08 June 2014

Pentecost!!! Come Holy Spirit!!!

I have written in the past about a significant prayer experience I had where I had the sense I had God's entire attention, where God was absolutely delighted that I was "finally" there, and where I was completely assured in some indefinable way that, paradoxically, the rest of God's creation enjoyed his entire attention as well. I have also written that from time to time I return to this prayer experience to tap into it again, to drink from its living waters, and to breathe in the strength of its Spirit. I do this because it still lives inside me; it is part of my living, daily memory and has not yet and (I strongly suspect) will never be exhausted of its riches. It serves still as a gateway to a "place" where God is waiting with much to show me and thus, as a gateway to real wisdom. More, it serves as a gateway to that "place" where God is allowed to be completely attentive to me, the place created when he loves me as he wills to do and I am truly myself. And yet, for all of our clamoring and self-centeredness, our love of being at the center of attention and acclaim, it is hard to let ourselves be the center of God's attention because it is hard to let God himself be the center of our own attention.

Over the past weeks I have been thinking about the part played by Jesus' Ascension in our faith. It has been enriched by a focus on the Bridegroom's return to his Father's home to prepare a place for all of humanity in his Father's own life. Especially I have come to see more clearly how it is that through the mediation of his Christ God not only comes to dwell among us exhaustively but that he also opens his own life to us; Divine descent is balanced or matched by Human ascent.

This means that in Christ humanity and all of the experience of humanity including death itself is taken up into the life of God and yet does not destroy God. It also means that the Spirit which hovered over the waters in creation, while not a different Spirit, is also not precisely the same Spirit that exists after the Christ Event and the Ascension of Jesus. The Risen Christ and the Eternal Son are now entirely one. The Spirit (as was always true) is the single eternal Spirit of love that courses between Son and Father; still, because of the Christ Event, including the Ascension of Christ, the Spirit whose coming we celebrate today is not only the Spirit of Divinity, but also the Spirit of authentic humanity. The courage, wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, reverence for God, etc, which come to us today and everyday are also the courage, wisdom, understanding, etc of Jesus' himself --- the one who has suffered our pain, borne the burden of our sinfulness, felt the frustration of our weakness, celebrated the same joys and loves which we do, and persevered in prayer and his acceptance of his Father's commission as he grew to the fullness of "grace and stature" in the power of the Spirit.

But it really is hard sometimes, I think, to be wholly and exhaus-tively loved by God. It calls for our whole selves to be illuminated by that attention and healed by that love so that we may truly be human beings who center our lives on God's own life.  And yet, this is one piece of today's Feast. Today God showers us with gifts and they are the gifts of God's very self but also the gifts of Jesus and our own truest humanity. God in Christ gives us his full attention and pours out upon us all the riches that attention implies so that we ourselves might likewise give God and his Reign in our midst our full attention.

Today God empowers us with the gifts which make us truly human and commissions us individually and communally to be his People in a world which hungers for this desperately. As a part of this feast it is personally important for me to tap into that prayer experience again as I must do from time to time so that it may continue to renew me. In doing so I am not merely indulging a past memory of something that took place 30 (or so!) years ago nor do I either need nor try to feel what I once felt there; those things are mere shadows of the reality itself. Instead it involves opening myself to a continuing reality which enlivens, nourishes, inspires, challenges, and commissions right here and now. It is to open myself to an experience of God where there is a genuine forgetfulness of self and what delight there is is living delight in God's own delight.

I am reminded in all of this that Sister Rachel, OCD (Ruth Burrows) strongly affirms that the real experience of mystical prayer is always far broader and deeper than the mere (and often misleading) things we feel, hear, see, etc in such prayer; the real "experience" of prayer, the true mystical grace, is the wisdom that grows in us as a result of God's work within us,** the authentic humanity and capacity for all those gifts of the Spirit that not only allow us to grow in grace and stature as Jesus did, but to grow more and more into the image of Jesus who gave himself completely to and for others and thus discovered and embraced his truest home in the very heart of God. We ask that God open us to this fire that burns beneath and beyond all the transitory and illusory things we feel or see in prayer so that one day that same God might, in the power of His Holy Spirit, be all in all. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in us all the fire of your love!
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** In Guidelines for Mystical Prayer Ruth Burrows writes:  [[When all is said and done, the long line of saints and spiritual writers who insist on "experience", who speak of sanctity in terms of ever deepening "experience", who maintain that to have none is to be spiritually dead, are absolutely right provided we understand "experience" in the proper sense, not as a transient emotional impact but as living wisdom, living involvement. . . .So often, however, what the less instructed seek is mere emotion. They are not concerned with the slow demanding generosity of genuine experience.]] GMP, "A Look at Experiences," p 55, emphasis added.