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For the Week of April 7 - 13: Diminishment 

Consent to God present in joy and surrender 

The God who made the world and all that is in it, 
the Lord of heaven and earth, 
does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, 
nor is God served by human hands because God needs anything. 
Rather it is God who gives to everyone life and breath and everything. 
God made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, 
and fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions, 
so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for God and find God, 
though indeed God is not far from any one of us. 

- Acts of The Apostles 17:24-27
 

These weeks of the season of Lent we have traversed matters of ancestry, lineage, memories, images,  imagination and trauma. What better time to delve deeply into the hazards and sufferings of the human condition!  Yet, we do so in the Christic context of the Incarnation, Passion, Death and Resurrection which frame all our human experiences within a larger reference point: begotten in purpose, evolving and unfolding in divine-human possibility, accompanied always by the Presence of grace.  Ideally, we would never lose sight of this context in all the movements of our fragile, yet noble human lives. You are invited to return to the first message of the year, January 13, 2022, for context of the cosmic whole and our place in it. 

Now, we turn to speak of another Yes we are asked to make in life: It is particularly directed to those of us who suspect or fear or have been told for certain that we have a diagnosis that we will most probably not live through. It is meant too for those of us who awoke one morning feeling much older, or perhaps we just got unwanted news about someone we love that somehow changed everything. Or, perhaps we are one who has come to the end of a run of good fortune. Or, perhaps we simply have begun to have a number of symptoms that ever-so-slowly are having their toll. Or, perhaps we are struggling to live through the past two years of pandemic, loss, national violence, and now war and the witnessing of the suffering and instability of our world. Or, perhaps we have come to the unspectacular truth that we too will fail to live forever and now this realization is finally real and personal. Well … that about covers all of us.

We may affirm: My soul trusts in the Lord; my mind sometimes doubts; my heart sometimes fears. And every fiber of my being sometimes says No. Throughout life the high notes have been celebrated:

  • births
  • the firsts – steps, words, teeth, grades, Holy Communion, graduations, job, marriage
  • the fire of love, the blaze of conversion

And then comes what is generally perceived as the low notes not to be celebrated, perhaps even sources of shame:

  • the breakups and the breakdowns
  • the illnesses, accidents, dis-eases, sufferings, the losses, mistakes
  • the specter of doubt and fear
Finally, that most denied and shunned: decline, aging and death.
 
In these latter times, what often goes through us and our loved ones are all-too-human thoughts: "Why me? Why now? Why this? How could this happen to me? Why is it happening to me? What do I do next? Will my friends still love me?  Will they avoid me? Who is going to take care of me? Nothing in life has prepared me. No one understands my situation. … How do I live while I am diminishing, dying?" Our I/"what about me"? responses reflect the many "I's" of acquired personality.
 
Our culture invests billions of dollars to delay, suspend, and ultimately, to try and deny the inevitable. In a death-denying culture of youth, self-sufficiency and competence, how does one enter with intentionality and will to God – and bring the Work – into all phases of life, including the process of diminishment? To find the Yes to loss, aging, dying and death – as part of life – with their own purposes and graces? And to continue to be life-giving, self-giving to the world?
 
The "passivities" of our lives can form half of human existence – this means quite simply, that which is not done by desire and effort, but that which is undergone. In fact, these two parts of our lives – the active and the passive – are in many respects extraordinarily unequal. Seen from one point of view, the active occupies first place – the place of prominence -- because we prefer it and because it offers more opportunities to satisfy our acquired programs for happiness. As was discussed in the previous email: the "coating" of our body-mind-personality has been formed through our efforts, activities and responses to the gradual unfolding of events, circumstances and people in our lives throughout childhood, adolescence, adulthood. In other words, we are embarking on the first education and become what the Work calls a Good Householder in the midst of all. 
 
The Unfolding of the Third Consent
 
One of the core and most profound teachings of Thomas Keating is called the "Four Consents":  those consents we are called to make throughout the spiritual journey – seeing the goodness of life, fully participating in life, experiencing the diminutions and vicissitudes of life, and finally, consenting to the transformative process of life as means to becoming, evolving as Christ in this world, in this lifetime, in our own particularity. Fr. Thomas states: "In growing up we … did not know that God was actually present within us; we had to look elsewhere for the security, affirmation and freedom that only the divine Presence can provide. The spiritual journey – which is the whole of life – is a training in consent to God's presence and to all reality. … This gradual training in consent is the school of divine love in which God invites us to accept the divine plan to share the divine life with us in a way that transcends all that the human imagination can foresee. We do not make these consents as ends in themselves, but rather to the … God present in these things. We consent to God … both in the enjoyment and in the surrender …" (Invitation to Love, pp. 44, 47). 
 
