Sometimes I wonder if Teilhard de Chardin* could possibly be right when he said that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience but rather spiritual beings having a human experience.
The spiritual union with God that the Saints and Mystics speak of seems so far away, as through a dense underbrush of the clutter of my own will.
My hardness of heart and stubbornness of mind keep me tethered to this sinking boat of my humanity. I long for the insight to see God as God is, everywhere. I pray for the heart to love as Jesus loved, without reservation or judgement. I hope for the day when I can put myself aside and see others as they truly are in themselves and not how I see them through my lens of expectation.
Soften my ears Lord, to hear Your voice.
Soften my heart Lord, to receive Your Word.
Soften my mind Lord, to accept Your insight.
Soften my eyes Lord, to recognize You in others.
Soften my will Lord, that I may love You in the only way You can be loved — in others.
We are a work in progress.
Our impatience follows us; it is our shadow. As we want things ‘now’ in our temporal life, we want them just as much ‘now’ in our spirituality. We justify our spiritual impatience with the truth that we are ‘doing it for good’ — for the good of others and for a more intimate relationship with God. This is true. But we want to enter into what we are not ready to enter. We don’t teach mathematical Calculus in elementary school yet we want intimacy with God after a few prayers. God’s patience is not so much in God’s willingness to persevere through our foibles, but in God’s willingness to wait for us to wait for God.
Out impatience too often leads to discouragement. Too often we give up on our lack of apparent progress not realizing that we are also giving up on God. We are the last to see our own progress. We are the last to appreciate how far we’ve come because we look too far ahead and see how far we have yet to go.
Ruth Burrows teaches that prayer of the heart is much easier than we make it out to be. She makes a point (paraphrased) in her book, The Essence of Prayer*, that if we believe that God is love, if we believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit is within us, then as Paul says, the Spirit prays in us. Our efforts to have the right words, the correct posture, the proper place, the adequate reverence, are good to a point, but are largely mistaken as the point. God WANTS to pray in us, through us, for us. We should ask for what we need (supplication); we should give thanks for all we have (gratitude); we should worship our Triune God (adoration). But these are not the end all and be all of prayer. They are precursors to the unity that God wants for us with each other and with God. Prayer of the heart is simply turning to God and ALLOWING God to do God’s work in us.
We think we know what we need. We certainly know what we want. Only God knows what’s best for us. Prayer in its most basic and simplest form is turning toward God-already-in-our-heart, and allowing God the time to heal us, teach us, lead us, even correct us as we truly need, not necessarily as we want. God will not work without us whether it is in correcting the troubles of the world or bringing us to our own fullness. St. Augustine said, “God without us, will not, we without God, cannot”. ***
Our distractions will keep God, although still in our heart, on the sidelines of our heart. God doesn’t want us to ‘do’ anything in particular, God wants us to co-operate with God’s work so that WE — God and each of us, do the work necessary to heal and strengthen our capacity to love.
As God continues God’s work in us, opportunities to move forward in our healing as the healing continues, will present themselves as they have always presented themselves, but we will see them in a different light and respond to them with a different will. And more often than not, we will be told of them because we did not …see Him hungry and gave Him food, thirsty and gave Him drink, a stranger and made Him welcome… (Matt 25:35-40)
We are a work in progress. We are a work of co-operation. The work continues throughout our earthly lives until the day, as Paul says, (1 Cor 13:12) “…I shall know just as fully as I am myself known.”
Trust in the Slow Work of God ****
by Teilhard de Chardin
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient
in everything to reach the end
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient
of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
Yet it is the law of all progress,
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability,
and that may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually.
Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves
without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on
as though you could be today what time
— that is to say, grace —
acting on your own goodwill
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety
of feeling yourself in suspense
trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser.
* Pierre Teilhard de Chardin SJ (1888-1955) was a French idealist philosopher and Jesuit priest who trained as a paleontologist and geologist.
** Burrows, Ruth, OCD “The Essence of Prayer” (Mahwah, NJ: Hidden Spring, Paulist Press, 2006) pp. 141 & 176.
(Ruth Burrows is a Carmelite nun and author, based Quidenham, Norfolk UK.)
*** The City of God. Translation by William Babcock, notes by Boniface Ramsey. (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2012).
**** Accessed April 1, 2020 from: http://www.visitationmonasteryminneapolis.org/2010/10/trust-in-the-slow-work-of-god/