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Center for Action and Contemplation
A Surrendering Love
A Surrendering Love

Love Poured Out

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

For Cynthia Bourgeault, the heart of Jesus’ ministry is summed up in the way he radically surrenders himself for the sake of love:  

[Jesus’] idea of “dying to self” was not through inner renunciation and guarding the purity of his being, but through radically squandering everything he had and was. In life he horrified the prim and proper by dining with tax collectors and prostitutes, by telling parables about extravagant generosity, by giving his approval to acts of costly and apparently pointless sacrifice such as the woman who broke open the alabaster jar to anoint him with precious oil; by teaching always and everywhere, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth.” John’s disciples disapproved of him for drinking and banqueting; the Pharisees disapproved of him for healing on the sabbath. But he went his way, giving himself fully into life and death, losing himself, squandering himself, “gambling away every gift God bestows.” It is . . . love utterly poured out, “consum’d with that which it was noursh’d by,” in the words of Shakespeare’s sonnet—that opens the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven. This is what Jesus taught and this is what he walked.  

And he left us a method for practicing this path ourselves, the method he himself modeled to perfection in the garden of Gethsemane. When surrounded by fear, contradiction, betrayal; when the “fight or flight” alarm bells are going off in your head and everything inside you wants to brace and defend itself, the infallible way to extricate yourself and reclaim your home in that sheltering kingdom is simply to freely release whatever you are holding onto—including, if it comes to this, life itself. The method of full, voluntary self-donation reconnects you instantly to the wellspring; in fact, it is the wellspring. The most daring gamble of Jesus’ trajectory of pure love may just be to show us that self-emptying is not the means to something else; the act is itself the full expression of its meaning and instantly brings into being “a new creation”: the integral wholeness of Love manifested in the particularity of a human heart. [1]

Howard Thurman (1900–1981) likewise understood the heart of Christian spirituality as surrender to God, which paradoxically opens our lives up to a greater freedom that we could not otherwise have imagined:  

I surrender myself to God without any conditions or reservations. I shall not bargain with [God]. I shall not make my surrender piecemeal but I shall lay bare the very center of me, that all of my very being shall be charged with the creative energy of God. Little by little, or vast area by vast area, my life must be transmuted in the life of God. As this happens, I come into the meaning of true freedom and the burdens that I seemed unable to bear are floated in the current of the life and love of God.

The central element in communion with God is the act of self-surrender. [2]

[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening (Lanham, MD: Cowley Publications, 2004), 86–87. 

[2] Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart (New York: Harper and Row, 1953), 175. 

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Jenna Keiper, Leaves (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Christ Figure from the Office of Richard Rohr (detail), 2021, photograph, New Mexico, used with permission. Jenna Keiper, Web (detail), 2021, photograph, Washington, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Fallen leaves in water surrender to the cycles of seasons. A spider’s web catches and kills a passing fly. Can we surrender to these moments too? Death is an invitation to slip beyond the web of knowing. What might we find if we allowed the cycle of death and resurrection in our own lives?

Story from Our Community:

Yesterday, I read the devotion on God as a Mother Hen just before I had an emergency breast biopsy following a mammogram with suspicious results. The women in the room that morning were God incarnate, holding my heart steady with their gaze and comforting me as they led me through each awkward and painful step. I wept quietly, knowing God spoke to me directly that morning through that Mother Hen analogy that was moments later brought to life by my compassionate nurses.
—Andrea G.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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