A longer path…

Being the kind of person I am, I am prone to what I really would wish to call self-doubt; but which is in fact doubt in my calling, and so ultimately, I suppose, doubt in the faithfulness and capacity of the God who calls me. Let me try and explain.

In my better moments – and they are all too often no more than moments – I know perfectly well that what I am called to is contemplative prayer. I don’t mean to “do” contemplative prayer, as one might do yoga or pilates, but to give what I am to it. Despite the incessant stumbling and wandering of my life till now, I may in some dim way have always been aware of this, impossible though I have often found it to believe it, still less to be faithful to it.

The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing has this to say:

If you ask me by what means you are to achieve this work of contemplation, I beseech almighty God of his great grace and his great courtesy to teach you himself. For I would have you know well that I cannot tell you… [W]ithout God’s work, no saint or angel can think of desiring it. And I believe that our Lord will deign to bring about this work to those who have been habitual sinners as particularly and as often – yes, and more particularly and more often – as in others who by comparison… have never caused him much grief…

Yet he does not grant this grace or bring about this work in any soul that is incapable of it. On the other hand, no soul that lacks this grace is capable of receiving it, no, whether it be the soul of a sinner or of an innocent person…

You have as much of it as you will and desire, neither more nor less, and yet it is not a will or a desire, but something, you do not know what, that stirs you to will and desire you do not know what…

Let it do the working, and you will be the material it works upon; just watch it, and let it be…

And if this is so, then trust firmly that it is God alone, entirely by himself, who stirs your will and your desire, without intermediary, either on his part or on yours.

That I fret, and mistrust myself, is, as I say, more a lack of trust in God than anything else. Certainly it is not anything that could be mistaken for humility, for, as the Cloud author points out, God seems to have a delight in calling to this life those of us who have all too often frequented dubious places in our time; presumably this is something like humour on his part, or else a tendency to demonstrate the unknowability of his will, the sheer giveness of his grace in Christ.

Sister Mary David Totah goes further:

…[W]e have been looking at making action more contemplative, finding a contemplative dimension in our actions. But there is a real sense in which prayer is itself an action, an action whose fruit and extent cannot be measured or assessed; its ways are secret, not only secret from others but also secret from ourselves. The greater part of the fruit of our prayer and contemplation remains hidden with Christ in God…

Prayer is opening oneself to the effective, invisible power of God. One can never leave the presence of God without being transformed and renewed in his being, for this is what Christ promised. The thing that can only be granted by prayer belongs to God (Luke 11.13). However such a transformation does not take the form of a sudden leap. It takes time. Whoever persists in surrendering himself to God in prayer receives more than he desires or deserves. Whoever lives by prayer gains an immense trust in God, so powerful and certain, it can almost be touched. He comes to perceive God in a most vivid way. Without ever forgetting our weakness, we become something other than we are.

Mary David Totah OSB, Deepening Prayer: Life Defined by Prayer

To do this sort of surrendering might seem to require a quite remarkable degree of trust in God; but the brilliance of Sister Mary David’s insight here is that it is in surrendering that we are given the degree of trust we need. Someone once said something to the effect that the longest journey begins with a single step; perhaps the journey deeper into what I once described as the saltmarsh of the spirit begins with each day’s step into prayer, into surrender. That tiny glimpse of faithfulness may open the little salt-bleached wicket gate of the heart onto a longer path than we can know.

5 thoughts on “A longer path…

  1. Sam Kennet

    Maybe it would be helpful to let go of the idea of ‘my calling’? The child who is called by their parent either ignores the call or runs toward it, they don’t horde up the parent’s cry. We have such a tendency to add a doubleness or self-consciousness to things when all we really need to do is respond… I say this tentatively and respectfully from a place of similar challenge.

    Reply
    1. Mike Farley Post author

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Sam. I know what you’re getting at, I think, and the “just respond” thing is perhaps part of what I was saying about the single step. And yet… the parent’s cry is not quite the same thing as the whole shape given to one’s life by a vocation. For me, both understandings of “call “coexist; what matters is the voice.

      Reply
      1. Sam Kennet

        I suppose what I was hinting at, rooted in my own struggles around ‘vocation’, is the way in which the more that ‘the Call’ coalesces as ‘my calling’ the more danger that we slip into an authorial mode. I think that perhaps doubt arises in the gap we sense between the Call as it is, and the calling which has become a kind of story or doctrine to us. Of course, there’s is much unspoken in your post so this is really my own self-directed concern, but seemed worth sharing in case of any mileage for you. I competely agree on the single step, each day.

        In fellowship. S

  2. Mike Farley Post author

    Yes, and thank you! The point about the parent’s call is interesting; perhaps for me (and for this I have you to thank) is the difference between a call heard on one (or more) occasion, and the child’s whole upbringing. But it’s mortally hard to discern for oneself – hence, perhaps, spiritual directors, soul-friends, and such roles?

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Descending into the heart… | Silent Assemblies

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