“What the soul has to do in the time of quiet is only to be gentle and make no noise … Let the will quietly and prudently understand that one does not deal successfully with God by any efforts of one’s own.” —Teresa of Avila
I ran across this bit of wisdom in today’s reading in the wonderful Celtic Book of Daily Prayer. It reminded me of an important distinction I’ve earned. No one in my parish, the Episcopal Diocese of West Texas, and perhaps even the Anglican Communion, needs this advice more than me.
Woody Allen once observed, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.” If that’s true, the Almighty thinks I am a riot. I am afraid to count the number of occasions of grace I have missed because I was busy reminding God of the “To Do” list I had for him. Whether in prayer or worship or just living out my workaday tasks, the notion of letting God “drive” just doesn’t seem natural. While I recognize the genuine spiritual wisdom of Teresa’s advice, this comes harder to me than exercising, visiting the dentist or eating my vegetables.
As Arthur Burt once observed, “My greatest struggle is the struggle not to struggle.” Here, we encounter the really dangerous spiritual quicksand. The greater our effort, the deeper we sink. The deeper we sink, the harder we strive. Nothing much good happens from that point on.
I recognize at least some of my foolishness. While God’s grace may be free for everyone else, I’m convinced that I’m going to get mine the old-fashioned way: I’ll earn it. It never works. Never has so far, anyway. The trick here lies in the recognition that God’s wisdom reaches into the dark places we can’t even see, that God’s efforts will far outrun our own, and that God will work in our hearts a joy that we can’t yet imagine. The trick, in other words, is learning to trust God.
Sometimes, being faithful seems like it requires so much work. Teresa reminds us that it does not. God does not require our effort. Approaching the Lord sacramentally, training ourselves to quietly and gently live in his presence, we may yet learn to be still and know that he is God.
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2011 James R. Dennis