He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Monday, April 3, 2017

Love it to Death: Nothing Shall I Want

This past weekend, I was on a retreat at a Franciscan ashram.  From the fact that it's called an ashram, you might suspect that it's the home of friars from India, and that's true.  Like all Franciscans, they know how to have a good time enjoying nature and eating good food.

One of the exercises we performed on the retreat was putting a label on a candle so that it might continue the act of prayer for our intention.  We were told to write an intention that reflected something we wanted to gain from the retreat.

I was, because of my own mistake, without a pen with which to write out an intention.  And it occurred to me that this was very appropriate, that I was not able to write on it, that I was left to ask for nothing that I wanted.

After all, what I have been struggling with so much with is that I am goal-oriented.  I'm always wanting to achieve something.  This is, for the most part, a very good thing in my life.

It's good for my fitness level, my nutrition, my general work performance, the consistency of my prayer life, and many other things.  But like all good things, it can become an obstacle in our spiritual life if we rely too heavily on it.  This happens because at a certain point it takes an unhealthy precedence with regard to our relationship with God.

This may be because we genuinely place our own goals ahead of the ultimate goal of full communion with Love Himself, or because we rely too heavily on our own techniques for achieving goals and leave little room for the role of God's grace, which is ever being showered upon us.

As we hear it in the liturgy, the Psalmist says that when "The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want."  This is indeed a very difficult thing to live, and yet it is so necessary to the Christian spiritual life.

Christ further explains this in the Gospel of Matthew:

Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;  and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

He exhorts us not to worry about anything, and to want for nothing, simply accepting what is given by God.  And the reason for this is that God will care for us in ways that we do not understand from our limited human perspective.

When we want nothing, it is then that we begin to realize that we already have everything that is important.  When we want nothing, we leave our hands and hearts open to receive everything that God generously gives to us.

It is in wanting nothing that we love to death our egotistical desires which keep us clinging to our possessions and fearing their loss.  It is in wanting nothing that we abandon the fear of death and enter into the divine life of love.

It is when we want nothing, instead practicing gratitude in all circumstances, that our souls are disposed to hear and know the voice of the Good Shepherd, speaking gently to us of the gifts of love which await us in the heavenly household, so full of all that is good, true, and beautiful.

Thus it is that in the end, when the Lord is my shepherd, nothing shall I want.

Note:  The above is an icon I purchased from orthodoxmonasteryicons.com as a gift.

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