Veering Off

The ways we veer off course are as many and as individual as people on the planet.  We can’t make the corrections we need, though, until we recognize how we veered off.  The last post suggested that many of our strengths and shortcomings may flow from strengths and shortcomings in our spiritual lives.

When I said to forget about new year’s resolutions to lose weight or to save more for retirement, I didn’t mean that taking care of yourself or saving are not important and responsible things to do.  To make a personal confession here, I am constantly challenging myself about where I build up my treasure.  As a fervent saver and frugal if not stingy spender, it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to discourage saving for retirement.   Rather, the suggestion intended to provoke questions about what gets in the way of our intended destination.  There’s a saying that if one wants to know what his priorities really are, he need only look at his calendar and his bank account to see where his time and money are actually spent (or not spent).  Obstacles getting in the way of saving might be a desire for ever more stuff or maintaining a certain “standard of living” or hanging onto an asset we can‘t really afford hoping someday to cash in.  Realigning priorities can help overcome these obstacles.  Putting God in the center of my life and being “on course” spiritually doesn’t automatically fill my retirement account or make the pounds melt away, but re-centering my priorities may make it easier to follow through on the changes I need.

Different traditions use different language to describe our wrong turns.  Religious traditions call it sin.  Hebrew texts use three words for sin.  Chet translates literally to missing the mark.  Avon means desire, and pesha means rebellion.  Episcopal doctrine defines sin as squandering God’s blessings and “the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.”

“Sin” can be a religiously charged word, and the Twelve Step tradition avoids it altogether.  It focuses instead on the defects of character that underlie wrongdoing.  The Third Step in Twelve Step programs is deciding to align one’s course to God’s will and to surrender one’s own will where it departs from God’s will.  Surrender is a difficult step.  All of the Twelve Step recovery seekers I have known have spoken of turning their will over to God in a Third Step and “taking it back” at some point in their journeys.

Regardless of language or spiritual tradition, we all “miss the mark,” have “desires” that drag us off course, and “rebel” against the course we set for ourselves from time to time.  Those occasions may deplete our morale or dent our pride, but they harbor a great invitation—an invitation to turn back, to get back on course.  The next several posts will explore ways to recognize where we have veered off course so that we can accept the invitation to make the turns we need.

Join the conversation.  When you drill down on the things in your life that seem out of balance physically, emotionally or intellectually, can you trace the imbalance to spiritual roots?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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A Holy Spark

The last post pondered what it is to be redeemed from wrong choices and healed from heartbreak, suggesting it is like finding a reality that was there all along but somehow hidden from view. How do we come into this new way of seeing? How do we seek out what we can’t even see?

There was a time when I focused intently on this question. I filled sleepless nights trying to visualize what my life would look like on the other side of being saved. I thought hard about what, exactly, it means to be redeemed. It sounds silly, but I dissected Mirriam-Webster’s definition. The breadth of the definition surprised me, but I could identify every single meaning of “redeem” as something that in one way or another I fervently desired.

1a : to buy back : REPURCHASE b : to get or win back
2: to free from what distresses or harms: as
  a : to free from captivity by payment of ransom
  b : to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental
  c : to release from blame or DEBT : CLEAR
  d : to free from the consequences of sin
3: to change for the better : REFORM
4: REPAIR, RESTORE
5a : to free from a lein by payment of an amount secured thereby
  b (1): to remove the obligation of by payment
     (2): to exchange for something of value
  c : to make good : FULFILL
6a : to atone for : EXPIATE
  b (1) : to offset the bad effect of
     (2) : to make worthwhile : RETRIEVE

The returning to God is not merely going back to our original proper course as if we had never veered off.  It’s greater than that. God wins us back, extricates us, pays our ransom, and conquers heartbreak in an act of unceasing unconditional love. I’ve made choices I wanted God not to forgive so much as to erase from history, as if they never happened. That desire is not authentic, though. God doesn’t revise history. He builds on it, using all the crumbs and brokenness for some good. He makes them worthwhile.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner asserts that we should not condemn the wrongdoing, but rather embrace it for what it is.

We go down into ourselves with a flashlight, looking for the evil we have intended or done—not to excise it as some alien growth, but rather to discover the holy spark within it. We begin not by rejecting the evil but by acknowledging it as something we meant to do. This is the only way we can truly raise and redeem it.

Kushner poetically concludes that it is only by embracing our offenses that we can transform them to good and reconcile ourselves to ourselves and to God.

We receive whatever evils we have intended and done back into ourselves as our own deliberate creations. We cherish them as long-banished children finally taken home again. And thereby transform them and ourselves. When we say the vidui, the confession, we don’t hit ourselves; we hold ourselves.

Made in the image of God, that holy spark was always there, even in the meanest, most spiteful and damaging acts. Our journey brings us to healing when we finally can see that holy spark in ourselves and in those who hurt us most.

Join the conversation. Has surrendering to God’s relentless quest for you brought you into a new way of seeing?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Learn more at www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Will of God: Do I want that, too?

Our biggest obstacle to doing God’s will, or even perceiving God’s will, is a preoccupation with what we want instead.  It takes commitment and discipline to recognize the difference.  My godfather has that commitment and discipline, and he still wrestles with his will.  We had lunch last week, and he relayed his prayerful reflections while driving to the office that day.  He was extremely pleased with the plan he had for his day in the office.  He didn’t really want to ask God if God might have something else in store for him.  “I’m asking you if you have a different plan, God, but I’m not happy about asking you, because I really, really like my plan!”

We tend to get in our own way on the journey to healing and life change because we resist taking that difficult step of creating a power vacuum to make space for God’s power to act in our lives.  There is a Jewish saying that you can’t pour water into a cup that’s already full.  “Islam” translates roughly to “surrender.”  Eastern traditions teach transcending self is necessary to ease suffering.  The Twelve Step tradition teaches self-centeredness is the root of life’s unmanageability and surrendering our will to God is the route to sanity.  The Christian tradition teaches Jesus’ life and resurrection represents the rebirth and newness of life that is available to all willing “to die to self.”  These spiritual traditions embrace the idea of emptiness—both emptying the mind to encounter the soul and, more especially, emptying oneself of one way of being to make space for a new way of becoming.

When we surrender our wants and ways to God, we make room for God to act in our lives, joining God as a partner in the creative process and inviting the kind of transformational life change we cannot even imagine.  C.S. Lewis encourages us to trust God’s imagination:

We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.

When I realize God’s imagination for me is better than mine for myself, I can relinquish my silly notions that I know best how to satisfy myself.  Whether those notions have led me to complete devastation or to a dull ache of emptiness (“There’s got to be more”), relinquishing them will free my imagination for the destination God would have for me.

When we have decided that an increasingly intimate relationship with God is the destination we seek, then recognizing and taking up his will for us becomes part of the destination as well.  What God desires is not so much a certain accomplishment as a certain reciprocal relationship.  God gives, we respond, and when we’re aligned to God’s will, our response to the gift is itself a gift to God.  When we seek God’s will in pursuit of this reciprocal relationship, we bring joy to him, to others and to ourselves.

Join the conversation.  When God put an opportunity you didn’t plan (or didn’t want) in your path, did you alter course or stick with mudpies?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.