Twelve Step programs use a terrific phrase that I have adapted for my own spiritual journey. It is found in Step Three: “I make the decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of the God of my understanding.” If Meister Eckhart is correct (and I think he is), that the “only spiritual discipline is surrender,” then this deliberate act of “letting go” holds the key to our personal wellbeing.
But for years I have heard people criticize this step, and not because of the abdication it requires, but because it is such a “subjective view of God.” I hear things like, “There is God and then there is the God you understand, but these aren’t the same thing, you know.” Or, “God didn’t ask for your permission to exist.” And further still, “You can’t make God to be what you want him (or her) to be!”
This strikes me as disingenuous, for none of us can know a God other than the God we understand! To borrow Voltaire’s phrase (or Twain, or whoever said it first), “God created humanity in his own image, and we quickly returned the favor.”
Yet, this does not diminish faith. It is a sign of sacred curiosity. It shows that we are seeking and searching. And while a complete understanding of God is an impossibility, we endeavor to entrust our lives to “a Power greater than ourselves,” to borrow again that Twelve Step language. The biblical word for this is simply, believe, and one of the most used biblical images for belief is “waking up.”
What happens when you make up in the morning? If you are like my teenage son, it is a jarring experience shaded with all colors of resistance and near combat. For my wife it is a gradual, slow process, like she is trying to escape a cocoon. For me, it is almost always immediate, and I’m on my feet ready for the day.
Furiously, gradually, or eagerly, faith finds us, the morning sun shining where it will. And when that light dawns, we enter unexplored territory. The consciousness – the heart, soul, and mind – crosses a threshold, making us aware of what we had not previously known. Put simply, we come to believe.
But that is not the end. It is the beginning, just like a sunrise. As the light ebbs and flows over the course of our days, our views change. Rising and falling, there are periods of bright clarity, long seasons of doubting shadows; times when believing is natural and easy, and other times when the entire idea of faith is called into question.
Our understanding of God changes, sometimes dramatically, but that’s as it should be. For a faith that does not develop, adjust, and adapt to the changing light of day, is as dead as the dark. As the Apostle Paul shouted, “Wake up sleeper, and let the light shine!” And when it shines, we must follow the light where it leads.
Photo by Leon Biss