The Way of Descent (2)
Removing our illusions, pretensions – an inner journey.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right/steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and sustain in me a willing/generous spirit.
Then will I teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you….
- Don’t know where they are going, so they go home.
- Process of discovery – discussions on the road, meeting the stranger, listening to him and to themselves, welcoming him into their home, being willing to recognise him.
- Jesus comes to them in what they already know. In the breaking of the bread in their own home. In the promise which that bread symbolises. The promise is for us. Always renewed. Brought to us by Jesus who has pledged himself to us and given his all for us, right to the end.
The purpose of the inner journey is to learn that the power is not in us, but in the process
Baptism symbolizes this journey as a whole – not just the moment of our entry into the Christian community and not just a moment of significant experience, however wonderful. And it reminds us that this journey has a shape: it is a way of descent before it becomes a way of ascent to glory. We have not finished with this “way of descent” when we have been baptized. On the contrary, we have scarcely begun – and because we have so far to go, it is doubly important that baptism is kept fresh for us within the Christian community as an image of abundance, because it is through reflecting on and exploring the abundance of God that we receive the life we need to stay on the road in faith, hope and love.
God is the Source of all life, of our Life, the life on which we depend. God is an abundance of life, a life which is not only vast in scale and scope, but also in quality, influence, creativity and reach. God is the Source of our best life, our most enduring achievements, our most generous actions. God is eternal life: life that is unlimited, never ending, everlasting, infinite.
Because the life of God is abundant, the life of God is always enough. This matters because, moment by moment we make a subconscious assessment of the resources available to meet the challenges we face. We ask: Do I have the energy, time or money for this?
Much of the time, we are scarcely aware of this constant assessment and reassessment of our resources. It happens below the level of our conscious thought, only emerging into the light when we say, “Yes, I’m up for that,” or “No, I can’t be dealing with that right now. I need to focus on something else...” This subconscious assessment is done by individuals and by groups. When a group is facing a demanding task, both kinds of assessment are going on at the same time, all the time. The two assessments affect each other. The answer to “Can I do this?” may be “yes, if someone else helps me”. The answer to “Can we do this?” may be “No, because so-and-so will drag us down”.
We can see this process at work when we meet to discuss specific resources: people, leaders, ideas, skills, time, connections, education, power, influence – and above all, money. Sometimes it seems as though the Church is always talking about money, but it is important to recognise that these discussions are not really about money-as-coinage, but about money as the symbol of all sorts of other things. The resources which give us life. The resources without which we cannot live. The resources we need to survive, let alone live life to the full as God intends.
The results of this subconscious assessment have a profound effect on the outcome of the discussion, and the greater the challenge, the more quickly such questions will be asked and the more keenly the answers given will be scrutinised. In a demanding situation, we want to know we have the resources available to deal with whatever we have got to face. We prefer to have them where we can see them, in our hands. But failing that, we need to know that we can get hold of them quickly and easily, when we need them, whenever we need them. We need to know we have enough.
Waiting through a process of process of profound inner change which then initiates new, effective action and sustains a distinct change of direction. Wait. Listen. Wait. Wait.
Many of us do not get very far because Initially, asks us to go where we do not want to go. To allow ourselves to be taken where we might not wish to go.
In ourselves: to move toward our shadow; understand, acknowledge, confess, forgive, embrace what we see there.
In others/the world. To see, hear, feel what we might not wish to experience. Look, pay attention, not turn away.
In both cases, trust that all will be held, healed, redeemed in love.
Process exposes us, leaves us stripped and naked. Makes of us an empty space. Means that the world floods in. Learn to bear exposure to both the darkness and the light.
“The essential act of prayer is to stand unprotected before God,” writes Sister Wendy Beckett, “What will God do? He will take possession of us. That he should do this is the whole purpose of life.”
(Sr Wendy on Prayer, Continuum, 2006, p. 8)
Unprotected. Naked, exposed. In Matthew 7.13-14, Christ likens this process to passing through a narrow gate onto a hard road. He acknowledges that few find it. And yet this is the way to life. Not just for ourselves. We do not travel for ourselves alone.
Perhaps, like Jonah, we have been shocked by an unexpected challenge which we feel makes unreasonable demands upon us. To avoid it, we take ship in the opposite direction, only to find that a storm blows up, our companions are frightened, and we are swept – or thrown – overboard. We had hoped for understanding, “plain sailing”, a respite, but instead we are plunged into the sea. We sink into the underwater world.
Shadow: This is an alien environment, where we do not feel at home. What lies behind us? What danger lurks in the shadow at our back? The challenge is to turn around, and head into our shadow, towards that which we fear.
Weed: An underwater shadow can be caused by many things. One of them is seaweed or kelp. The David Attenborough documentary series, “Blue Planet” showed how kelp can hang in the water, forming a floating, submerged forest. More recently, the film of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” showed Harry swimming through such a forest to rescue his friend, Ron, from the depths of the Black Lake. Our challenge, too, is to find a “way through”.
The Way Through the Woods: Even on land, it can be hard to finding a way through the pathless primeval forest. There are several fairy tales in which children are astray, lost, stranded or abandoned in the “wild wood.” Here they face hidden dangers, but in surviving, they win their freedom, and sometimes their fortune, too. How do we respond to what we find in the “wild wood”?
Chaos Ocean: We fear the depths because of what they might contain, and what it might do to us. We are afraid of being dissolved or destroyed. And yet it is in the depths that new life begins. Chaos contains all the elements of life: it is just that they are not yet arranged in way that will enable life to germinate and grow. This is why we travel into the depths: to learn which elements we need, how to order them, and how to work with them, so that something new, good, true, lovely and life-giving is created. The challenge is to allow adversity to make us more creative, so that we become agents of transformation, and able to guide others.
Path: The “way through” is not the end of the journey. We emerge from the depths to find that our path continues, on sea and land. The depths remain, but now we know that they are a resource rather than a terror. The challenge is to continue the work, to keep on walking ……..
 Jonah’s story is told in the book of Jonah in the Bible.