Nothing is more paradoxical it seems than life with God. Gain by losing. Live by dying. Exaltation through humility. Joy through sorrow. Forgiveness through forgiving. Rest through striving to enter rest. What?!
As we enter a new year of struggle and promise and hopes and failures and…our greatest need as we move into a new, possibly challenging, year is…renewal. Newness. A sense of starting over.
For all our best endeavors, clearest callings, and unflagging dedication, renewal can be experienced in only one way – surrender. Sometimes it eludes us because we tie it too closely to our spiritual practice. Or perhaps we’ve fallen into the misapprehension that those practices, in themselves, will automatically bring the renewal we so need.
Hence, the greatest obstacle to our own spiritual nourishment can be…our pursuit of spiritual nourishment! To pursue rest as its own end is like pursuing a lover for the thrill of the pursuit. It turns the object of our affection into just that, an object. A toy. An idol. They become the tissue that catches the delightful sneeze only to be then unceremoniously tossed away.
The spiritual life is an ongoing exercise in giving up to the stronger gravitas of grace and giving in to the deeper work of God. Both are moving at levels of our existence well beyond our simple radar. It assumes that God is already at work, pursuing us like an infinite lover who will not stay ignored for long. God is in constant pursuit of our deepest selves so that God can introduce us…to our deepest selves!
The renewal that comes from rest is something ever available but which is, ultimately, sheer gift from heaven. As soon as we are willing to relieve ourselves of the need to see God in terms of desperation and rescue and agree to broaden our understanding to include God as romantic pursuer, we have only to extend the inner arms of our spirits, close our eyes and say, “yes.” Then, the work of God, already underway, can sweep us up into places we never thought possible. The Spirit subtlely nourishes our desert-spirits in sacred pursuit, a subversive subterfuge of sweet serenity.
Almost every great mystic has understood this valuable truth. The Desert Abbas and Ammas recognized the paradoxical relationship between our dogged pursuit of spiritual renewal and the need to surrender that same pursuit into the hands of the Great Other with whom we have to do. Abba Pior made the following observation over sixteen hundred years ago which still holds true today, “Abba Poemen said about Abba Pior that every single day he made a fresh beginning.
We forge into each day like it is the very first one and possibly our last one. But, the spiritual irony is that we seek to slake our thirst from the water of life that always leaves us thirsty still. We exercise our soulish muscles in order to find rest for our souls. We wrestle ourselves that we might be at peace with ourselves. We chase after our own need to stop the chase!
At the end of it all, we engage God in any way we can, never once looking away from the possibility of receiving that which only God gives, regardless of our engagement. What do we gain from this spiritual cat and mouse game?
“So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest…”