Remember: consent is an active, affirmative verb. It can be evoked and manifested in activities as well as so-called passivities. It is integral to the growth of essence. How? one might ask. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin offers an overarching encapsulation of the unfoldings of the spiritual journey from the Christian perspective: "The Christian … is more subject than others to this psychological reversal whereby, in the case of all intelligent creatures, joy in action imperceptibly melts into desire for submission, and the exaltation of becoming one's own self into the zeal to die into another. Having been perhaps primarily alive to the attractions of union with God through action, [one] begins to conceive and then to desire a complementary aspect, an ulterior phase, in his communion: one in which he would not develop … so much as lose [one]self in God. [One] does not have to look far to discover possibilities and opportunities for fulfilment in this gift of self. They are offered at every moment – indeed they besiege us on all sides in the length and depth of the countless servitudes which make us servants far more than masters of the universe" (The Divine Milieu, pp. 39-40). Awakening, we begin the second education. Awakening, we then ever-so-gradually turn from interest in the acquired self of personality and die and are reborn – through many small deaths and births – as the new creation.
 
Teilhard goes on to explain the radical trust that is called forth in this turning (metanoia): "To cleave to God hidden beneath the inward and outward forces which animate our being and sustain it in its development, is ultimately to open ourselves to, and put trust in, all the breaths of life. We answer to, and 'communicate' with, the passivities of growth by our fidelity in action. Hence, by our very desire to experience God passively we find ourselves brought back to the lovable duty of growth. …
 
"Perhaps it is easy enough to understand that God can be grasped in and through every life. But can God also be found in and through every death [every diminishment]? This is what disconcerts us, and yet, this is what we must learn to recognize … under pain of remaining blind to what is most specifically the Christian vision, and under pain, too, of losing contact with the Divine on one of the widest and most receptive fronts of our life. … The forces of diminishment are [possibilities]. Their number is vast, their forms infinitely varied, their influence constant. … There is a time of growth and a time of diminishment in the lives of each one of us. All these attitudes spring from the same inner orientation of the mind, form a single law which combines the two-fold movement of the natural personalization [growth of personality] of man/[woman] and their supernatural depersonalization [essence/Real I] in Christo" (Ibid, pp. 46-47, 62).
 
The Transformation of Suffering
 
Loss can and does evoke suffering. The Work teaches that there are multiple kinds of suffering and we are to be clear in our minds which is which: at the lowest level there is what J. G. Bennett defines as "evil suffering" – all the suffering that comes from ill-will, hatred and rejection of others – but he also includes other examples of useless suffering, some of which may be surprising – doubt, grasping, self-love and that which is connected with time, that is, because of something that happened in the past or because something does not happen that we are expecting or hoping for, futile suffering that manifests in worrying, indignation about the state of the world, anxiety about the future, unavoidable suffering, that which is due to illness and loss, the approach of death, bereavement. Unavoidable suffering is capable of being transformed into sacred feelings – from the working of higher laws and a doorway to inner freedom. Never is one to understand it as punishment for sin. Bennett offers: "Now, what is meant by intentional suffering? This is the crux of it all. Intentional suffering is the suffering incurred that one exposes oneself to, in order to do one's duty. In doing one's duty one has to accept a situation which may, not necessarily will, result in trouble for oneself. … I need hardly speak of the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. The whole picture presented to us in the Gospels is of a man of sorrows well acquainted with grief. He never ceased in his labors, wandering from village to village, accepted and rejected, until the final sacrifice. … 

"Is it that conscious labor and intentional suffering is only for the special rare ones or their disciples, followers, companions or apostles? It is different in these times. The needs of the world are very much wider and there is a task that can no longer be performed by a few. Many people are needed. Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful but the reapers are few and now it is even more so like that the harvest is enormous – the whole future of mankind.
 
"How is it to be with us" (Talks on Beelzebub's Tales, pp. 130-136)?
 

Homework

  • How is it to be with us? Read J. G. Bennett's essay on conscious labor and intentional suffering. What is evoked? 
  • Prepare to enter Holy Week. Our particular cross may be diminutions of self, humiliation, illness, pain, grief or simply the carrying out of duty. Can you begin to see it with the inner eye, not as affliction, but as a doorway into transformation of being, as food for the growth of essence – not as a heavy thing, and though if not joy – then perhaps as a source of deep meaning and connection to all suffering humanity? Allow yourself to be illumined by Christ who goes before us.

  • Again, the invitation is to attend the Thursday evening class where our very special guest will be Tim Cook, the co-founder of The Church of Conscious Harmony, as he shares with us his own experiences of the forces of diminishment while continuing to live the Work. 
     

April Practice: Listening Deeply

Consciously enter into and listen deeply to the sacred liturgy, music, rituals of Holy Week. What do you experience?
 

Attend the Thursday evening class: 7:00 pm Central Time via Zoom only.

  1. Click on this link and Zoom should open automatically on your laptop or tablet: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9961019778?pwd=aVFLZVQwNGZSNkQ4TDRTUW9yU1Ywdz09, or

  2. Open Zoom, click on Join Meeting and enter this meeting ID: 996-101-9778, passcode: CCH
    Please note that there is no class next Thursday, Maundy Thursday, April 14. You are invited to go to the Church's website consciousharmony.org for a listing of Holy Week services, both online and in-person.

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