Answers and the Faithful Struggle

Today’s readings continue the theme of faithful struggle. (See this link for the texts.)

Let me venture some of my own non-authoritative thoughts regarding this theme. I make no claims to the title “expert.” These are my convictions. You must submit them to the testing of the Holy Spirit. I lay claim to the title, on my best days, “klutzy companion in the faithful struggle.”

Our tendency is to believe what we need is an answer for the situations we face. With answer in hand/mind, we are convinced, we can rightly navigate the situation.

But is this what God desires? That is not what the epistle and gospel reading seem to indicate. They speak of a different approach. An approach that goes against the grain of “worldly training” and “the wisdom of this world” as the readings from Corinthians have clearly indicated for the last several days.

My conviction is that what God desires is an approach of humility. An aspect of that humility is concrete trust in God. It is a willingness to press into the situation with an attitude of yieldedness, receptivity, disciplined intentionality, singularity of purpose and responsiveness (a desire to do whatever it takes to act in agreement with God’s revelation as it unfolds in the midst of the circumstance). Peter is, even in his statement “depart from me for I am a sinful man,” leaning into the struggle to relate to Jesus based on the revelation of the truth. There is nothing sloppy or passive or a “whatever” attitude in any of this.

The answer we need before and as we enter situations about which we are asking, “What is God’s will?,” is faithful struggle.

Now, of course, we are not without a whole lot of wisdom as we lean into the struggle, seeking the blessing of God hidden like a treasure in the field of our circumstance. We have the Scriptures, the tradition of prayer in all its variety, and concentric circles of fellowship environments that are consistently communicating the wisdom and will of God to us. We already know a lot about God’s “M.O.” and have developed a sensitivity to His leading.

Nonetheless, it is the way of the Holy Spirit to make sure we are living in a state of radical dependence on Him and not using what we know as ready-made formulas. He invites us to stay relational rather than revert to propositional living.

Richard Rohr characterizes this humble participation as “receptive awareness whereby you take in all that the situation, the moment, the event offers without eliminating anything. That does not come naturally. You have to work at it and develop practices whereby you recognize your compulsive and repetitive patterns.”

Rohr has commented on another occasion regarding what I am calling the approach of “faithful struggle”:

I am just like you. My immediate response to most situations is with reactions of attachment, defensiveness, judgment, control, and analysis. I am better at calculating… Let’s admit that we all start there. The False Self seems to have the “first gaze” at almost everything.

The first gaze is … too busy weighing and feeling itself: ‘How will this affect me?’ or ‘How can I get back in control of this situation?’ This leads us to an implosion, a self-preoccupation that cannot enter into communion with the other or the moment. In other words, we first feel our feelings before we can relate to the situation and emotion of the other. Only after God has taught us how to live ‘undefended,’ can we immediately stand with and for the other, and in the present moment. It takes lots of practice.

On my better days, when I am ‘open, undefended, and immediately present,’ as Gerald May says. I can sometimes begin with a contemplative mind and heart. Often I can get there later and even end there, but it is usually a second gaze. The True Self seems to always be ridden and blinded by the defensive needs of the False Self. It is an hour-by-hour battle, at least for me. I can see why all spiritual traditions insist on daily prayer, in fact, morning, midday, evening, and before we go to bed, too! Otherwise, I can assume that I am back in the cruise control of small and personal self-interest, the pitiable and fragile ‘Richard self.’

So, the approach of “faithful struggle” is, in and of itself, a “faithful struggle”!!

It seems that “walking by faith and not by sight” is not something we do until we have gathered enough information. It is The Way that is Life-Giving.

“Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by your grace.”

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