Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Present to the Moment: Open Hands

Lake Superior

When we are offered a gift, the natural response is to open our hands. We stand ready to receive. Open hands are the physical attitude that reflects an inner disposition of receptivity. Open hands express gratefulness.

As children, we all began life ready to receive. We are born with the capacity and proclivity simply to receive. Infants cannot feed themselves or change their own diapers. They cannot crawl or even turn themselves over in the crib. Except by crying, they cannot tell anyone their need. The one thing they can do is receive.

Young children approach each new day with open hands, open minds and open hearts. Like sponges ready to be soaked with all of life’s goodness, they climb out of bed open, receptive and free. Everything is an adventure—a treasure hunt.

As we age, however, we encounter disappointments. Some of the adventures turn sour. Christmas morning expectations are disenchanted. We don’t receive everything we hope for. In addition we experience loss—loss of possessions, loss of love, loss of people very close to us. As a result, fear begins to take root in our hearts. So we learn to be guarded. We learn to grasp and cling to what we already have, lest we should lose that as well. Our open hands close into tightened fists.

Therefore, instead of holding out open hands at the beginning of each new day, we clutch what we already hold. Material possessions, prized relationships and personal plans fill our minds and our hands as we move into the day. There is no room to receive anything else—any new surprise that God may have to give us. We approach life with hands that are full—even angry-fisted—and have no room to receive the gift offered for that day.

Open hands convey neediness. They communicate our emptiness. They make us too vulnerable. Herein lies the problem—most of us avoid any show of vulnerability and neediness at all costs.

The Kingdom Belongs to Such as These
Much of the spiritual life is learning to trust again. Indeed, our relationship with the Lord is based solely on faith—trust. Although we live in a fallen world, we have a good God. First we learn to believe that in our heads. Then we spend the remainder of our days learning to truly believe God’s love and goodness in our lives.

Jesus “called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2-4).

In this passage, Jesus is not simply talking about “getting saved,” he is instructing us on what is it to live in the kingdom—i.e., under the rule of God. The more we become like young children, the more we follow the lead of our heavenly Father. The more we humble ourselves, the more we can receive.

With Open Hands
One way that we become like little children is learning to reopen our hands.

This takes time. “When you dare to let go and surrender one of those many fears, states Henri Nouwen in his book, With Open Hands, “your hand relaxes and your palms spread out in a gesture of receiving. You must have patience, of course, before your hands are completely open and their muscles relaxed” (17).

By opening our hands, we open our hearts. We become free, available and receptive to all that the Lord has for us.

© 2012 Glenn E. Myers

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sacrament of the Present Moment: Growth through Embracing Circumstances

Tettegouchi State Park, Lake Superior

God works continually in our lives through the present moment. Indeed, in the Sacrament of the Present Moment, Jean Pierre de Caussade affirms that the Lord himself is present in the moment. First—as we saw in the last blog—God is present in the obligations and duties of everyday life. Second, the Lord is present in difficulties that we must suffer. God is veiled in the present moment and the very trials that it holds.

Difficulties and Trials
God uses trails in our lives. As much as we do not like it and try to avoid it, difficulties are part of the Almighty’s plans for our lives. “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you,” states 1 Peter 4: 12-13. Whether it is persecution for the Gospel or suffering “grief in all kinds of trials” (1:6), God is in control and we are called to rejoice, as the Epistle of 1 Peter encourages us over and over.

We embrace trials and suffering because God uses them—no matter what they are—to shape our lives. “Not only this,” writes Paul in Romans 5:3-5, “but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.”

Learning to Trust in God’s Hidden Work
When we are in the midst of trials, however, we do not like them. Most often we do not understand why they are happening to us or what they are doing for us. I, for one, certainly do not see much character being developed at the moment!

De Caussade compares us to sick patients who don’t like the medicine prescribed by the doctor. We are like bed-ridden patients “who, ignorant of the virtue of medicines, resent their bitter taste, often imagining they are poison. And all the crises and weakness seem to justify our fears. Nevertheless, in spite of this mortal threat, obeying the doctor’s orders, we swallow the medicines he prescribes and recover.” [1]

Some days we seem to experience one trial after another. Exhausted, we do not get a moment’s rest. Although we cannot see what God is building in our lives, he is indeed at work. De Caussade asserts: “It is in these afflictions, which succeed one another each moment, that God, veiled and obscured, reveals himself, mysteriously bestowing his grace in a manner quite unrecognized by the souls who feel only weakness in bearing their cross, distaste for performing their duty, and capable only of the most mediocre spiritual practices.” [2]

When I first read this last quote, it really struck me. I had a lot of obligations on me at the time, and I was struggling to keep a positive attitude. Helping to care for someone in need, I had very limited time alone with the Lord, and I didn’t feel his presence much at the time. Reading this quote helped me so much. I could really identify with it—feeling only weakness in bearing my cross, distaste for some of my duties, and lacking time and emotion energy. Then I realized I was still in a good place. No matter how difficult the situation might be, the Lord was present. He was using me to help tend to others, and he was working to transform my life.

Yes, God is present in the present moment, even—especially—the difficult ones. I simply need to embrace that reality. Then I can rest, as I entrust it all to him!

[1] Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment, trans. Kitty Muggeridge (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1989), p. 17.
[2] Ibid.

© 2012 Glenn E. Myers