In my last blog post I suggested that spiritual disciplines were not tools we use to remove our false self armor, but that they are exercises we do so that we don’t need armor. I left the question of how we remove armor in the mystery of death and resurrection.
Am I just playing with semantics? Am I copping out of the real work of spiritual transformation? I don’t think so.
If you’ll allow me to use an analogy to explain my metaphor…I think the actual removal of our armor, or death of our false self, is a lot like a farmer growing a crop. The farmer prepares the soil, he plants the seeds, he maintains the fields, and he watches the weather patterns. He does all he can to nurture his crops into an abundant life, but the one thing he can’t do is actually make the seed die and give way to the new life of the plant.
I think our spiritual journey is similar, and that’s why so many consider this whole thing to be a relationship with the Divine. Because there is mystery to it. Because at the end of the day we discover that, despite all our best efforts, we are not in control.
This need to be in control, to manufacture our own growth, is why we keep calcifying Kingdom culture into Law. We’re being invited into a whole new way of life, and we keep trying to turn that invitation into some new edict to be obeyed rather than enjoyed.
Paul describes what this looked like from his perspective in Romans 9:30-10:4. He writes:
“What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith; but Israel, who did strive for the righteousness that is based on the law, did not succeed in fulfilling that law. Why not? Because they did not strive for it on the basis of faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written,
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble,
a rock that will make them fall,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’
“Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I can testify that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (NRSV)
In his own way, Paul is trying say that the sun is risen, we are no longer tending campfires. Christ is the end of the law in the same way that the risen sun is the end of our campfire. It got us through the night and now it’s purpose has been fulfilled.
We are being invited into the light of the new day. All of our fire tending rules preserved us through the night, and here we are at the brink of day. But we’re so familiar with the rule keeping and preservation tactics of the false self, that we’re trying to take those same techniques into this new day.
Campfires aren’t just for the religious, either. We all have our methods for survival, so the invitation to us all is to let those old methods go and practice a new way to be human. Can you imagine how silly we must look carrying our torches and lighting our campfires in the middle of the day?
We are not the ones who make the sun rise, and we are not in control of what the day will bring. We are simply invited to let go of our campfires and enjoy the sunlight. The disciplines help us learn how to do that. They teach us this new culture of the day. And the name of the game is Love.
Listen to how the Apostle John describes this in 1 John 2:7-11:
“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (ESV)
This is the true light, not because I am right and you are wrong, but because in the light of day we are no longer obscured from one another by the limits of our campfires. Love is a fearful thing in the darkness of night when we cannot see past the rim of light provided by our campfires. But in the light of the risen sun, we are free to love one another without fear.
It’s a beautiful truth, but one we must accept if we are going to walk in it.
In prison we said, “Trust the process,” a phrase commonly used in the Therapeutic Community programs to encourage the participants to stay the course and work through their struggles rather than run away. On the Camino we said, “Trust the Camino,” as a reminder to each other to let our pilgrimage work itself out and not to force our own agenda upon it. In AA we “came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” and therefore, “made the decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”
Whatever brought you to this journey, this is the first step you must take as a pilgrim. Trusting the process means submitting to the process. But you’re never going to do that, you’re never going to get boots on the ground, until you own the fact that you are on the journey.
This is what Henri Nouwen means when he writes in The Life of the Beloved, “The first step in the spiritual life is to acknowledge with our whole being that we have already been taken.” To claim that we have been taken, or chosen, is to acknowledge that there is a journey and we have been called to make it. It is to let our campfire die and step into the light of the risen sun. It is to believe that this journey is worth taking and to trust in an outcome of which we are not in control.
Another way to say it is that to live an abundant life we must have an abundant mindset. When we claim to have been taken, we are acknowledging the abundant nature of our reality. We are turning away from the dark night of scarcity and entering the bright light of abundance.
I like that word, abundance. It fits well with Nouwen’s description of “chosenness,” which we’ll look at further in my next post. Until then, I invite you to comment below or join us on Facebook at On Journey Together to share your story of how you “came to believe,” or how you are “trusting the process.”
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Buen Camino, my friends.