If you are acquainted with the rules for the discernment of spirits, you know that consolation–peace and expansiveness of heart–are signs of the will of God, whereas desolation–darkness and a sense of suffocation–are signs that something is not desired by him. In this poem, I seek to look under the surface to see why this is the case. I think it can be traced back to the truth of childhood in which our decisions are rooted, and which they are simply meant to express. This is the supreme rule enfolding all others, and indeed allows us to dwell in surrender beyond all particular circumstances, yet also to deal with them as they come, in simplicity and peace of heart.
The distinction between true and false senses of clarity and desire often takes time and experience to become clear, as they bear their fruit of enduring peace or increasing darkness over time. The reality of simple surrender in childhood will over time cast its light into the particular circumstances of our life, revealing them in all their truth. If we find ourselves clinging to a particular reality in our life, hindering this joy of childhood, this is a sign that it is not desired by our loving Father, who desires our freedom and joy. But when we find something welling up spontaneously from the deepest recesses of our hearts, then we know, without the need to explain, yet with a harmonious clarity that is supremely intelligible, that he is indeed offering it to us as a gift. This sense of gift and harmony endures even through times of darkness and trial, carrying us, the Father’s loving and sheltering arms, as the abiding truth that is deeper and stronger than every darkness, indeed, as light penetrating and transforming the darkness.
I’d like to make a note about the “Gethsemane” times of life, to try to correct a common misunderstanding. I believe that we can often create our own Gethsemane’s, by clinging to something that the Lord does not desire for us. We can view ourselves as dispensable, as cast-aways by God, moved by deep wounds of the past, by fear, by misunderstanding of the way that God truly loves us and relates to us. We can cling tightly to something as a source of life which is actually bringing us death. This is not the way that God works in our lives and in which lovingly invites us; he only ever asks what is best for us, seeking our deepest and most abiding good. God deeply, passionately desires to liberate us from our burdens and darkness, to draw us into the joy of childhood, of simply being loved, cherished, and embraced by him.
Only then, within the reality of joy and light–a joy and light to alone gives meaning to all else–does Gethsemane find its place, a path of compassion with Christ himself. But it always remains irradiated with this prior and enduring light, and gives birth to further light, even if it is a path walked in suffering. We glimpse this in the path of Christ himself. Deeper than all his suffering, in his loving prayer to the Father throughout his Passion, we see that he is by no means destroyed or forsaken, but abiding always in the fullness of love with his Father and the Spirit. This intimacy is deeper than everything else he undergoes. He never for a moment turns his eyes away from his “Abba.” Therefore, even through all the pain of the Passion, we can discern a deeper truth, a burning flame of joy and hope that is never quenched. It is this flame that is offered also to us and seeks to burn in every moment of our lives.
Life is a gift, freely flowing,
life is a grace, undeserved but given,
life is a mystery of love and invitation,
yet a mystery deeper than invitation too:
a deeper truth of love, abiding,
in this present moment, simply being…
a child in the Father’s loving arms.
We all bear within us a burning thirst,
for we were born in the desert,
raised in this place and always journeying,
day and night, to the place of oasis,
no, to the promised land
where the wellspring unceasingly flows.
Yet it is a beautiful thing, more profoundly,
that the Wellspring has come to dwell in this desert,
pitching his tent here among us,
a cloud of presence, a pillar of fire,
a nourishing breast and a tender embrace.
For so long the heart yearns for something,
grasping here and there, reaching out for fullness,
with many desires and expectations…
Indeed, sometimes it convinces itself
that these desires, because it wants them so much,
are perfectly aligned, Father, with your holy will.
But you want to teach us, loving God,
that the deepest truth of our hearts,
the gift of this life, present deep within,
is not desire, searching, or even achievement,
but the simple movement of relaxation,
sinking back into your enveloping arms.
It is in this trusting letting-go, this childlike surrender,
that desire is eased into its proper place,
not lessened or lost, but deepened and purified,
enkindled anew from your own purest gift.
Your will is not what we so often think,
in our brokenness, Father, that it ought to be.
It is purer, more loving, more gentle,
than we can even begin to imagine,
and we settle for less than you truly desire;
we resign ourselves to burdens and darkness
when you are purest light, pouring out freely
even into the darkest place, illumining all.
That two wills shall be perfectly aligned,
two hearts resonating in unity,
it is not so much a matter of grasping,
of searching feverishly for your hidden plan,
nor indeed of muscling with iron will
through a campaign of service and fidelity.
No, the key sign, indeed, that we are in your will
is simply peace and relaxation of heart,
the joy of childhood enfolding our life.
All else, whatever there may be,
finds its place within this
and never departs from here.
The tenseness of heart, burdened,
continually needing to defend and explain,
to preserve walls of rigidity protecting
this precious treasure that I hold so tight.
This is the state we have received from our parents,
from Adam and Eve who grasped in the garden.
But you, loving Father, seek to open our arms,
to allow us to raise hands upwards, empty,
to receive a gift better than we can imagine:
the gift of your very self, God of love,
and, in you, all things besides.
Then the story of our life,
which we so wanted to see unfolding before us,
is placed as a treasure deep in the soul,
indeed, springs up where it has always been present,
in the inmost heart of each moment,
in our own inner sanctuary before you, God.
In this place of joyful poverty, childlike abundance,
you are free to place many things as well,
and each of them, in the light of your love,
is simply a gift.
Thus every step of the journey,
even when it is marked by pain,
is one of a deeper peace and abiding joy:
the unspeakable truth of beauty and love,
burning like a fire within, and radiating out,
satisfying, in this very land of journeying,
our deepest and most ardent thirst,
and every thirst besides.