09 February 2017

On the Desert Vocation to Metanoia

Jesus Meets His Mother**
 by Bro Mickey McGrath OSFS
[[Hi Sister, when you refer to inner work or the personal growth work you are doing with your director I wonder how this fits in with the life of a hermit. I also wondered if the tears you experienced were really less the "gift of tears" which is bestowed by the Holy Spirit and more the result of some therapeutic process involved in the inner work. No offense of course!]]

No offense taken; your questions are natural and good ones. I'm pretty sure I have spoken of the focus of the inner work I am doing with my director right now but let me restate it as I understand it in case some have not read past posts --- or in case I am mistaken!

We are made in the image of God but in our lives that image is sometimes distorted, often crippled, and almost invariably prevented from unfolding in all its glory due to our own woundedness. We are marked and marred by sin (a state of alienation from God, self, and others) and we ratify that sin ourselves -- often as we meet and react to the sin of others; and all of this has an effect on our being able to be our true selves. The project of our lives, the journey we are making is the journey to the revelation or realization of our true selves which only occurs to the extent we exist in communion and union with God. The goal of this ongoing journey is to become the covenantal persons, the relationship with God we truly are and in which our genuine individuality consists. In Christ, the One who is the very definition of union with God, we are called to become imago Christi: persons who are truly, fully and exhaustively human, and who thus reveal God (Love-in-Act) to the world.

The task before us is, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to work through anything that prevents our communion and union with God. In the language of the desert and of monastic life in particular this is the life of repentance, of metanoia. As Hunt notes in Joy-Bearing Grief,  [[The experience of the desert monk is his most active work. "It is a contract [covenant] with God for a second life." according to Klimakos. Through it [the monk] takes responsibility for the exercise of his free will, the working out of his divinely given humanity. . . . The flight to the desert has at its heart relationships, primarily, those between the individual and God and the individual with him/herself. The physical journey may [and is meant to] give way to an interiorized one. . .]]

This approach to the desert rests on the profound relationship between repentance and prayer. The two are inextricably wed in a single dynamic towards authenticity which the Rule of Benedict and monastic and eremitical life more generally call "seeking God". In my own Rule I stress this sense that prayer and repentance are so closely allied in the journey to becoming the person we are called to be that they rely on one another and cannot be easily teased apart. Repentance is empowered and accompanied by prayer just as it also prepares for prayer. The task before the hermit is to become a person of prayer (a person in whom God is powerfully active and who is open to allowing this to be exhaustively true in every dimension of her life); this will also mean participating every day in a process of metanoia, of repentance and conversion. The inner work I have spoken of is one of the principal forms of embracing metanoia and becoming the person I am called to be; it is so central to my vocation that it is actually written into my Rule. It focuses in very specific and powerful ways on the imago dei which exists deep within and on the process of recovering and realizing the potential of that imago in order that I may actually become imago Christ.  

When you ask how inner work fits into the hermit life this is the answer. The hermit seeks God, she gives her live over to this seeking and to God's intimate seeking of her. She realizes she will only be the person she is called to be if her life is lived in obedience (open responsiveness) to the call of God. She is committed to embodying call and response in the single self who is a covenant with God. Only God can complete her. Only God is the source and ground of her human life. She is made in God's image and likeness, made to be a relational being just as the Trinity is relational in every sense. She is thus called to become imago Christi and this means living a life of prayer and repentance or metanoia.  Inner work is an integral part in responding to this vocation.

The Gift of Tears:

I am not sure it is possible to entirely tease apart or distinguish the gift of tears from "ordinary" tears that are the result of the inner work. Both are therapeutic; both can come from the deepest places within us and both are gifts of God. But, there is, I think, also a qualitative difference between "ordinary" tears and the gift of tears. I suppose that at this point --- with what is very limited experience --- I would say that "ordinary" tears are healing in ways which allow us to continue functioning as the persons we are; they express and ease our suffering, they express our joy.  The gift of tears functions to transform us and our hearts in more profound and extensive ways, and it does more as well. This gift opens our hearts to the presence and power of God in ways more "ordinary" tears do not. In a single moment it touches every part of our lives, memory, history and selves --- body, spirit and mind and results in their reconciliation, healing and integration. These tears make us into whole and holy human beings who, in Christ, are instances of embodied spirit, incarnations of the Word of God. My own sense is that the inner work I am doing, for instance, heals and opens me to the deep reality of God alive and yearning to live within me. The paradox here is that I am truly myself when God is allowed to live exhaustively in and through me. Perhaps what I am saying similarly then is that our "ordinary" tears reach their own fulfillment or perfection in what has been called "the gift of tears."

This is a very provisional and clearly basic answer on my part. As with all things this gift will be measured by its fruits --- and, while some will be immediately evident, fruits also take time to grow. I believe I have experienced something singular. I feel sure it is a charismatic gift in line with the penthos (weeping) and katanuxis (compunction) which are central to the desert tradition. I also feel sure that receiving this gift in fullness is something which takes time and that it will come. However, if it is the gift of tears it will need to do the kinds of things the desert tradition says such tears do; it will need to transform my heart into one entirely measured in terms of compassion and the courage, generosity, and self-gift compassion makes possible; in short it will need to allow me to see and relate to the world as Christ sees and relates to the world. It will need to help transform me from imago dei into the historical  embodiment and expression of the Risen Christ we know as imago Christi. It will need to empower me to see and love with Christ's own vision and love. By their fruits we shall know the gifts of God.

The inner work I have spoken of (part of my own work of spiritual direction) gives the Holy Spirit space to work in my life. This is another reason I am reticent to entirely distinguish between "ordinary tears" from those which are more clearly charismatic. As noted, I feel both are empowered by the love of God, both are the work of the Consoler. Finally, we often and too easily distinguish the "ordinary" from  that which is "super ordinary" or even extraordinary. The truth is that all-too-often we miss the God who comes to us in the ordinary so this is something I bear in mind as well.

** N.B. the picture of Jesus meeting his Mother is Bro Mickey McGrath's painting of the Fourth Station of the Cross. It is available in many different formats from Trinity Stores.