Friday, December 28, 2012


The state of spacious heart openness is known in spiritual traditions as surrender. Not what you usually think about when you hear the word “surrender,” is it? We usually equate the word with capitulation and consider it a sign of weakness. But surrender, spiritually understood, has nothing to do with outer capitulation, with rolling over and playing dead. It has to do with keeping the right alignment inwardly that allows you to stay in the flow of your deeper sustaining wisdom—to “feel the force,” in those legendary words from the first Star Wars movie. In that state of openness you then decide what you’re going to do about the outer situation. whatever you do, whether you acquiesce or vigorously resist, your actions will be clear. 
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus

Surrender, like peace, is misunderstood in our time particularly, when the aggressive and the extrovert (in the true sense of the word) is valued over the sensitive and the introvert. But true surrender is true courage, and the opposite of cowardice. All too often, those who are too weak to open their hearts to God, to their sisters and brothers, to their own deepest selves, are the ones who fight. Those who are “strong in the Lord” (Ephesians 6.10), or to continue the Star Wars metaphor, with whom the force is strong, are free to surrender to the loving purpose of God in all things—as Paul says, (Romans 8.28 NIV) “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Do note that none of the above is ever capable of being used as an excuse for evil, nor for submitting to it. Surrender is not in any case synonymous with submission—though submission to God may well be how it plays out in certain circumstances. It may indeed be necessary either to “acquiesce or vigorously resist.” Surrender to God in all things leaves one free to choose, and choose wisely.

Myself, I have had more than once to face situations of considerable unpleasantness, physically, emotionally and spiritually. In the event, surrender has not been all that difficult—a circumstance I can only attribute to the grace of Christ—it has been maintaining that surrender in the outworkings, even in the healing, of the disaster that has proved so hard!


  1. I have no grounds to disagree, exactly. Opening the hands and heart is a good way of describing the practice and I'm a fan of Cynthia Bourgeault's pointers to exchange, relationship and participation. But I think there is a tendency to be hesitant and gentle when speaking to modern audiences about surrender, and that tentative quality tiptoes around the bluntness that can be found in writers of past centuries.

    As a friend of mine (who is extremely devout and sweet) admitted, "sometimes I'm afraid to say 'thy Will be done,' because what if God wants an outcome that's not the same as the one I want?" Ah, there's the sticky spot, eh?

    God's will is unknowable, and so to surrender to God is to surrender to Not Knowing. Surrender in this sense means accepting and embracing God's action in our lives. God is also infinitely merciful , loving and just, so we can trust that however things unfold in our lives, "Yes and yes and yes!" is the answer. But cultivating that much trust is a project in itself, and one that can leave us trembling at times. It's a risk, isn't it? Giving up our attachments to things we enjoy, who we think we should be, how we think things should turn out… trusting that God's plan for us is better than the one we try to hold together with our duct tape and fretting? What if things turn out differently than we want?

    When we make surrender our practice, we soon find the many moments of "No!" that come up, where we flinch from that Divine hand and want instead to cling to our worldly indulgences, habits and self-interests. We come to understand how helpless we are without His hands to carry us. We are not even fully capable of producing the amount of trust and love necessary - we have to allow His work to grace us with those, too. In this context, the practice of contrition for sin makes sense in a way that the modern world's often trite and fraught understanding of it does not.


  2. Happy New Year.

    God bless.