You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.–Ephesians 4:22-24, NRSV
The call to simplicity in our spiritual lives is not an easy one to follow, I believe, because it forces us to confront our individualistic illusions of self-sufficiency. In his book called Eager to Love about St. Francis of Assisi and Franciscan spirituality, Rohr says, “In terms of spirituality, as in good art, less is usually more. Or, to put it another way, small is beautiful. Only by continually choosing a philosophy of ‘less’ that is willing to wait for God’s ‘more,’ will we grow and transform, since we have then learned to be taught by smallness and ordinariness…[Francis] rebuilt the spiritual life on ‘love alone,’ and let go of the lower-level needs of social esteem, security, self-image, and manufacturing of persona.”–Dustin Davis, Disarmingly Simple
What illusions of self-sufficiency is the Lenten season calling you to confront?
When have you been transformed by “love alone?”
Prayerfully dwell with Ephesians 4:22-24. What is God’s invitation to you in this text?
When it comes to church life, I have a hard time saying no. If someone is needed to teach a class, cook for the congregation, or fill an open preaching slot, I can usually be counted on to step up to the plate. When it comes to the spiritual life, I have a hard time saying yes. If God is urging me to take the next step on my journey, detach from my ego to honestly but lovingly look at my motivations and judgements, or simply notice God’s presence all around, I will usually sweep it under the rug. (Why doesn’t God just ask me to plan worship instead?) This is why I find Mary so inspiring.
In the birth narrative in Luke, Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel who tells her that she will give birth to a son who will be the Son of God. (Talk about disruptive!) How, Mary wonders, can this be? The angel assures her, “Do not be afraid… for nothing will be impossible with God,” By the end of their encounter Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” (Luke 1:26-38). Can you imagine not only saying yes to such a request, but saying it so freely and completely? I can only guess that Mary was responding from the deep well within that springs forth as a result of a rich and connected spiritual life.
St. Francis of Assisi once wrote in Letter to All the Faithful, “We are mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ when we carry him in our hearts and in our bodies, lovingly, and with a pure and sincere conscience, and give birth to him through the working of his grace in us which should shine forth as an example to others.” Certainly Mary’s yes, carrying Jesus, and then giving birth to him shines as an example for us today of what total freedom and commitment in and to God looks like, but can I really do the same?
St. Francis would say yes. In fact, he is saying that all are called to the sacred and profound task of bearing and birthing Jesus into this world and by so doing declaring the advent, or coming, of the Kingdom of God in our own time and place. Joan Chittister is surely saying the same when she writes in The Liturgical Year, “It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent, that we come to realize that its coming depends on us.” You see, we are not just waiting for baby Jesus to show up. It is through our actions during our waiting, our saying yes, that Jesus comes again and again into this world!
As we begin this advent journey, there is one thing I think important to note. When Mary said, “Let it be with me according to your word,” she surely did not know the particulars of the journey that lie ahead, let alone its scope or impact. (She might have said no if she did!) The same is true for us. To say yes to God means letting go of our preplanned destinations and well-mapped routes to get there. Through intimate relationship with God – the work of the spiritual life – we come to a liberating trust that God sees the “bigger picture” that we cannot. Although perhaps scary at first, if we can learn to travel in trust like Mary, we can also travel assured like Mary that nothing is impossible with God. We are freed to say yes in response to the one who first says yes to us!
Spiritual Practice: What is currently restricting your free yes in response to God’s deep invitation in your life? Pray for the ability to freely offer your yes to God.