Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Secrets to Stability: Interiority and Communion

In Paul's letter to the Philippians, chapter 4 verses 12 and 13 (part of today's first reading from Mass), he relates how, through the strength of Christ, he has learned the "secret" of "being hungry and well fed", of "living in abundance and living in need." How did Paul come to learn or acquire this secret?

This weekend I am attending a conference in Cleveland for Catholic vocation directors. It's an opportunity to form supportive peer relationships, to "talk shop", and to be renewed and refreshed in spirit. One of the topics that arose in the context of a keynote speech, and that generated much subsequent discussion, was the notion of how important interiority is for being able to discern God's call for one's life. Very briefly, interiority refers to the habit or discipline of being "collected" or "gathered" on a routine basis to reflect and meditate upon one's life (and for the Christian, one's life-in-Christ). Interiority is the art of "space-making" and "offering hospitality" to our self, to God, and to others. In the words of St. Francis, it's about "making a home within ourselves for God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," (which also means making a home for others since love of God = love of neighbor).

The art of interiority also implies "mapping out" the contours of one's heart, spirit, and soul. This suggests an exciting journey in which we encounter not a "black and white", "desolate" space, but a "geography" with peaks and valleys, hinterlands and gently rolling grasslands, sheer cliffs that overlook either calm or tumultuous seas, deserts, tropical oasis, etc. Each one of these "places" within are obviously metaphors that represent various experiences and our life's history. I can remember when I first experienced part of the "geography" of my own heart, spirit, and soul. I was walking through snowy woods along a ridge and began going downhill toward a dark, shadowy area filled with pine trees. I distinctly remember being a bit fearful. My fear was stirred up because of moving into the "shadowlands" where I knew I wouldn't be able to see very well. Nevertheless, I plowed on. At the bottom of the hill was a stream that was partially frozen and partially flowing. This "shadowland" area and the partially frozen and flowing stream struck me powerfully as metaphors of experiences that I have had in the past (especially the experience of loss) and how loss, at times, adversely affects my capacity to love (symbolized by the partially frozen and flowing stream). In coming to know of this "terrain" within me, I am much more aware of who I am and what I need to do to "thaw out" those "icy parts" of the stream so that love can flow more readily in and out of my life (I'm happy to say a lot of thawing has happened since I had this experience :)

Another secret to stability is inviting the Lord and his Spirit into the spaces and places that we encounter within so that we can not only see them for ourselves but see them through the eyes of another. What we are essentially talking about here is communion. To go back to the above example, the way in which I invited the Lord's Spirit into the "shadowlands" of my spirit and soul was both through prayer and a close friendship with a spiritual director. Through prayer I imagined God or Christ beside me, both accompanying me and speaking to me of what he was experiencing as we journeyed to the "shadowlands" and as we walked beside the stream. Another way that I allowed the Lord into this region of my spirit and soul was by sharing and reflecting on the experience with a trusted friend who also is my spiritual director. She knows very well the "lay of the land" of my interior life and helped me to appreciate the implications of this experience for my life.

In the book of Genesis we are told that humans are fashioned from the earth. For me, this means that we are a reflection, symbol, or "microcosm" of the complexity and beauty of the earth itself. Our interior life, far from being a desolate, empty, and a vacuous space (unless, of course, we never "visit" it) is meant to have great depth and contour. The only way that this can be the case, however, is if we take the precious time to "map out" the geography of our heart, spirit, and soul. When we are willing to do this at least minimally, we will learn what St. Paul knew so well: that the secret to stability is interiority and communion. Pat, TOR


Laurel said...

Fr. P,

Oh, that I would make more time for the stillness and quiet that is required to obtain that communion! Sometimes, I feel like I've got God in the passenger seat of my car...coming along for a ride through my busy life.

In the quiet of this morning, before the children have arisen and the chores are to be done, it's good to be reminded to map out the geography of my heart, spirit and soul. To be stripped to the marrow before God is a truly arresting experience.