I’m a religious sister, so, you could say, spirituality is an important part of my life.
I’ve always reached for the best in anything I did, and the same is true of “the spiritual life.” In fact, in my younger years, I pursued it with a vengeance.
So I prayed extra. I created schedules for spiritual reading. I tried to imitate the saints. I made lists in my journal of anything that could distract me from a single-minded devotion to God…or so I thought.
One year I was making the 19th Annotated Retreat with a Jesuit Director at Boston College. Each evening I sent an email with a short paragraph about my prayer that day. I struggled through the first month or so, treading water in what were my ideas of spirituality. It was a rocky start to a retreat in everyday life I had hoped would bring me closer to God.
Looking back now I realize how self-willed the exercise had been. The sense of inner violence that was marring my soul’s surface was painful as I tried yet one more spiritual practice. Then one day something changed. I can’t exactly remember the prayer experience I shared with my director which prompted him to send these words in response, but I will never forget what he told me. Somehow, that day, I must have yielded to grace, and he wrote in response to my evening email, “That is the Spirit. The Spirit is a gentle breeze, like perfume on the wind, a light fragrance you can barely catch.”
I remember sitting in my office, deflated and free. The years of soapbox speeches and accumulating spiritual kudos had not of the Spirit. The self-styled aggressive pursuit of holiness actually kept me from the inner life of the Spirit, kept me from living within.
The Apostle Paul was also a professional religious person whose spirit before the encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus was marred with aggression. He rounded up the followers of the Way to put them in jail. Zealously he pursued his plans and religious career. Just outside the city of Damascus, he was met by Love. “I am Jesus the One you are persecuting.”
In an instant he realized he had been wrong. This Jesus that he had rejected as dead, was alive. The community he had persecuted were the ones who had truly understood the action of God in history.
This “conversion” experience is the freedom that arises from no longer knowing, having one’s plans overturned, becoming the servant instead of the protagonist, moving from autonomous isolation to community interdependence. “Go in the city and there you will be told what you are to do.” Though Paul had pursued perfection as a Pharisee, he had not lived within. He suddenly touched the immense horizons of the life within that were being opened up to him as he walked into the city of Damascus, blind and led by his companions.
Something that both I and St Paul didn’t ask in our early heady days of religious “conquest” was this: is God in all of this bluster? Do I want to see his face or my own?
God wants to shower on us the radiance of his glory. He wants to draw us into his plans for the salvation of the world. To convert us from our surface life to the deep inner wells of spirit, from pride to wonder, from zealous aggression to sensitive discernment, from certainty to the inner depth that can sense the slightest movement within without needing to know.
If you want this inner life, here is a simple practice you can make your own:
Stop and focus.
Calmly center. Ask yourself: What am I feeling right now?
from any strong opinions and emotionally driven behaviors.
Where is God in this situation? Pray: “Show me your face, O Lord. Show me your face.”
God watching you as a dear old grandparent watches a grandchild. With that type of love, hear God speaking to you about what is going on.
God says, “Dear child, this is what I see when I look at you. (Listen as God describes the situation from his perspective and what he sees is your reality.) I hear your heart’s desire…. I can hear what you are thinking…. (Let God tell you from his perspective what he hears.) I want you to know, dear one, that I care about what happens to you. I have plans for you. I understand this event more than you could ever know. This is what I want for you… (Open yourself to God’s wisdom. Have the courage to see the situation through God’s eyes, and to want what God wants.)
Youth is a time for building our identities, trying things out, learning what works for us and what doesn’t. But when the moment comes when God’s face begins to show us what the world looks like in God’s eyes, we can let go of much of what we’ve built up on the outside to begin a new journey, gently deepening our inner life.
I’m excited to be coming out with my new book Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments September 1. You can get a special offer right now.