I wonder how many times in the course of a day I say or think to myself, “I’m going to do this,” or “I want to do that.”
It may not be exactly those words – and it may not even involve words, but it is there in my consciousness as My Plan.
One of my patrons, St. Catherine of Genoa, was given the message in the course of her spiritual journey that she was to no longer use the pronoun “I”. Whenever a plan or intent was considered, it was always, “we” – her and Christ.
Many of those whom God chooses for great holiness seem to experience something like this. It is as though they have no will, no self, apart from Christ.
Recently, I was reading from the writings of Mother Teresa (now St. Teresa of Calcutta) and learned that she had taken a private vow early in her consecrated life. Her vow was that she would never say no to Jesus.
The immensity of the suffering she endured in keeping this vow was never known during her lifetime, except to her spiritual directors.
Being chosen to live a life of holiness at this level is not at all easy or glorious. To those watching from afar, it may seem that they enjoy great favor from God – and sometimes even considerable acclaim from the world for their holiness and good works.
Little do we know about such holiness and the cross it is to the soul that bears it.
As I reflect on this, I wonder how one comes to so totally lose oneself in God. How one arrives at the point of being able to genuinely proclaim with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
I certainly do not know, except that it is by grace.
And yet not by grace alone. For God does not take a man’s will from him; He does not rob a woman of her self without her voluntary surrender.
And so I am brought back to the opening lines of this post. My Plan. What I want to do. Or what I do not want.
It is a regular feature of how I relate to others and the world and God. And one that creates a great obstacle to the grace God offers me as He beckons me to become “we” with Him.
I have been abundantly aware of this in recent times. Some physical discomforts come my way – no, I don’t want those. My thoughts turn ruminative about these discomforts – no, I don’t want that. I am so tired. I don’t like that – and I don’t like my complaining about it either.
In the midst of these minor issues (yes, they are minor), it seems that God took art away from me. Whether to be like one of those sabbaticals He occasionally gives me from writing – or something permanent, I cannot know.
Throughout this time, I have found myself able to look at all of the colors in my pastel box and feel indifferent. Ideas from unfinished projects have flashed before my eyes and “Maybe another time” is all that comes forth.
As many of you know, I have loved my photography and painting rain barrels and making ink-on-glass projects. And yes, climbing onto the counter so that I could color my kitchen windows with markers.
For weeks and weeks, I have been in the desert, wondering, “Perhaps this is it.” But strangely, I knew that if it was over, it was all right.
I have been blessed with so much – and none of it belongs to me. God wants me to learn this. My body is His. My mind is His. Every little and big gift and opportunity He has given me are His to do with as He pleases.
And, if I wish to follow Him, I must surrender so completely that I accept – no, that I desire that He does with me what He pleases. And this may very well not be what, if left to my own devices, I would choose.
Following Him means doing what He did. And thus it is so: I surrender. It is the only path I can take.
I am but a beginner. I still have a great deal of will of my own. But He is teaching me and leading me.
And it is a priceless thing…
Today, quite unexpectedly, I found art in my soul again. I had dropped a bit of ink a couple of weeks ago without a lot of feeling and yesterday a poem began emerging to accompany it.
Of itself, it is nothing much – just as I am nothing much. But I share it with you to sing God’s praise. How kind and loving of Him to allow art back into my soul, even if only for a moment.
I do not know if it will be there tomorrow – and it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that I follow Him.
To Him be glory.
sun drifts pale in blue
as earth bleeds red-orange joy.
life hides its shadows.
What a gift! Makes me want to use e.e. cummings’ words:
i thank you God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
“Of itself, it is nothing much” – WRONG. As you noted, thet are a gift from God, both picture and poem. And they move others to reflect, rejoice, pray (praise and thanksgiving)
Also, honest words like yours below are important:
“Some physical discomforts come my way –
no, I don’t want those.
My thoughts turn ruminative about these discomforts –
no, I don’t want that.
I am so tired. I don’t like that –
and I don’t like my complaining about it either.”
They paint a very real, true to life picture. It is comforting, and inspiring, to know that contradictory feelings are not uncommon, abd that . . .
“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,”
. . . and yet can become sources of spiritual insight, but most important, of grace,
Thanks, Al, for the lovely e.e. cummings response. I love that poem but hadn’t read it in a long time. I must remember to spend more time in the company of these old friends.
As always, I appreciate your comments and they lead me to further reflection. In the “Of itself, it is nothing much” statement I made, the truth lies in the “of itself”. What I write or the art I make is “nothing much” on its own, i.e. apart from God. Just as I am “nothing much” (well, really nothing at all) apart from Him.
None of it has any meaning or value unless it is His. While this may seem obvious, it can be a persistent distraction to the soul to FEEL otherwise, even when knowing better. The ego doesn’t give up the fight easily. “Look what I made!” or “Look what I wrote!” too easily slip in, at varying levels of awareness, when it sees the beauty.
So I am grateful for the gifts – but just as grateful for the periods of teaching, for it is then that I can recognize more deeply that I can do nothing unless He acts in me of His own goodness.
OK, that makes sense.
I am in a similar boat I used to like making poems. Now I wonder if that was pride, and a need I had to seek praise. An old friend told me a long time ago that his writings were all a cry for attention. “Love me!” they said. And he kept on writing his whole life. I didn’t like hearing that, but I understood. Much later I started worrying. I asked a priest about it. He said God doesn’t need poems, but afterword thought I heard God whisper, “maybe some people do.” So now I send letters and comments and quotations and think of them as poems.
It is interesting how cleverly our adversary works. Certainly, he wants us to be proud. That’s the main thing that separates him from God and he wants to draw us into his way.
But if we start working on our humility, he can catch us in another way: he can get us to stop doing good things by convincing us that we are only doing them out of pride. If we all fell into his logic on this, the Gospel would never be preached – because “maybe I’m just doing it to gain attention for myself”.
The proper course is not to stop doing things (unless they are inherently sinful) but to ask God to empty us of our self-love and pride in all that we do. This sounds simple and, of course, it is not.
But if we keep asking God regularly to do this work in us, we can trust that He will find ways of doing it. And that can help free us of some of the obsessive dilemma about our motives. Of course, I have a problem with pride! But God is at work in me and I must bear with myself until His work is complete.
Good words. Thank you.