Love and Do What You Will

LTC-brjohn-clean

It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was; and when he saw Jesus, he fell prostrate, pleaded with him, and said, “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do will it. Be made clean.” And the leprosy left him immediately. 

Luke 5: 12-13

“Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.” The “man full of leprosy” pleads with Jesus to be cured, realizing that it is not a matter of whether Jesus is able to cure him but rather whether or not Jesus wills to do so. For Jesus, whether or not he wishes to do so is not an arbitrary or capricious matter. Rather he wishes and wills only what his Father wills. As he says in the Gospel of John, he does only what “he see the Father doing, because whatever the Father does, the Son does also.” (John 5: 19)

As we meditate on the life and actions of Jesus in the gospel, we can’t help but wonder whether it is at all possible for us to do, in our unique way and within our own limits, “whatever the Father” would do in and through us. How are we to offer our will to God so that it may be conformed and transformed into God’s will in us? Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we offer ourselves that God might transform us into the unique image of Christ that we have been created to be. “May we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity..

Luke’s gospel makes clear that even for Jesus, it is imperative that he continually “withdraw into desert places and pray.” To know and to realize God’s will in us requires a good degree of stilling of our own willfulness that we might “make room” in us for God’s will and way. Even Jesus, “whose nature was divine,” needed to nourish that part of his nature in the stilling of the demands and compulsions of his humanity. How much more must we find ways to give space that the inspirations of our spirits might have a chance in the face of the much more immediate drives and ambitions of our bodily and functional selves.

What does this mean for our own daily practice? For one thing, it probably asks of us that we find time for prayer, not only verbal prayer but also a congenial form of what Teresa of Avila terms “the prayer of quiet.” Our attempts at such practice will constantly remind us of the furor of our own bodily and mental drives. What we call “the unconscious” was not a discovery of Freud, although he was the first to name it as such. The great teachers of prayer from every wisdom tradition all remind us of the constant noise and compulsive activity that our bodily and mental fears and anxieties evoke in us. There is a reason why so many of Jesus’ words to us are calls not to be anxious and to be at peace. There is a very difficult work of prayer involved to transcend the noise and compulsion in us and to touch the place of peace which gives rise in us to actions based on God’s will and not on our own compulsions.

Perhaps related to our attempts to give more time to prayer is our developing a more congenial pace of living. When we move fast and are hyper-stimulated we are much more reactive. When we are experiencing time stress, for example, we have little patience for anyone or anything that stands in the way of our next task or duty. Even in the helping professions, we want to deal with a person’s problem or need as quickly as possible so that we can meet our assigned quota of clients, patients, or students for the day. So often we all experience how little encounter there now is in human interactions. We know the kind of pressure we ourselves tend to feel to keep on schedule and to encounter another only to the degree necessary to accomplish the task at hand. It is becoming more and more evident that both personally and culturally we are demanding more of our human constitution than it can bear. One of our primary experiences of the “will of God” is in the limits we have as persons, limits of body, mind, and spirit. To attempt to force ourselves to do what we are not made to do is an act of pride and violence against God’s will.

Thus, another practice we need to undertake to grow in obedience to God’s will for us is to attend better to our own bodies and their limits and to adopt a pace of living and acting in accord with our own reality. At least in the West, we generally tend to live at much too fast a pace. One cannot discern God’s call in a moment without feeling the experience of one’s own body and person. Our failure to be humble enough to be who we are and to live with and within our limits is one of the great causes of the greed, violence, illness, and sexual disorder in our culture. Taking the time for prayer and silence each day may eventually spill over into a greater moment-to-moment attentiveness to the reality of our own share in divine life within our own human nature. Dong what God wills may well require of us to say no to some or many of the things that our personal and cultural compulsions demand of us. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is necessary.” (Luke 10: 41) One of the great paradoxes of the spiritual life is that, for us, to do what God requires, we must first become smaller and more limited in our own eyes.

St. Diadochos reminds us that we are all “made in God’s image; but to be in His likeness is granted only to those who through great love have brought their own freedom into subjection to God. For only when we do not belong to ourselves do we become like Him who through love has reconciled us to Himself.” This “not belonging to ourselves” of which Diadochos speaks is our identity in God, the core of who we are. Thoughts do not attach to it. Time does not touch it. Yet it embraces all thought, all time, our coming to birth, and our dying. It is what the prophet Jeremiah calls our self before we were born and known by God from all eternity: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jer 1:5) or St. Paul’s acclamation in his letter on freedom, “I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land, p. 67

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