Grace: Week 2
Trust the River
Thursday, February 4, 2016
Grace and mercy teach us that we are all much larger than the good or bad stories we tell about ourselves or about one another. Please don’t get caught in your small stories; they are usually less than half true, and therefore not really “true” at all. They’re usually based on hurts and unconscious agendas that allow us to see and judge things in a very selective way. They’re not the whole You, not the Great You, not the Great River. Therefore it is not where your big life can really happen. No wonder the Spirit is described as “flowing water” and as “a spring inside you” (John 4:10-14) or, at the end of the Bible, as a “river of life” (Revelation 22:1-2). Strangely, your real life is not about “you.” It is a part of a much larger stream called God.
I believe that faith might be precisely that ability to trust the Big River of God’s providential love, which is to trust the visible embodiment (the Son), the flow (the Holy Spirit), and the source itself (the Father). This is a divine process that we don’t have to change, coerce, or improve. We just need to allow it and enjoy it. That takes immense confidence, especially when we’re hurting. Usually, I can feel myself get panicky. Then I want to quickly make things right. I lose my ability to be present and I go up into my head and start obsessing. Soon I tend to be overly focused in my head to such a point that I don’t really feel or experience things in my heart and body. I’m oriented toward goals and making things happen, trying to push or even create my own river. Yet the Big River is already flowing through me and I am only one small part of it.
Faith does not need to push the river precisely because it is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing; we are already in it. This is probably the deepest meaning of “divine providence.” So do not be afraid. We have been proactively given the Spirit by a very proactive God. Jesus understands this gift as a foregone conclusion: “If you, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit?” (Luke 11:13).
Simone Weil said, “It is grace that forms a void inside of us and it is also grace that fills that void.” Grace leads us to the state of emptiness, to that momentary sense of meaninglessness in which we ask, “What is it all for? What does it all mean?” Without grace we will not enter into such a necessary void, and without grace the void will not be filled. All we can do is try to keep our hands cupped and open. And it is even grace to do that. But we must want grace and know we need it.
Ask yourself regularly, “What am I afraid of? Does it matter? Will it matter at the end or in the great scheme of things? Is it worth holding on to?” Grace will lead you into such fears and emptiness, and grace alone can fill them up, if we are willing to stay in the void. It is a kind of “negative capability” that God seems to make constant use of. We mustn’t engineer an answer too quickly. We mustn’t get settled too fast. We all want to manufacture an answer to take away our anxiety and settle the dust. To stay in God’s hands, to trust, means that we usually have to let go of our attachments to feelings—which are going to pass away anyway (which is the irony of it all). People of deep faith develop a high tolerance for ambiguity, and come to recognize that it is only the small self that needs certitude or perfect order all the time. The Godself is perfectly at home in the River of Mystery.
Gateway to Silence:
Everything is grace.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2003), 46, 53, 142-144.