Monday, May 12, 2008
The Wellspring of LIFE
"The condition of most men and women seems to me a life in death, an abode in unwhited sepulchres, a possession of withering forms by spirits that slumber, and babble in their dreams.
There is nothing for man worthy to be called life, but the life eternal--God's life, that is, after his degree shared by the man made to be eternal also. For he is in the image of God, intended to partake of the life of the most high, to be alive as He is alive. Of this life the outcome and the light is righteousness, love, grace, truth; but the life itself is a thing that will not be defined: it is a power; the formless cause of form. It has no limits whereby to be defined. It shows itself to the soul that is hungering and thirsting after righteousness, but that soul cannot show it to another, save in the shining of it own light." George MacDonald
Two questions have been swirling through my head for the past few weeks.
The first: What is the best path to goodness? Is it through intentionally choosing to treat others well and hoping that our outward righteousness will seep into and change the pattern of our souls, or through basking in the presence of our Lord and our Healer so that eventually our hearts are so likened to His that we naturally live well and are full of Life?
Though we must always seek obedience, I recognize often the dangers of forcing myself to act righteously when its not in accordance with the attitude of my heart. I risk deep pride issues and hypocrisy. I become pleased with myself that I seek to care for people as Christ taught or that I try to be a good steward of our finances or our ecosystems; but then when I really search my heart I realize that I am not yet good. I am merely acting as if I was good. Neighbors will go home and I will find myself at least inwardly complaining about the waring nature of their visits, or as I spoke of last time, I will find a deal at a thrift store and buy it rationalizing that the money will go to a good cause, its recycling, its creative treasure hunting, whatever, while when I get down to the truth of the event, its just gratuitous, consumptive behavior, needing to buy and own, in order to be happy.
The second: Did God intend for us to live ascetically, set apart like the Desert Fathers, spending all of our energy and time on purifying our souls and coming into right relationship with God in that manner, or does He want us to live our lives deeply rooted in His creation, earthily, getting dirty, making mistakes, but LIVING, and learning in that way to live in harmony with Him and His creation?
As my husband and I have talked about this recently I think that I have worked out a bit of an answer. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. You can be a mystic, constantly drinking from the wellsprings of God's Life, eyes focused on Him, while still having your toes digging into the soil, your arms around your loved ones, your body dancing. You do not have to separate yourself from the world to avoid being "of it." He says to be "in", not "of". This though does not mean that we shouldn't take seriously the need to have our souls refreshed and centered on our life purpose through spending serious time intentionally focused solely on His love, filling our minds with His words. If we truly hunger and thirst for righteousness we must come to the table and eat. I much, much, too often am slack in this area thinking that I can just live with my hands and feet according to His will and maintain my hearts alignment with it also. I have found this to be untrue. I guess this answers my first question also. When I don't renew my soul and its life at the fount of Life, my attempts at good deeds and good living fall hollow. I serve my husband and son, but my soul is grudging and resentful. I feed my neighbors and invite them into my house, but I only have food to share with them, not love or compassion.
For Mother's Day, my husband gave me Madeleine L'Engle's new novel, The Joys of Love. (It was on its way to publication prior to her death and was written in the late 70's. ) In it a character struggles with coming of age as so many of L'Engle's heroines do, but she particularly focuses on learning to have a truly gracious heart.
"Aunt Harriet took me because it was her Christian duty, not because she wanted me. Please, Jane, if you ever see me doing something because it is my Christian duty, stop me."
"You aren't apt to," Jane said, "You're too good a Christian."
I hope that eventually I will come to a place where His life flows out of me so that I live like Him due to the overflow of His love in my heart, and that I too can avoid doing things merely out of "Christian Duty."