Faith, joy and letting go.
I have written loads here and elsewhere on the subject of overthinking and desperately wanting to feel joy as my overriding state in a deep feeling kind of way. I am of course aware of the irony about writing a wordy blog about how much I would like to stop thinking, rationalising and intellectualising my feelings. If I could get over how delicious the irony is, maybe I could make some progress.
I’d love for joy to be my overriding state. In fact I’d love it to be everyone’s overriding state. I believe this is part of what we’ve fallen away from, since the introduction of sin into the world. Joy is what’s called for in the Christian concept of God. That is what we all need to live by and remember. Joy is felt, not thought. On waking, when I actually remember to, I think ‘today, I am just going to feel joy in my body and also in my heart.’ But what I would like is to have joy be the default, not something I have to use my head to remember consciously. That’s why there is some struggle involved, some headwork, until I train myself to feel what is already within.
I am reminded of something that came up in my study group. The two of us in the group are very wordy and love to intellectualise. For Lent, we were reading Rowan Williams’ Meeting God in Mark, which is intended as a meditative study companion to Mark’s Gospel. A few weeks ago, we spent some time dissecting this part:
How does God work? Subtly, slowly, from the very depth of being. Or steadily, irresistibly, like the light reaching the corners of the room. He works outwards from the heart of being into the life of every day – not inwards from some distant heaven.
In just a few weeks, I can see that I have made some progress. When I came across this material, I tried to understand exactly the difference between God working from the heart and God descending from heaven to bestow us with His blessings to simply letting go – which is precisely what faith is. Letting go is the definition of trust as well, and that goes for earthly matters too. That doesn’t mean, stick your head in the sand and be content with your happy ignorance. But rather, listen carefully to that voice that has the ring of truth. Be aware of the gaps and the silences, because that could be where He speaks the loudest. Be ready to engage in the relationship with Him and to ask for His guidance.
Mark’s Gospel uses quite mysterious parables to highlight the irony of human beings not knowing the fact of their ignorance when they are confronted with the truth. If God were to reveal himself, in a way that our fantasies demand, our problem would not be that we don’t know but that we cannot love – it would be nothing to do with our knowledge and everything to do with our nature.
Our natures, if we resort to using them and nothing else to guide us, will take us to very dark, very desolate places. We possess distorted ideas about love, power and glory. To us, love is earned and it is conditional. We do not love someone unless we are sure they love us. If they hurt us enough, we will force ourselves to stop loving them. Our fantasy of power meanwhile, that people often joke about, is that we could have everything ‘our way’ if only we were the King of the Universe. People would have to bow down to us, and wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could order everybody around. If we had ultimate power, we could do mighty things like demand everyone to give us whatever we want, and we’d have the most money and comforts.
Is this what power is? Is this the glory that we seek? Human power basically boils down to subjugating the weak and exalting the self to an undeserved position of authority. Jesus’ death completely in one fell swoop, destroys the fantasy that God’s power is much like ours, just to a greater (infinite) degree. Our common idea of ‘power’ is so tainted by our fallen natures, it has no resemblance whatsoever to the true power of the Lord. The corresponding fantasy concerning power is that ‘whatever power we attain as mortal beings much be valued and clung to because it is power endorsed by God. In these lethal errors lie the roots of all our sin and self-inflicted misery, the roots of death’, Williams writes. The myth of power, like so many of our errors, holds us prisoner. We are delivered from these frightening fallacies by the death of Christ. It is all there, it happened millennia ago, all we have to do is let go.
How can it be that this man, who called himself the Son of God, is forsaken by all towards the end of his life? How is he so pitifully alone? How can it be that he manifests his ultimate power in acts of service, self-gift and never controlling others? How is the Messiah a slave who washes the feet of those who follow him? It is this utterly incredible and awe-inspiring when you sit back and feel and know and rediscover these things. It will take a lifetime to imagine the possibilities of trust and faith in the helpless, powerless God on the cross.
I am fortunate and have everything to be joyful about.