Friday, October 28, 2016

Learning to Expect Jesus

It has been two and a half months now since returning from pilgrimage, and from this vantage point, key lessons and peak points suggest themselves both more generally and more plainly all the time. It's one of these that I have on my mind today.

I associate this particular piece with a time of prayer during the Diocesan Days in Wroclaw; this was about the second week that we were in Poland. We had had our "easy, pleasant" first pass through Wroclaw, then our journey to Czestochowa. Warsaw had happened. We visited Niepokalanow. And I think I had already had my culture shock of meeting other Americans there in Wroclaw. So, quite a lot had passed through my soul up to that point. From the vantage point of time passed, I think of the pilgrimage up to that point as "the easy stuff."

During that prayer time that day in that church, I looked back upon who I was when I set out on pilgrimage, and who it seemed I was becoming along the way. And I was struck by how hard I try, how much effort I put into everything. I have a definite choleric side to me, and working, competence, and effort are all things I value. At the same time, I am a person open-ended to the potential of every circumstance and situation, and I am not very goal-oriented. Bite-size goals seem paltry, boring, and unnecessary, so I usually skip setting any. Often I work hard all day, and at the end of it, I feel lazy and unaccomplished. I am inspired by huge, life-time-sized goals. And I am also inspired to express love for others, including God, by working hard. These things create a dynamic that often sends me into an intense, driven fury to DO.

And I found that this dynamic was at work in my spiritual life as well, of course. I want to do what I can do to draw near to God, so I will take up penance (and tell my kids to do the same) and persevere in prayer to the letter of the law of how I am obliged to do it, and I will be somewhat stringent about things that are typical for me but not required by God nor Church.

Even as I type, the image that comes to mind is someone hunkered down over her work. And that day, as I prayed in that church, I realized that hunkered down had become my spiritual posture.

And that image makes me think of two things: being cold, and not expecting anyone or anything to happen.

It happens when I'm left with just me. I'm kind of all I've got. And I'm giving it all I've got, in part so that I don't get stuck in that other aspect of my personality: the melancholic. Because I might go there if I just stopped and said to myself, "I'm alone."

I work, sometimes, so that I'm not lonely.

But that day in the church, I realized this was not necessary, nor was it good, this bent interior posture I had developed without noticing. I was working as if everything depended on me. But I was not pursuing the fire of God's love, or was I living expectantly. I was leaving God out of our relationship, maybe thinking I had to leave Him an "out," you know, in case He really didn't want to be there.

I remember a dinner I made years ago for guests. All day I anticipated their coming. It was part of me. When the time came for their arrival, even though I was in the kitchen, every ounce of me was set on the street, on the gate, on the door, on the doorbell. I was with them long before they were with me. When I set the table, I was paying attention to them. When I stirred the food, I was paying attention to them. I was so not hunkered down. In fact, I do have an opposite setting, where I become almost uncontrollably flighty because I am so filled with expectation or flooded with someone's presence that my social function goes haywire.

But what God was calling me to that day was none of my own personality excesses. He was lifting my head, the same way a certain deacon always manages to do, whenever he offers me the Host. I am a good several inches taller than he, but he raises the Host far above both of our eye levels, so that I have to stand tall and lift my head up. There is something in this posture that requires me to go beyond myself, and expect Jesus.

Work is good, but our work does not command God. I can produce work. I cannot produce love. I respond to the love given me; God's love precedes me in everything. His love fills me, and then I can love. Then my doing is not self-protection. It is self-giving.

There is something of Thérèse in what God was teaching me here. Rather than pursuing a path that is supposed to lead me to feel competent and powerful and effective (yeaahhh, but somehow never quite makes it), God calls me to look up, run to the arms of the Father, and be lifted up as in an elevator. I don't need to show God how hard I've tried. I need to learn to bury my face in Him and say "Regardless of what I've done, love me, purify me, hold me, pick me up! For you are so good!"

I have the same temperament; that's not going to change. But rather than become frustrated with how little I feel I can do, or worse yet, admiringly self-congratulatory, I can recall that everything I do strains to expect Jesus. The work all falls into its place when the One Who is Love takes center stage.