James 1:27

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the
Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let
the world corrupt you.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dying to self

We are learning more and more (although just a teeny bit of an inkling!) of what it means to die to ourselves...that when we are weak, He is strong....that His ways our higher than ours...that we are to take up our cross daily and follow Him!  God is taking us a on journey that is purposeful and beautiful, but also difficult. Below are some quotes that have completely challenged me and spoken to my heart.

This is part of the book "The  return of the prodigal son" by Henri Nouwen. Much of came as a result of seeing Rembrants painting of the return of the prodigal son and what God showed him through it. It's so good, yet so tough too!! Nouwen chose to leave his position at Harvard and being known as a world scholar to go live with disabled people. The place was called Daybreak.

"These years at Daybreak have not been easy. There has been much inner struggle, and there has been mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual pain. Nothing, absolutely nothing, had about it the quality of when I first arrived. However, the move from Harvard to this place proved to be but a little step from bystander to participant, from judge to repentant sinner, from teacher about love to being loved as the beloved. I really did not have an inkling of how difficult the journey would be. I did not realize how deeply rooted my resistance was and how agonizing it would be to "come to my senses", fall on my knees, and let my tears  flow freely. I did not realize how hard it would be to become truly part of the great event that Rembrant's painting portrays. Each little step toward the center seemed like an impossible demand, a demand requiring me to let go one more time from wanting to be in control, to give up one more time the desire to predict life, to die one more time to the fear of not knowing where it will all lead, and to surrender one more time to a love that knows no limits. And still, I knew that I would never be able to live the great commandment to love without allowing myself to be loved without conditions or prerequisites. The journey, from teaching about love to allowing myself to be loved proved much longer than I realized...."

"Certainly there were many hours of prayer, many days and months of retreat, and countless conversations with spiritual directors, but I had never fully given up the role of bystander. Even through there has been in me a lifelong desire to be an insider looking out, I nevertheless kept choosing over and over again the position of the outsider looking in. (In this he is talking about Rembrandts painting of the prodigal son....when he saw it he realized he wanted to be the son, in the tender embrace of the father....). Sometimes this looking in was a curious looking in, sometimes a jealous looking in, sometimes an anxious looking in, and once in a while, even a loving looking in. But giving up the somewhat safe position of the critical observer seemed like a great leap into totally unknown territory. I so much wanted to keep some control over my spiritual journey, to remain able to predict at least a part of the outcome, that relinquishing the security of the observer for the vulnerability of the returning son seemed to close impossible. Teaching students, passing on the many explanations given over the centuries to the words and actions of Jesus, and showing them them the many spiritual journeys that people have chosen in the past seemed very much like taking the position of one of the four figures surrounding the divine embrace (in the painting). The two women standing behind the father at different distances, the seated man staring into space and looking at no one in particular, and the tall man standing erect and looking critically at the event on the platform in front of him- they all represent different ways of not getting involved. There is indifference, curiosity, daydreaming, and attentive observation; there is staring, gazing, watching, and looking; there is standing in t he background, leaning against the arch, sitting with arms crossed, and standing with hands gripping each other. Every one of these inner and outer postures is all too familiar to me. Some are more comfortable than others, but all of them are ways of not getting directly involved.

Moving from teaching university students to living with mentally handicapped people was, for me at least, a step toward the platform where the father embraces the kneeling son. It is the place of light, the place of  truth, the place of love. It is the place where I so much want to be but am so fearful of being. It is the place where I will receive all I desire, all that I have ever hoped for, all that I will ever need, but it is also the place where I have to let go of all I most want to hold on to. It is the place that confronts me with the fact that truly accepting love and forgiveness and healing is often much harder than giving it. It is the place beyond earning, deserving, and rewarding. It is the place of surrender and complete trust."

"Many are deceived when they suppose that the death of self is the cause of all the agony they feel. Actually, their suffering is caused only by the remains of life. Pain is seated in the living parts of the body, not the dead parts. The more suddenly and completely we expire to self, the less pain we experience. Death is only painful to those who resist it. The imagination exaggerates its terrors. The spirit argues endlessly to show the propriety of the life of self. Self-love fights against death, like a sick man in the last struggle. But we must die inwardly as well as outwardly. The sentence of death has gone forth against the body as well as the spirit. Our great care should be that the spirit of self dies first. For then our bodily death will be but a falling asleep. Happy are they who sleep this sleep of peace!"...

"we must bear our crosses. Self is the greatest of them. ...if we die we have but little to do on the last day...what we so much dread in the future will cause us no fear when it comes- so long as we do not allow its terrors to be exaggerated by the  restless anxieties of self love....these little daily deaths will ultimately destroy the power of the final dying!"

It is powerful and amazing to learn what it means to die to our flesh- whatever the outcome of this may be. He is using it! Thank you for continuing to pray!! love you all, Bren