07 November 2018

"What We Alone Can Do We Cannot Do Alone"

Today's Gospel was challenging, not least because we had children attending. They heard one of the more confusing directives of Jesus, "Unless you hate your Mother and Father, Brothers and Sisters, and even your own life, you cannot be my disciple!" Jesus follows this section of the lection with a couple of examples of why we must count the cost of things, first a parable about a man building a tower without sufficient planning and resources, and next a King with an army of 10,000 considering facing an army of 20,000. There is foolishness involved when we take on something serious and fail to count the cost. Discipleship is certainly the most serious life "project" we take on.

Folks thought perhaps I was doing the reflection today at Mass and asked that I make the context of the reading clear to the children who were coming. After all, what could it mean for Jesus to ask we love him at the expense of hating our own families and even our very selves? What kind of sense does that make, especially to children? What kind of discipleship would that be? But of course, Jesus' language is a Semitism in a language without the gradations we English-speakers and thinkers might take for granted. More, the absoluteness of this Semitism mirrors the absolute priority of loving God. Jesus is saying we must love God more than all others and really, before all others. Of course we owe God this --- God deserves this from us, but the reasons for this directive are also profoundly practical, namely we love God who is Love-in-Act by allowing God to love us and to fill us with the Divine Life that is meant to animate anyone who is truly human. Only then can we love anyone, including ourselves, as we really deserve and are called to do. The paradox that we love God by allowing God to love us, that is, by allowing God to be God and that means God-for-us, is not surprising once we consider Who and what God is.

But the challenge of counting the cost of discipleship and allowing God to love and empower my love for self and others took my thoughts in the direction of my own vocation. Hardly surprising I guess. Especially it reminded me of something I read this morning early. By way of introduction, Martin Laird, OSA, has a new book on contemplation coming out in December. Fortunately, the Kindle version came out yesterday at midnight! I am already loving the book which develops themes from his first two books on contemplation and is geared to those facing expected difficulties in contemplative lives that are already-well-established. Laird does not deny we are all always beginners but he does recognize that different problems face us at different points along our journey to know or realize more fully our already-real union with God. But this morning one sentence in the first chapter struck me as wonderful and exactly right, "What we alone can do we cannot do alone"! The paradox of being truly ourselves only to the extent we are breathed forth and empowered by God --- that is, only to the extent we are a dialogical or covenant reality with God as our soul (the Divine breath that animates us), as well as only to the extent we are beings-in-relation-with-others comes up very often in what I write here (or anywhere!), and these are central to Laird's observation, "What we alone can do we cannot do alone"!

In my own life as a hermit, this is a central insight which helps determine the meaning of canonical terms like, "the silence of solitude" in canon 603. In the inner work I do with my director and accompanist it is similarly central and demands that I understand the gift of working with another is not a luxury, nor is it something which interferes with eremitical solitude. Instead, eremitical solitude is all about a relatively rare but also a universal way of "being relatedness" someone actually constituted by my relatedness to God, to others, and to all of reality. In the work Sister Marietta and I do, for instance, it is essential to being and becoming myself that I (allow myself to) be heard and find ways to express myself as well as I can --- as essential as it is that I hear God alive within me! This is absolutely critical to the effectiveness of the work I (we) do. And, though I do the majority of the work on my own, ultimately this means another person (and especially one with appropriate expertise and sensibilities!!) is also indispensable.

Even so, of course I often find it difficult to articulate what I am experiencing. Sometimes it is too vague, too visual or aural and too far from my thinking mind or the vocabulary that usually serves me so well; sometimes it is too painful or too frightening. Sometimes I know that because Marietta is compassionate and has chosen to accompany me, and because she listens so very well, my sharing will cause her some pain.  Compassion hurts; love is sometimes painful. Of course, this is her decision, not mine; only she can decide whether and how the demands of accompaniment are something she will undertake, and yet the desire to protect her comes up for me and sometimes this too prevents expression of what I am experiencing. But even at these times I am aware of her presence (and God's!) sitting near (or breathing gently and silently within), watching, waiting, praying, listening, and inviting my sharing --- for sometimes it is only her presence that gives me the courage to go deep within --- much less to share what occurs there; as I am often reminded, whatever sharing I can do is healing and strengthening. What we alone can do we cannot do alone.

And so, as a piece of genuine discipleship we count the cost. Many times over the past two years (and especially early on during this time) I have had to discern whether my eremitical life was jeopardized by the work I had undertaken with Marietta. I have noted this here before. Again and again the answer came back, "This is part of the cost of truly growing in wholeness and holiness." I know this. "It is absolutely necessary if you are to become the person (the hermit!!) I have called you from the beginning to be. Look! Look at how your prayer has been transfigured, how you have grown in freedom and how again and again your work together with Marietta deepens both your eremitical solitude and the silence of that solitude as your heart is enlarged and made more wholly My dwelling place!" I do try not to count the cost Marietta has determined she will accept and bear as part of her own vocational faithfulness; that really is something only she can and should do, just as only I can truly count and bear the cost of my own faithfulness to God's call.  After all, if I allow my own attention and discernment to be distracted, if I fail in this way to trust Marietta to do what she alone can do, I am pretty sure I "will not have the resources to finish" a process which is already costly indeed ---but even more worthwhile!!

I suppose this is on my mind in part because I continue to get questions from people who do not see how working in the way I have described over the past 2.5 years is consistent with eremitical solitude.  I do not know how to answer any better than I have in a number of posts throughout this period. But of course, ultimately, my own commitment to this work and to eremitical life as I and those mutually responsible for my vocation understand it, means I do not really have to explain further unless I believe it will be really helpful to someone. However, at bottom the work itself clarifies its own indispensable nature as it mediates God's love and empowers my own growth, healing, and sanctification precisely as a hermit living this life in the name of the Church. Those who are, to whatever extent, also responsible for my vocation see this clearly. What I alone can do I cannot do alone --- and this especially includes living into the context, charism, and goal of eremitical life c 603 hermits know as the "silence of solitude."

P.S., For those interested, Martin Laird, OSA's third book in the trilogy I mentioned is called, An Ocean of Light.  While it may be helpful, one does not, Laird says, need to read the first two books before this one.