Beloved St. John’s community,
In today’s daily office reading from 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul talks about having had both incredible visions and experiences of God, and also great struggles, what he calls a “thorn in the flesh”—some kind of chronic issue that tormented him, from which he begged God for relief. He describes God’s response, and his reaction, like this:
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power* is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
There is at the heart of Christian faith this kind of paradox—a paradox about the powerless power of love; the strength of God being made known precisely when human power arrives at its limits; and the great gift it can be to reach the end of your rope. Why do you think this is? Perhaps this is because at the end of our rope, we finally can become open to the presence and action of God, because we are not willing all the time.
The Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopal priest, mystic and Wisdom teacher, talks about the essential spiritual practice she calls “surrender”, by which she means letting go—handing oneself over to the care of God. She says, “rather than an act of weakness, it is always an act of strength.”1 She goes on to explain:
In any situation in life, confronted by an outer threat or opportunity, you can notice yourself responding inwardly in one of two ways. Either you will brace, harden, and resist, or you will soften, open, and yield. If you go with the former gesture, you will be catapulted immediately into your smaller self, with its animal instincts and survival responses. If you stay with the latter regardless of the outer conditions, you will remain in alignment with your innermost being, and through it, divine being can reach you. Spiritual practice at its no-frills simplest is a moment-by-moment learning not to do anything in a state of internal brace. Bracing is never worth the cost.2
She goes on to explain that this doesn’t mean saying yes to everything or having no boundaries, but rather understanding that “action flows better when it flows from nonviolence, that is, from that place of relaxed, inner opening.”
There are many things in my own life that can catapult me pretty instantly to a state of inner bracing. What I am finding, over and over again, is that when I am aware of the presence of God with me, and that GOD’s being is not “braced” but unconditionally loving and open to me regardless of my own state, I am empowered to “soften, open, and yield.” In other words, this state flows from the character and being of God, and is contagious.
What makes you “brace”? What does this bracing or softening have to do with the outer life of a disciple of Jesus’ Way of Love in our baptismal work toward justice and peace for all people?
In the end, I believe that loving justice simply can’t be achieved by a violent frame of mind, or by systems that are operating out of violent assumptions. Violence means far more than wishing or acting harm upon someone. It is the attitude of bracing, which fundamentally sees the other as an opponent, a threat, a competitor or enemy, and not a fallible and beautiful fellow child of God.
If you think about the situations and people that most make you brace, what if you were to spend some time with the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians and pray, seeking to fully admit your weakness and invite God’s presence and transformation? To move from bracing, hardening, and resisting to softening, opening, and yielding (to the presence and action of God in each and every moment and situation)?
My prayer for all of us is the beautiful, slow transformation of the Spirit of God in us, the surrender of our entire being and community to the love of God. May it be so.
In Christ’s love,
1Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart.