Thursday, May 27, 2010

More treasures of darkness…

The final word for mysticism after the optimistic explosion that we usually call hope, and the ensuing sense of safety, is an experience of deep rest.  It’s the verb I’m told that is most used by the mystics: “resting in God.”  All this striving and this need to perform, climb, and achieve becomes, on some very real level, unnecessary.  It’s already here, now.  I can stop all this overproduction and over proving of myself.  That’s Western and American culture.  It’s not the Gospel at all.

We’ve all imbibed the culture of unrest so deeply.  What got me into men’s work is that I find males are especially driven in that direction.  We just cannot believe that we could be respected or admired or received or loved without some level of performance.  We are all performers and overachievers, and we think “when we do that” we will finally be lovable.  Once you ride on the performance principle, you don’t even allow yourself to achieve it.  Even when you “achieve” a good day of “performing,” it will never be enough, because it is inherently self-advancing and therefore self-defeating.  You might call it “spiritual capitalism.”

Richard Rohr, adapted from Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate

I was just thinking about how to start a post apologising for having been such a blogging slacker over the past few weeks—Jan has had yet more major surgery, though she is now recovering really well—when I came across this from Richard Rohr. How easily we bloggers get drawn into the way of achievement, anxiously scanning our inboxes for comments, clicking on the little “show details” link against our blog in Google Reader to check our weekly stats, when all we really are hoping to do is share what God has shown us, the “treasures of darkness” [links to my own post of that title, quoting Isaiah 45:3] that he has brought to light for us. The way of Christ is the way of suffering, of patience, receiving—not the way of achievement, acquisition, reputation.

Things are still as ambiguous as they were in that post, and of course nursing someone under these circumstances is difficult: an extraordinary mixture of conflicting emotions that even so shows up more and more clearly how we depend on God for each breath, let alone each day stumbling in the footsteps of Christ. But God is good, better than the best of us could ever imagine, and he truly does work in all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28) if only we will keep listening in even those darkest places.

Talking with a friend the other day, we realised that indeed God does not necessarily protect his people from the ills that are part of living in a fallen world, and yet he does protect us in them:

But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour…”

(Isaiah 43:1-3a)

Why should we be exempt from the difficulties and losses of our sisters and brothers? We are sinners also: it is only Christ in us who can transmute what we are into something of value. Only by following his steps through the darkest valley can we have light to share.

I’d feel unreasonably diffident saying things like this, in case someone thought I was giving my own little troubles undue weight, if the saints and martyrs, from Dietrich Bonhoeffer all the way back to Paul and Silas in jail after their flogging, didn’t say the same thing… Bonheoffer in particular saw so clearly, even in the concentration camp, that, “To endure the cross is not tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ.”

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