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Feelings, Frustrated Hopes and the Spiritual Life

by Rev. Dr. James D. Findlay

James FindlayMeister Eckhart, the medieval German mystic and priest who remains one of the greatest of Christian spiritual masters, said, “The highest virtue is detachment, not love. Detachment leads us to cherish all things equally, and so is close to the love of God.  Love, however, often leads us to love one thing more than another – and thus we can fall into sin.”  Perhaps, then, we must cultivate detachment, and equanimity in the face of all experience, as we progress on our spiritual journeys.

As wise as this counsel is, however, the lectionary Scripture texts for the current season offer us different and equally valuable guidance for the path ahead.  The Prophet Jeremiah shares visions and poems which lay bare the human heart before God and all people; the Psalmist sings of loss, lament, and Divine Presence; and Jesus offers us sober and probing insights on seeking, finding, and funding.  And so the Light shines on us, even if we do not physically discern it!

In Jeremiah 18, the prophet is called by God to descend to the potter’s house, where he sees the artist shape a pot of clay, and then destroy and shape another pot from the same handful of moist earth.  God then makes clear – what once had beauty and strength can be broken and crushed – what once was nothing, can be built up and renewed.  This is “good news” as we see constant change within and without, in our minds and in the world: all that takes physical form or powerful appearance, is passing away, and what is yet unseen and unimagined will yet come forth.  All depends on God – and faithful human response to God’s will and call.  In Chapter 4, Jeremiah sees a world laid waste and void, in which life itself flees; perhaps a premonition of what may be in store for humanity as we experience ongoing environmental crisis and seem stubbornly unable to alter our culture’s behavior in relation to Mother Earth.  And in Chapters 8 and 9, he speaks of deep grief for his people’s pain, saying his eyes and head are “springs of water” and “a fountain of tears.”  In the face of massive injustice, violence, and suffering, we are often overwhelmed in a similar way – if we are brave enough to look reality in the face, and not turn from it.

Jeremiah lived in direct communion with the Creator – and saw Creation and the Nation completely collapse.  In his own lifetime, nothing took the place of the world he had known: Jeremiah died in Egypt, in exile against his will, while his homeland remained under imperial occupation.   However, his hope for restoration and greater allegiance to Israel’s God was realized – but only long after his death, and in ways he could not have imagined while alive.

Thus, Jeremiah’s witness is a valuable lesson for our own: to live authentically and speak honestly, especially when in prayer and communion with God – and MOST especially when our hopes are apparently dashed and God’s will is NOT being done.  To persevere, even when deeply confused, uncertain, or perplexed – this is one hallmark of spiritually attentive people, in our troubled times, and in every time.

Psalms 14 and 79 also speak deep laments, knowing that so few are righteous, and that God’s people suffer under oppressive powers that appear unassailable.  However, each Psalmist speaks of other powerful feelings and thoughts – issuing a call to God to bring justice, to avenge the pain of those who have bled and died, to set right what humans cannot accomplish by their own efforts.  And in Psalm 139, a classic of spiritual literature in any language, the writer makes clear what all spiritual people know: God is always present, guiding and watching, caring and working, even when we try to flee, even when we do not perceive or are overwhelmed, even in the deepest darkness.  As we make our way, inwardly and outwardly, God is never absent.  No matter what we experience, we can always testify, “I am still with you” (Psalm 139:18).

Finally, our Blessed Savior and Brother Jesus is probing and practical in his teaching.  In Luke 14:25-33 he makes it plain: being a disciple is not an easy task.  It means letting go of everything – not just psychologically (which may be the easy part!), but economically.  Will we continue to love and serve the Lord, even without monetary remuneration?  Will we make our life with Christ, seeking the empowerment and emergence of our own Christ-natures, the paramount thing?  How much will it cost us, to be spiritual in a greed-driven world?  Will we continually and diligently seek for what is lost, among our brothers and sisters, and in our own hearts and souls?  Will we use money wisely, without worshipping it?  Can we find a way to hear and live his words: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal tents?” (Luke 16:9)

It seems that all of our living, when we are awakened to the spiritual path, is filled with eternity.  When lamenting and discerning suffering – we are still with God.  When seeing creation and destruction, with no clear way ahead – we are still with God.   As we seek release from all addictions, to things, behaviors, or ideas – we are still with God.  May we continue to cultivate our awareness of the Divine Ever-Presence, which never leaves us alone.  And which guides us, always, into the eternal dwelling places, even when, here on Earth, we do not see the Way.

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Note from author: Please feel free to post here at the Conference website, or contact me via e-mail at sleight_of_time@yahoo.com. I wish to engender a conversation among us about how the Word and Spirit are active in our lives, and how we might nurture these gifts further. I also am happy to work with groups and individuals on how to nurture the Word and Spirit among us. Please visit my Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/pages/Spiritual-Accompaniment-Services/219750211459838 as another way of being in this sacred conversation. I look forward to hearing from many of you soon!

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