Saturday, November 14, 2009

Here be dragons—quite a new kind of poverty…

I believe profoundly in the necessity of surrender, but I don’t think we can chart its course ahead of time.   Our own private salvation projects seldom do the job.  Surrender is something that is done to us, more than something we do ourselves.

In Joseph Campbell’s book on the hero’s journey, he says that the only way to be a hero is to prepare and be ready for when the moment comes.  You might say that is the point of all spirituality.

Someone else must determine the timing, the circumstances, the shape of the ordeal.  None of us can engineer our own transformation—or it would not be transformation at all, but merely cosmetic surgery to make us “think well of ourselves.”

You can’t choose ahead of time which dragon you’ll slay or how you will slay it.  It will probably slay you.  So just make sure you are well-practiced in dying.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Near Occasions of Grace, p. 112

Bear with me, please. I hadn’t intended to write this tonight, but I stumbled across this passage from Richard Rohr, and it started to write itself. This is not going to be easy to put into words, and I may stumble around a bit looking for ones that seem at all adequate. I’m mayn’t make it.

One of the things I’ve come to learn, since the beginning of this extraordinary year, is just this. I could sense God’s call to another level of surrender, something far more profound than I’d encountered before. I did do my best to surrender to what I believed I was being called to—a more disciplined life of prayer, a more rigorous use of the time God gives to me—but it didn’t work at all. That wasn’t it.

I couldn't choose my dragon. It chose me. The marriage to which I’d given everything I knew how to give, the love on which I’d staked all that I’d achieved by the age of 40, was swept away in a moment. And even then, circumstances prevented me from “moving on” as they say, kept us living in the same house.

None of the rules applied any more. The old certainties were gone, and yet the shifting days would not allow new ones to take root. A new, strange and even beautiful comradeship had to evolve, bit by messy bit, out of what had been a marriage.

This is quite a new kind of poverty. No sort of self-determination has held, every anchor has dragged. It seems almost a cliché to say it, but God has truly been my only refuge—God himself, and not any means of apprehending him, no form of worship. Habits and presumptions have not stood this test. Only God is good. Out of his goodness strange flowers have sprung up: forgiveness, affection, compassion, a new sort of love that expects nothing, and finds itself given unimagined riches.

Where is all this going? I honestly don’t know. The next week will bring a deeper change, as Jan returns to the USA. And then? If I knew I’d have something to hold on to, I’d have some small savings against utter poverty—and it seems that isn’t God’s plan. St. Francis called his followers to live sine proprio, without possessing. Plans, foresight, precautions: these are possessions it seems I must learn to live without. It is an odd kind of freedom.

Two quotes from Paul’s letters seem to get closer than most things:

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 NIV)

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17 NIV)


  1. I so understand this space. An odd kind of freedom, indeed.

    Around it, words become rather difficult to formulate. All I can say this morning is that I understand this. It is what happened for six years while I was ill with chronic fatigue syndrome, it is what happened when I left my marriage. A thin way, there is nothing to stand upon except God. The liberating thing of course is that despite the awful terror, you do know in some way that you've had it all stripped, and you know that all that remains is enough. That is poverty at its core, certainly, and it keeps giving and giving out the other end, like some sort of bottomless money jar.

    Very strange :)

    I pray that comfort for you, Mike, that's like a chocolate blanket.

  2. Prayers with you, Mike.

  3. Thank you, dear people. Sue, you do so get it - though I confess a chocolate blanket might be a little sticky for this cold-weather creature!

    Thank you both, so much, for your prayers.

  4. Mike, thank you so much for sharing this with us. This is a hard place to be and I have been there too. Time will heal the wound and the Lord will lead you on to better (and unexpected) things. Be strong in the Lord my friend.