Thursday, December 19, 2013

God's Answer to my "How To" Question

I wish I had a word for this mood surrounding me of late. I think of it as a sort of impotent intensity. I feel this great driving urge within me and also the inability of that drive to go anywhere. It's like a great desire to "pray hard" and then realizing that one can only stumblingly form words to lift to God let alone find any depth of feeling inside them.

Perhaps this is fitting for the great Advent wait.

Starting last fall, the theme that jumped out at me with my every approach towards Scripture was the theme of the anawim: the humbled remnant that has no power and can look only to God to be the Savior, the Redeemer. Last year had an Advent in it as I recall, and I heard the same readings then as I hear now. But then, it was all the call to become anawim.

This Advent, everything I hear is swirling around God the judge, the one Who arrives on the scene on behalf of the anawim. The one who takes evil out. The One with power.

So lately I've been asking God "how" questions: How do I relate to You? How do I draw near to You? What is it I'm actually supposed to do?

My problem with asking things like this is that sometimes I make nice little collections out of the answers I get. I get really happy with answers from God. The answer is a sign of God's love. But I don't always take it seriously, until the second or third or fifth time God reminds me to actually DO what He says. Geez, I sound like my kids.

Today I came across this from St. Irenaeus, and I realize it reads almost like one of those annoying "Five Simple Steps to a More Fruitful Spiritual Life" articles. But, I was asking, and I read this, so writing about it is step one in etching these things into my heart. First, the quote:

If man, without being puffed up or boastful, has a right belief regarding created things and their divine Creator, who, having given them being, holds them all in his power, and if man perseveres in God's love, and in obedience and gratitude to him, he will receive greater glory from him. It will be a glory which will grow ever brighter until he takes on the likeness of the one who died for him.

So, here's how I break that down.
Without being puffed up or boastful -- humility
Right belief regarding created things, etc. -- detachment
Persevering in God's love -- believing in, receiving, and returning God's love
Obedience -- to Scripture and to the Church
Gratitude -- for everything, towards God and people

The net result, says St. Irenaeus, is receiving greater glory. This is the same saint who says "the glory of God is man fully alive." The glory of God is really the manifestation of His presence. And St. Ireneus says that this presence will grow brighter until we actually seem to be like the Lord Jesus Himself.

So, my answer to "How do I draw near to God" is simple clear. Seek humility, seek detachment. Love God, obey Him, and be continually thankful.

All of these have given me quite a workout, but I must say the one that is left most loose and flapping on me is gratitude. I have the temperamental tendency to always see how things could be better, how they are not quite perfect. And I realize as I write that that I have some difficulty really owning that for what it is. A friend of mine who decorates our church was telling me recently how she has learned to use her own critical eye in her art to train more people to see as she sees, and to encourage others' talents, using hers to merely tweak their work rather than take the whole burden on herself. And there is a lot of wisdom in that. It isn't quite as easy to do in music, which is where I have the opportunity to train others to hear what I hear. Too often I settle for "ok, whatever" instead of helping others improve. This, too, is a lesson God has given me and I have not paid attention to.

But back to gratitude. Working to correct someone constructively is a far cry from simply crabbing and complaining about everything that's not perfect. Even if it isn't verbally articulated exactly that way, even a subtle tendency to moan over imperfect things can fuel a general direction into ingratitude. That is very easy for me to slide into. I have been making it a point to explicitly thank God for things I often take for granted. It will take some time before this becomes habitual or natural to my way of thinking, though.

No comments: