Lotus of the Heart > Path of Spirit > Contemplation as Surrender

 
 

Holy Indifference in Prayer

On Willed Passivity

Jun 17, 2009

Saying For Today: We are part of a larger, dynamic, organic, and emergent Whole. This Whole, however we speak of it, is God. We are, in contrast to much modern sentiment, creatures of cosmic dependency.


Welcome to OneLife Ministries. This site is designed to lead you prayerfully into a heart experience of Divine Presence, Who is Love. While it focuses on Christian teaching, I pray persons of varied faiths will find inspiration here. Indeed, "God" can be whatever image helps us trust in the Sacred, by whatever means Grace touches us each. Please share this ministry with others, and I hope you return soon. There is a new offering daily. And to be placed on the daily OneLife email list, to request notifications of new writings or submit prayer requests, write to barukhattah@embarqmail.com .

Blessings,
Rev Dr Brian K Wilcox, MDiv, MFT, PhD

Pastor-Teacher, Author, Workshop Leader, Spiritual Counselor, Chaplain

Brian encourages support of the 4-Star Christian organization Compassion, which supports children worldwide; for more see www.compassion.com .

OPENING PRAYER

God of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are sufficient for me... If I were to ask anything less I should always be in want, for in you alone do I have all.

*Saint Julian of Norwich (b. c. 1342)

LISTENING TO SCRIPTURE

1O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
2But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.

*Psalm 131 (ESV)

RECEIVING SACRED TEACHING

All forms of Christian meditation and contemplative practice are intentional experiences in surrender. The intent is to surrender to the Holy Spirit of Love.

Possibly, one reason that most Christians resists meditation is that such Prayer entails willing relinquishment of even our personal and collective holy intents. In such abandonment, we yield our passions and capacities to the Wisdom and Purpose of Providential Grace.

This relinquishment is not a denial of the good aspects of our human nature; rather, the surrender is that these natural capacities and passions will be enhanced, shaped, and directed to the maximum potential of their intended purposes. And it is only through such abdication that the Christ Presence is born in and through us, individually and collectively.

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Jeanne-Marie Bouvier de la Motte-Guyon (French, Catholic, mystic, 1648-1717), whose teachings have been embraced by Protestants in Germany, Switzerland, and England, and Methodists in America, wrote of the “holy indifference” descriptive of the surrendering in Silent Prayer:

When the soul is docile, and leaves itself to be purified, and emptied of all that which it has of its own, opposite to the will of God, it finds itself by little and little, detached from every emotion of its own, and placed in a holy indifference, wishing nothing but what God does and wills. This never can be effected by the activity of our own will, even though it were employed in continual acts of resignation. These though very virtuous, are so far one's own actions and cause the will to subsist in a multiplicity, in a kind of separate distinction or dissimilitude from God (Autobiography of Madame Guyon).

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Therefore, the essential, revolutionary attribute of contemplative practice is the intentional surrender of all felt need of the self to be virtuous and self-effort at pleasing God, for these efforts, even though good, nevertheless, are still deriving from the self. The self is still trying by itself to please God or live up to some external standard, even if the external standard is the perception of an external God, separate from the essential Self within and at one with God.

In contemplative prayer one, then, moves — or is moved - from trying to please a God outside oneself to being pleasing to the God who is omnipresent, residing equally in every aspect of creation, as well as within the Heart, as the Inner Sanctuary of Love. Therefore, it is difficult to see how self-righteousness can be avoided except in some form of such contemplative self-abdication, whether it is associated with the term "contemplative" or not.

* * *

Psalm 131.2 is a text often referred to in regard to the Quiet of Contemplative Prayer. I will quote the entire Psalm, for the entirety is pertinent to the subject of contemplation:

1O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
2But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.

*Psalm 131 (ESV)

John Calvin comments regarding the Quiet and Calm of v. 2, looking to the Hebrew text:

For דוממתי domaintee, is formed from דום dum, and has the active sense of reducing to silence. The quiet of soul he alludes to is opposed to those tumultuous desires by which many cause disquietude to themselves, and are the means of throwing the world into agitation.

*John Calvin. Commentary on the Psalms. Vol. 5. Translated by J. A. Edinburgh.

Calvin shows the social implications of the nurturing of Calm within by spiritual practice and faith. Agitation within foments agitation without, and vice versa.

This repose, writes Walter Brueggemann, in the Message of the Psalms, is not an abdication nor resignation; rather, the Psalm presents the recognition of how life with God is. The Psalm links this receptive posture with intentional choice.

A designed life practice is needed to enact this self-oblation and nurture its continuance. Likewise, a posture of receptivity and being-with is linked to the hope of the collective faith community. One cannot, apart from an organic relating with faith community, live the contemplative life or practice this surrender to Grace. In Christian terms, even when one is alone in Prayer, the person is still acting as one member of the mystical Body of Christ. Thus, this experience of calm, as seen in the Psalm, will lead into prayer for the larger faith community and seeing the possibilities for its sustenance in hope.

Brueggemann, rightly, affirms that this Psalm is a theological affirmation about the correct ordering of life. Therefore, such ordering of life is not about being spiritual as opposed to being otherwise, or being religious as contrasted with being secular. The Psalm presents the normal state of faithful, dignified humanness. The dignity of the human is discovered in a right ordering of life in relationship to God, regardless of the varied images of this Being that differ among persons and faith communities.

The Psalm, then, presents a contrast between “creatureliness” and “autonomy.” The “faithful human creature … has no inclination for autonomy.” Also, the Psalm presents that this “glad, submissive reliance” is the antidote to anxiety. Thus, Brueggemann offers the contrast of this Psalm and the natural, spiritual law underlying it, to the drive toward autonomy within the modernist [and now Post Modern and Post Post Modern] ethos: Unless there is submission, there will be no hope, for autonomy and self-sufficiency are finally postures of hopelessness in which free gifts are excluded and one is left to one’s own resources.

* * *

We are part of a larger, dynamic, organic, and emergent Whole. This Whole, however we speak of it, is God. We are, in contrast to much modern sentiment, creatures of cosmic dependency. The only way to draw off, or be gifted with, the blessing, or the positive Energy of Life, is to remain in companionship and union with the Spirit. Therefore, to do so is to benefit from the Whole, or God, even as God benefits from receiving the joy of partnership with the human in reciprocal affection and action. God, then, does not decide to bless some and withhold blessing from others, as though God is capricious. Rather, God is the All-Potential with a Nature to give totally and constantly of the Being God Is to all derived beings of and in God substantially.

Surrender, then, is not the loss of anything; rather, it entails openness to the vitality of Christ, the Thriving Life of Divinity. And this is well illustrated in John 15.1-5:

1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing…. (ESV)

Surrendering, then, is the ongoing act, which removes one from the poverty of self-reliance to the gift of Eternal Life, now, in this moment. To surrender is like the branch acknowledging, in thought and experience, that its life is reliant on the Life it receives from its Source, or the Vine, and its good is reliant on the Good.

* * *

Therefore, your contemplative practice is a renunciation of even your own goodness, which will inevitably block your enjoyment of Grace. We set aside time daily to sit in this Calm, open in Loving Openness to the Christ within, as a practice of learning to release our resistances to Divine Providence and to learn the joys of abdicating all sense of personalized privilege. In giving all, then, we receive all.

Evelyn Underhill, in her The Golden Sequence, speaks well of this “prayer of simple recollection”:

Yet, because this prayer is indeed a supernatural act, a movement of spirit towards Spirit, it is an act which the natural creature can never begin or complete in his own power. Though it seems to him to be by his own free choice and movement that he lifts up his soul towards God, it is in truth this all-penetrating God, who by His secret humble pressure stirs man to make this first movement of will and love. The apparent spontaneity, the exercise of limited freedom — genuinely ours, and most necessary to the soul’s health — are yet entirely dependent on this prevenient and overruling Presence, acting with power and gentleness in the soul’s ground. Progress in prayer is perhaps most safely measured in our increasing recognition of this action, the extent in which Spirit ‘prays in us’ and we co-operate with it: till, in the apparently passive and yet most powerful prayer of the great contemplative, the consciousness of our own busy activity is entirely lost in the movement of Divine will, and the soul is well content to ‘let Another act in her.’

Underhill is cautious to remind us that Silent Prayer is a willed passivity. This willed passivity is an act of will to bring our Will into union with the Divine Will, even if we do not know the contents of that Divine Will. That is, one does not have to know the full Will of God to surrender to God, and in surrendering to God, one offers oneself to be transformed to meet the particular callings to fulfill that over-all Will in one’s own life.

Thus, the willed passivity is a joyful release of even a scurrying and busy need to discover the Will of God. Rather, in this passivity, one opens oneself to discover the Will of God, within God’s times and by means of God’s designs, and the consequent transformation involves pliability to the mysterious overtures of active and activating Love.

QUIETLY RESPONDING

1) How might our efforts to be and do good be a subtle form of selfishness, or self-righteousness?

2) Are you needing to practice willed passivity in an area of your life at present, in which you are acting willfully, and blocking surrender to Grace? Explain.

3) Is there a particular area in your life that you have recently surrendered totally to God, and found peace about it? Explain.

Blessings! In Christ!
Rev Dr Brian K Wilcox
June 16, 2009
barukhattah@embarqmail.com

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*OneLife Ministries is a ministry of Brian K. Wilcox, of SW Florida. Brian lives a vowed life and with his two dogs, Bandit Ty and St. Francis. Brian is an ecumenical spiritual leader, open to how Christ manifests in the diversity of Christian denominations and varied religious-spiritual traditions. He is Senior Chaplain for the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office, Punta Gorda, FL.

*Brian welcomes responses to his writings or submission of prayer requests at barukhattah@embarqmail.com . Also, Brian is on Facebook: search Brian Kenneth Wilcox.

*Contact the above email to book Brian for Spiritual Direction, retreats, or workshops. You can order his book An Ache for Union at major book dealers.

 

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