failures, once forgiven, can be transformed into gratitude and enable us to become messengers of hope.

We often desire to serve the poor, sick, disabled, and dying, but unless we realise that God’s blessings come to us from those we want to serve, we’ll soon get “burned out.” Ministry is primarily about receiving God’s blessing from those to whom we minister. This blessing is a glimpse of the face of God – we can see the face of Jesus in those who need our care. Indeed, the mystery of Christian service is that the needy show us Jesus and give us life. It is sometimes those that the world has no use for, such as a profoundly disabled person, who become the bearers of a profound grace in God’s presence. In their “emptiness” can be perceived the fullness of divine love which attracts us to the mystical life – life in communion with God. Those who serve Jesus in the poor and needy will be fed by him whom they serve, and those they serve may become their spiritual guides.

Travelling alone can work against spiritual life – there are too many distractions and temptation to keeping our hearts and minds focused on God. Jesus doesn’t want us to travel alone – rather he sends us out two by two for spiritual support and companionship. Jesus says: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst.” Together with another person we are protected against the seductive powers surrounding us and can be “cunning as snakes and innocent as doves.” Together we can also reveal something of God that none of us is able to reveal on our own.

 

Reference: The above series of reflections is based on Henri Nouwen’s book, Here and Now, Living in the Spirit (London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 1994), 63-72.

 

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