Monday, September 22, 2008

Desire for God

As part of the preparation for going on pilgrimage to Israel with twenty other priests/pastors, we have been asked to read the first several chapters of Martin L. Smith's The Word is Very Near You: A Guide to Praying with Scripture (Cowley, 1989). Reading the first chapter entitled "Pausing at the Threshold" this morning, I was struck by a section that I think others might find helpful as well.

Many of us have never received any encouragement to recognize or honor within ourselves the desire for God. The expression seems too sublime to be applied to the faint movements of our own spirit. To speak to most others about having a desire for God would cause embarrassment and even invite ridicule. No one talks like this in "normal" life. But it is not merely to protect ourselves from the patronizing skepticism of others that we tend to cover up spiritual yearning. Most of us have an inner voice which is cynical about the reality of our own religious experience. In a secular climate we have become our own oppressors, adept at disparaging and discounting the movements of our own hearts. One of the results of praying is a gradual healing of these patterns of self-devaluation, and liberation from those inhibitions that cripple our capacity to honor ourselves as men and women of God. You may be only in the very early stages of this healing, but right now it is possible to begin to break the habit of pinching off the buds of new life within yourself. ...

But does the desire for God originate within ourselves as a spontaneous reaching out of the human spirit? A breakthrough of faith occurs when we recognize that our desire for God originates not in ourselves but in God. It is God who gives, kindles and fuels the desire for God. What we feel as our desire is the effect of God desiring to be desired, knowing that our responsive desiring will bring us to life. Those who give themselves entirely to the response to God, whom we call mystics, come back from their explorations and tell us that they discover in the end that our desiring is all God's doing. We love God's own loving that flos from God, gathers us up in its movement, and returns to God, bearing us along! Of course as beginners we don't know that yet. But since in the community of Christ we are learning to depend on one another to make sense of life and the spiritual journey, we can accept this ultimate discovery in faith and take it to heart as just what we need to hear now as beginners. ... God's initiative is at work here, grace is active in drawing and inviting you to deeper intimacy with God. Trust the truth of this. It means respecting and cherishing this impulse to investigate prayer all the more. As a desire coming from deep within yourself, it is wonderful. As a gift and stirring of God, it is holy (pp. 9, 10-11).

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