Thursday, May 21, 2009

First Business

We get busy doing this and that and thinking we are doing God’s will. Sometimes we’re right. Sometimes our activity turns out to truly be God’s will. Sometimes, though, it turns out to be God’s will only in some general way that gives us enough room to justify what we are doing so we can call attention to ourselves when what God really wants us to do is to simply commune with him, enjoy him, and let him love us. I don’t think this, in any way whatsoever, short circuits or compromises our calling to “be about the Master’s business.”

But I do, more than ever, believe that learning to rest in him is the first business about being about his business. I also think that this first business can be the hardest part about being about his business because, in most circles, it simply isn’t being taught as a viable means to serving the Lord.

They didn’t teach it in the Bible College that I graduated from. Oh. They did a great job of teaching us the Bible and Theology and the mechanics of pastoring and preaching and soul winning and marrying people and burying the dead. They even taught us how to wave our hands and lead singing according to the appropriate time signatures in the hymn book. They taught us a lot of stuff. All of it good and necessary stuff for the line of Christian service we were headed into.

Then they turned us out and sent us forth both as products of themselves and as representatives of the Lead Shepherd.

But they didn’t offer the first class on resting in the Lord. It took some dead monks and some dead and gone Saints from way earlier centuries to introduce me to this first business of serving God. And, like all other worthwhile spiritual pursuits, it’s a journey that leads to a lifetime of exploratory participation.

I have only just begun this conscious journey of resting in God, but, in this beginning, I sense that this journey of learning to simply rest in God is what he has called me to. I think maybe it is what he has always called me to and it’s taken me this long, a lot of trial and error, a lot of humps and bumps, to finally figure that out. And it’s not that I can’t see God’s signature of approval on all the former years of my trying to serve him. It’s there. No doubt about it. But it’s kind of like something that I heard T.D. Jakes say in one of his preaching messages. “It took all that to get to this.”

Make no mistake about it though. Resting in God is no lazy man’s occupation. I’ve found that it’s a constant fight against my own laziness. It’s a constant fight against the devil. Temptation is more real to me than it has ever been although it doesn’t seem to be nearly as attractive as it used to be.

We have the Holy Scriptures and Tradition to guide our steps. We have prayer to unite us with God. We have the Holy Spirit who gives life to our spirit to lead and guide us in the truth. That’s a pretty powerful package. I think the thing that a lot of people miss is that it is also a very gentle package.

Benedictine spirituality, boiled down to its essence, has a simple three-point focus. Ideally, it’s a daily focus that takes all of life and centers it within a balanced framework of prayer, spiritual reading, and work – a personal spiritual program for life that goes back to the first hermits in the deserts and monks in monasteries in the early centuries after the Church was born.

The program sounds simple. And it is. But it’s far from easy since the whole point of it all is to grow deeper in Christ and become more like him. St. Benedict said it this way. “The labor of obedience will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience. This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.”[1]

This is what I hunger for. This is what I need. Obedience that is solid enough to deal with the only person that is standing between me and God. And that person is me. To become more like Christ, I have to become less like the “me” that me and the world has made of me. It’s a real journey but it’s not a popular journey because there are so many other self-gratifying paths that appeal to people.

I’ve grown to deeply love and admire Thomas Merton. He’s one of those dead monks.

Merton wrote:

“A man who is not stripped and poor and naked within his own soul will unconsciously tend to do the works he has to do for his own sake rather than for the glory of God. He will be virtuous not because he loves God’s will but because he wants to admire his own virtues. But every moment of the day will bring him some frustration that will make him bitter and impatient and in his impatience he will be discovered.

He has planned to do spectacular things. He cannot conceive himself without a halo. And when the events of his daily life keep reminding him of his own insignificance and mediocrity, he is ashamed, and his pride refuses to swallow a truth at which no sane man should be surprised.

Even the professionally pious, and sometimes the pious most of all, can waste their time in competition with one another, in which nothing is found but misery.”[2]

Conversion of heart. Conversion of life. Total surrender to God’s will. These bring us to and fulfill us in our Sabbath Rest.

I find that these things are easy to talk about. They are, after all, part of our Christian and Benedictine vocabularies. Christians do need to talk about them. Should be talking about them. Some are talking about them. Personally, for all the talking, I find that they are more difficult to achieve than most want to admit. They are, though, the very essence of what it means to be a follower of Christ.

So I keep following. Sometimes stumbling. Sometimes crawling. Sometimes reclaiming something of that “me” that I’m trying to lose. But always committed to following.

[1] Prologue 2-3
[2] New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 58