08 December 2008

Renunciation and Trust

[[You wrote that at bottom renunciation is really about trust. Can you say more about that please?]]

Sure, I am glad to, though I don't time to answer more than briefly. If you consider the context of my comments you know that I was talking about letting go of distractions, things that draw our attention away from the Word of God that sounds in the depths of our own being, and from the various feelings and sensations which rise up in our hearts when we are truly silent and refuse to distract ourselves in all the ways our culture offers us. (Distractions can anesthetize as well as merely diverting our attention from.) I was speaking about renouncing the kinds of things which prevent an experience in the desert from being a true desert experience, that is, an experience of being vulnerable and completely dependent upon God for the meaning and security of our lives.

The reasons we hang onto things seems to me to be about security, comfort, status, and meaning, as well as the distraction they provide from the struggles and difficult emotional dimensions of life. The latest electronic gadget may say that we "have arrived," whether in our careers, or just in keeping up with the Joneses or with advances in technology ("I need to be at the forefront here; it says I am knowlegeable and technologically savvy. I have important needs which these things symbolize and serve, and which other people don't really have --- and, after all, I can afford these where some cannot!" is one set of reasons, often unarticulated which we use to justify the latest acquisition). Similarly, we may need the larger and newer TV set or iPod, or whatever because media use distracts us from the demands and call of our own inner lives. We may keep UPS delivery folks busy with our purchases from Amazon despite the fact that we have not read what we already have because we are insecure, or bored, or struggling with depression and a new book (or anything else) relieves the symptoms temporarily. The same may be true with any shopping compulsion, the constant need for new clothes and the like. These are just a few of the kinds of things I was referring to in my earlier post.

Possessions become extensions of ourselves. They become sophisticated security blankets except that they also say that we are important or educated or affluent where childhood security blankets do not. They make us a little less naked it seems to us, a little less poor, a little less vulnerable because they comfort us, and a little less empty if, and to the extent, our hearts and lives are devoid of ultimate love and meaning. But as we heard in today's first reading, the inability to bear the anxiety and vulnerability of being naked selves gets us into all kinds of trouble. In today's passage from Genesis Adam realizes he is naked and becomes self-conscious. As a result, he hides from God and sins in the attempt to be more than he actually is. His heart is filled with anxiety and thoughts of himself and he no longer walks with God in the simple trust he was created for. For all of us this option is fundamental: we can either stand naked before God and trust in his love for us, or, because of anxiety and self-consciousness, we can cover ourselves with fig leaves (and all the more sophisticated contemporary equivalents in material possessions, status, etc.) and hide from him and ourselves.

If we can let go of the things we ordinarily cling to to comfort us and mitigate our "nakedness" and vulnerability we will need to turn to God instead. We will need to trust him and the sense his love makes of our lives. We will be challenged to come to terms with the emptinesses and wounds which afflict our hearts, and allow God to comfort and heal us as he wills. We will need, that is, as this season says so well, to learn to wait on him with open hands and hearts dependent and childlike. Renunciation itself signals our willingness to trust all things to God. It allows us to stand before him in all of our human poverty and discover where out true wealth lies. This was what I was referring to in my original posts on desert experiences, retreats, etc. So, a very brief outline of the dynamics of possession and renunciation which I hope explains why I suggested renunciation was, at bottom, a matter of trust. As always, please let me know if this raises more questions or leaves something obvious unaddressed.