I came across a prayer today that led me to think about spirituality, what it means to be human, and the nature of the Divine. The words were written by John Wesley:
“I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty…I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.”
Wesley’s prayer is much like one Charles de Foucauld, a Trappist priest who died as a martyr in Algeria:
I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.”
What strikes me about these prayers, one that may be considered Protestant and the other Roman Catholic, is the way that they reflect a key concept in Western Christianity: that God is beyond us and we creatures must surrender ourselves to God. It’s a concept that’s best articulated today by the Evangelical Christian understanding of “turning your life over to Jesus” and “accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior.”
While I don’t mean to be disrespectful about anyone’s beliefs, I also need to be honest about something: I find the view that a lofty deity exists outside of us and that we need to surrender to this powerful deity is a flawed understanding of the Divine As a Christian, I don’t find that perspective supported by the Bible. It’s also a belief that’s inconsistent with Eastern Orthodox Christianity and other great religious traditions of the world.
One of the Biblical stories of creation is that the Creator breathed into clay in order to form the first human being. It was the Divine breath that became our breath. In other words, God’s life is our life. There’s a fundamental union between the two. Also speaking of humanity, the Bible explains that we were created in the image and likeness of the Divine. Something about who we are most deeply reflects the essence of the Creator.
Affirming this deep connection between our lives and Divine Life, George Fox explained, “there is that of God in everyone.” Similarly, Augustine understood that “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.”
The problem in understanding God as outside of us and humans as inferior to God is rooted in the Western history of philosophy. One of the characteristics of Western philosophy is to separate things into categories and rate them. By thinking in this way, we fail to see things within their proper context and in relationship to one another.
Eastern philosophies have an understanding of human beings as embodied spirits. That’s very similar to the Biblical understanding that human beings were made when the breath (or spirit) from the Creator animated clay. In other words, deep within us all is something essentially good, holy, and part of the Creating Spirit.
From this perspective, becoming the people we were created to be doesn’t require giving up our identity, personality, or any of the other things that make us who we are. Instead, becoming the people we were created to be is a process of removing the clutter that prevents us from reflecting that inner light brightly or from displaying that Divine image clearly.
When spiritual growth depends on turning everything over to God, then God has the responsibility to do everything to make us good people. But when we come to understand that God has already made us good people, that we were born that way, then we have the responsibility to become who we were made to me.
Yes, it’s much easier to say, “I gave my life to God and God isn’t through with me yet.” It really leaves me off the hook for all the things I do that just aren’t right and puts the responsibility for my failure onto God. When I affirm that God made me to live in union and communion with others and with Divinity, then I have to face the reality that I’m the one responsible for the times I just don’t get it right. Yes, it’s lots of responsibility. But, to use the words of Mother Theresa, our life journey is the process to “become something beautiful for God.” The good news is that the beauty is in us. We just have to nurture it’s growth.
© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.