You don’t have to be Jesus in your own life—you are off the hook.
I found this statement in my notebook from months ago, I have no idea the source. To know that I am a participant in my life, not a solo act —that is freeing and healing. However, as always, I’m considering the complexities of that relationship and can it be so simple?
In a prayer that I have been listening to daily, Father Carl Arico begins,
By closing your eyes [in prayer], consent to God’s presence and action in our lives…
Consenting to God’s presence and action is different than asking God to be present or act in our lives. First of all, consent assumes that something that is already in the works will happen; it moves the action to a probability not just a possibility. To consent to God’s presence and action requires action on my part as well.
Frederick Buechner records his encounter with Agnes Stafford, an Episcopal laywomen and classic spiritual writer, and her seminar on prayer in his memoir, Now and Then. I first read about Agnes and her “experiments in prayer” in Richard Foster and Emilie Griffin’s book, Spiritual Classics, where like Buechner, they point out her practical approach to meeting God in prayer.
The connection for me between “consenting to God’s presence and action in our lives” in prayer and Stafford’s teaching is evidenced in Buechner’s explanation of how, in the words of the opening sentiment, we try to be Jesus for ourselves and don’t let ourselves off the hook, even when we think we are asking for God to work. Buechner shares,
The most vivid image she presented was of Jesus standing in church services all over Christendom with his hands tied behind his back and unable to do any mighty works there because the ministers who led the service either didn’t expect him to do them or didn’t date ask him to do them for fear that he wouldn’t or couldn’t and that their own faith and the faith of their congregations would be threatened as the result. I recognized immediately my kinship with those ministers…. I prayed a good deal…speaking words out of my deepest needs, fears, longings, but never expecting much back by way of an answer, never believing very strongly that anyone was listening to me or even, at times, that there was anyone to listen at all.
Now and Then, p. 62
And I, too, recognize my own fear of expecting too much and even too little at times and maybe not for the same reasons as Buechner in his summation. I want to expect God’s presence and action in my life. But since I’m not sure how it all works—this business of my own actions and God’s actions in the world where I live—I skirt by with hopes.
Hoping that everything will turn out and at the same time living in a world where everything doesn’t seem to turn out splendidly for everyone, at least not on the surface, that I can see. I even feel selfishly guilty about what I can see; that I am blessed.
And that phrase, “that I can see”, might be one key. There is more to God’s presence and action that isn’t equal to the circumstances of the moment or what I perceive to be my truth at this time. That’s another paradox hard to life out.
My five consecutive days, so far, of centering prayer aren’t measured by what I can see or know or even notice. What matters is that I consent to God’s presence and action in my life in those moments. Consenting doesn’t seem to be dependent upon, or independent of, my own doing. It almost sounds too easy.