October 13, 2010

Praying for the Willingness

I'm still reading St. Bernard, and I was thinking about these lines in sermon 74 on the Song of Songs: "I have known many who were sadder for knowing the truth, for they did not have the excuse of ignorance when they knew what the Truth wanted them to do and did not do it." (trans. G.R. Evans in this edition)

More and more I become convinced that the primary virtue of the spiritual life is the willingness to consent to God. I suppose some would call this surrender or abandonment, but perhaps because my own prayer life grew up in the Centering Prayer tradition, I prefer the language of consent. Prayer is the consent to the presence of God, and the spiritual life is the daily willing to consent to where God leads.

As St. Bernard points out, the spiritual life thus becomes hazardous. Having spent a first fervor at any stage, finding the willingness to follow God can be an intense and searing struggle. This is especially true when we find--as we always will--that God calls us into dark places and commands us to be free of the forms of interior bondage with which we didn't even know we were suffering. This can be really hard stuff. After all, it is the violent who take hold of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 11:12), because God is a violent lover in the sense that he is relentless and forceful in his desire for our flourishing in this world and our salvation in the next. "God did not invite the children of Israel to leave the slavery of Egypt. He commanded them to do so." (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, 110)

But the spiritual life is dangerous because it becomes a sadness and frustration at the moments or during the spells when we have trouble finding the willingness to consent or surrender.

A very wise director once advised me to 'pray for the willingness.' It has become one of the most formative bits of spiritual doctrine I have ever received. I don't pray for particular graces. I pray for the willingness to consent to the grace that's already there.


Sara said...

Br. Charles,

These St. Bernard posts have helped me very much during a difficult week. Thank you.

Greg said...

I returned to St. Francis and the Admonitions today - specifically his first Admonition. (See The Admonitions of St. Francis: Sources and Meanings by Robert Karris, OFM.)

I awoke this morning with a profound new understanding of the role of the Eucharist in every moment of life.

This motivated me to reread the Admonition in which Francis visits this idea.

Reading your post, I thought, "Fr. Charles would probably find this appropriate at this moment."

Billy Isenor O.F.M. said...

Excellent post you have here. I enjoyed reading your blog.

4narnia said...

thanks for sharing such an inspirational post, Fr. C! "the willingness to consent to God." as you put it in your post, is very necessary in our spiritual lives. for some reason, Philippians, chapter 4 has been speaking to me frequently lately - that chapter from Philippians is almost (or maybe it is) like instructions for us on how to live as a Christian. i feel that if we just let go of the things and troubles of the world, we can make room for the Lord and when we have the room inside for the Lord, He will fill us with His Holy Spirit - but we need to remain open and willing to consent - where ever God leads us. i encourage everyone who reads your blog, Fr. C, to read and meditate on chapter 4 of Philippians. PAX! ~tara t~