This is a meditation inspired by the Cycle B readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent–though also from external reflections that have developed over a long period of time. It is especially rooted in the first reading from Jeremiah 31:31-34. There is a lot more that could be said to tie this meditation into the second and third readings (Hebrews 5:7-9 and John 12:20-33), but I think it is already long enough, and says what needs to be said. I believe that what is expressed here, however inadequately, is the most important thing, and something that we, in our world and our contemporary culture, desperately need to understand.
Just a note: I have mentioned a number of times that the whole Passion of Jesus Christ, from the Garden of Gethsemane through the Resurrection, unfolds not so much as a burdensome task, but rather as a gift and an opportunity of Divine Love, the Love and intimacy shared by the Father and the Son. In this, we can say that the whole Paschal Mystery unfolds within a primary playfulness shared by the Father and the Son for all eternity, and finds its meaning only in the light of this, in the light of this deeper and wider joy, happiness, and freedom. Jesus enters into our darkness as the Light of Love, and, while experiencing to the full our pain and our burdens, is not “eclipsed” in the process, but rather remains unceasingly united to his Father. He abides in the trust, the joy, and, indeed, in the creativity and playfulness of childhood, thus illumining our darkness with the light of his Sonship, and taking us up, lost as we are, into the all-enfolding embrace of the Divine Gift, into the joy of the Trinity’s embrace. Hopefully the meditation will help to make this more clear, as mysterious as it remains.
The law is written, in this New Covenant,
upon the inmost depths of our hearts,
so that we do what you desire, dear God,
not from external compulsion,
or even from your gently leading hand,
but from our own interior desire
and the creativity your love awakens in us.
So many persons fear, in a paralyzing way,
that they are going to “miss your will”
and go astray in empty and aimless paths;
they feel as if, however much they search,
they cannot discover what you want for them.
For is it not true that you are silent?
In this way their desire for obedience
degenerates into a burdensome task and demand,
which narrows the heart and the perspective
and makes each moment seem heavy
and devoid of the life and spontaneity of childhood.
But this, loving Father, Son, and Spirit,
is the very opposite of what your gift,
given so freely to us, is meant to be.
For you do not have some
“unchanging” and “immutable” will
for each person in each unbending moment,
to which we need only conform ourselves,
and in which alone we find freedom.
There is an important distinction here
which we often tend to miss, to our detriment.
Your will is not the same as your presence,
and your love, before it asks for obedience,
simply seeks our receptivity to your gift,
the gift of your very self, given to us,
indeed, the simplicity of your loving embrace.
You did not create us primarily to do, to act,
but to repose within the happiness of your embrace
and in the shelter of your loving arms,
to delight in the playfulness of childlike surrender.
A little child, knowing that she is infinitely loved,
and recognizing each moment as a gratuitous gift,
surrenders herself in reckless abandon
to the inner beauty present in each instant.
Her action, her movement, her desire
is entirely enfolded in the greater circle of repose,
in the pure gratuity of life and existence
flowing unceasingly from your loving hands and heart,
indeed, encircled totally in your intimate presence.
And in this experience of utter gratuity,
her hands and heart are not shackled,
but rather liberated to act, to desire, to do,
not in a burdened “measuring up,”
but in a kind of mirror-image reflection
—in her heart and in the depths of her life—
of the gratuitous gift first given to her,
and given again and again, unceasingly.
Yes, the whole of life on this earth
(and in eternity!) is enfolded within gratuity,
and is but our own creativity awakened by this gift,
and responding to it in each instant.
All responsibility, all “mature” doing and achieving,
finds its ultimate meaning, not in itself,
nor even in the “ends” that it seeks to bring about,
but in the playfulness of love that it expresses,
in the beauty that envelops it and gives it radiance.
This is the whole meaning of play, is it not?
And we were created to play, to rejoice, to dance,
without ceasing and with reckless abandon,
in the childlike simplicity that is true maturity…
to dance in gratitude for the love that we receive
and in praise of the Lover who fills us with joy
and whom our movements, in turn, delight.
Yes, you write the intimate story of my life,
not with a rigid and unbending will,
which, for all practical purposes,
constricts and narrows my life in fear,
in the need to continually search, discover, and accomplish.
What then? Are you not close, continually guiding,
giving meaning and life to each succeeding instant,
and directing my steps in your love, back to you,
and out to my brothers and sisters in charity?
Oh, yes, you are! Dear God, you are intimately close,
not like a law or taskmaster hovering over me,
but as a mother or father sheltering and protecting.
Yes, my life, in each instant and in its entirety,
is like a story being written with creativity,
with the inventiveness that blossoms only in freedom,
with the creativity that is born of the awareness of gift,
with the playfulness that is awakened by gratuity.
But I do not write alone—no, dear God,
you are the One who direct all
and bring forth its radiant beauty,
but in a way more gentle, more tender,
and more liberating than we can imagine.
An image which perhaps helps in this
is that of a little child, writing with pencil in hand,
yet with her hand within that of her mother.
The mother is intimately close, the child on her lap,
her arm pressed up against her child’s arm,
her hand enveloping the child’s within her own.
And yet she allows the child to write freely,
in a mysterious way working each movement,
each gesture, each line for the best.
At certain times, yes, she tightens her grip,
and guides the child more directly,
revealing that this line, this word, or that,
should be written.
Indeed, she helps the child to understand
why this particular movement is the best,
and helps the child to make it
on the parchment of her unfolding life.
Thus, my God, your loving presence is intimately close,
enshrouding us, holding us, sheltering us,
like a swathe of perfectly woven and seamless cloth,
which never for a moment departs from us—
yes, like the presence of a tender mother overseeing all.
And yet indeed, the image falls infinitely short,
since you not only enshroud us personally,
but reside, mysteriously, in the reality of each moment
in such a way that it communicates you to us,
giving to us, unceasingly, the gratuity of your love.
Yes, I need only open the doors of my heart
to welcome the gift of this abiding love,
pouring itself forth for me without ceasing,
pouring itself forth uniquely, unrepeatably, for me,
in my own uniqueness and precious beauty.
This is the encircling playfulness, the abiding intimacy
which alone gives meaning to all else,
to each particular thing, to every word and every act:
the free gift of your love, loving and tender God,
and the response of love awakened within my heart.
And what does your gratuitous gift seek, ultimately,
but that I accept it in all its gratuity,
letting it bring forth in me joy, gratitude,
and the playful relaxation of being loved and held.
When I do this, accepting the gift given to me,
my own being is spontaneously given to you in return,
and this acceptance and reciprocal surrender
allows you to unite me intimately to yourself.
Yes, this intimacy, this tender and abiding embrace,
beyond all partial and passing things, is what you want,
the truth of your loving and holy will,
which enfolds me gently in each instant,
and makes my heart blossom out from this place
to embrace, in your all-enfolding mystery,
the beauty and uniqueness of every other person too.