“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?”
— 1 Corinthians 6:19
“I pretended to leap to see if I could live there. Someday I must actually arrive there, or nothing will be left to arrive.”
— Jelaluddin Rumi (13th Century Persian mystic poet)
There are many ways you can “fake it ‘til you make it,” but spiritual surrender is not one of them. We can only dispose ourselves to such grace, and that much will be enough. For we are all prodigals who the Father rushes out to meet when we’re bankrupt of strategies for happiness and have given up the controlling will of our own. (Willpower becomes much more powerful when it’s not self-serving, but fully aligned with the source of its strength.)
As Alan Watts, the Anglican minister turned Buddhist mystic often used to say, the ego can’t pull itself up by its own bootstraps. Such efforts of the ego to transcend itself usually result in its pride of place being spiritualized. We’ve all seen what happens to those who identify with God on their side. We’re seeing more and more violence at the extremes of religious righteousness, when the perceived monopoly on God leads to toxic intolerance or even denying “non-believers” the right to exist. Yet it begins more insidiously and less obviously, when those claiming possession of truth as they know it become so full of themselves and their doctrine that there’s no room left for the gifts of the other.
The capacity to receive what the Spirit is offering vacates the holy temple for those not willing to leave the shoes of sanctimony at the door. Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who is “sharing” a newfound surge of healthy living or a personal lifestyle breakthrough, only to find out it’s a preamble for a multi-level marketing sales pitch? It’s the same effect with those who claim ownership of that which they call God — a closed lid on a theological box.
Self-seeking is the opposite of knowing you are not your own, because when it’s real surrender, you let go of all agendas amounting to manipulation of others in service of what can be gained from them, even by mutual agreement. You experience being lived, being breathed into being, and being loved in every act of loving. Otherwise “nothing will be left to arrive” besides the constructions of a pre-fabricated personality. That can include the idea of a surrendered self, not the way God may want to speak to others through your life.
There is a poignant short story by O. Henry which dramatizes the kind of dispossession which allows love to have its way. It’s called The Gift of the Magi and delves into the divine economy of sacrifice. A humble urban couple, Della and Jim, are struggling to make ends meet and yet long to honour each other with meaningful gifts at Christmas. “Now there were two possessions . . . in which they both took a mighty pride.” Jim’s gold watch handed down by his father and grandfather, and Della’s magnificent cascade of beautiful brown hair. For love of Jim, Della cut and sold her hair to buy him an elegant fob chain intended to replace his old leather watch strap. Meanwhile, Jim sold his watch to buy a beautiful set of tortoise shell hair combs for Della.
One could read much pathos into the misconstrued sacrifices of a classic co-dependent couple. Yet O. Henry concludes, “Of all who give and receive gifts these two were the wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.”
Speyer is a Benedictine Oblate as well as clinical supervisor of e-counselling for a major employee & family assistance program, and creative director, InnerView Guidance International (IGI). He also directs a documentary series titled GuideLives for the Journey: Ordinary Persons, Extraordinary Pathfinders. http://www.guidelives.ca/ Connect with Cedric on https://www.facebook.com/cms94 or via firstname.lastname@example.org