The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.
- John 3:12
Last week the fourth section of our 2022 curriculum commenced focusing on the subject of "Transforming Body." We began this two-month section with a weekly focus on "Presence, Consent and Silence." This is a powerful and appropriate way to begin this fourth section of our curriculum, as it grounds all our embodied practices and embodied transformation in a passive Do, or a wish borne of consent.
This week we direct our attention to the important pairing of grace and effort. By way of a simple analogy, the sail needs the wind, and the wind needs the sail. So too, the sail needs the crew. Alone, a sail can't reach its full potential. Filled with wind, it can harness more than itself and become something extraordinary – the very means by which the vessel can move forward. Similarly, without the crew, a sail and ship could drift anywhere, missing out on its true possibilities and destinations.
In like manner, spiritual growth and human development in wisdom, being and understanding require both grace and effort. We are the sail to Spirit's wind. Our effort, to Spirit's grace. The two are paired, like a double helix, to birth forth our further unfolding.
Let's explore more in depth what the Work might mean by these terms grace and effort.
Effort in the Work Teachings of Maurice Nicoll
Maurice Nicoll's teaching on effort is certainly one of the master golden threads that weaves the broad tapestry of Work ideas together. In the five-volume set we call the Commentaries spanning 13 years, Dr. Nicoll wrote 12 specific commentaries on effort and the Work, in addition to mentioning the concept elsewhere throughout the Commentaries at least 64 other times, as per the Index.
Below, we include the full list of the specific commentaries dealing with the concept of effort. Perhaps this will be a grace to you in your own efforts to study and understand the subject.
Of particular interest, please notice the dates, specifically for Volume 1, all of which occurred during World War II. In fact, the first commentary on effort begins on December 19, 1941, which was a Friday and was also the day Adolf Hitler was made supreme commander-in-chief of the German army.
When the Nicolls' group met at their home in the quaint village of Birdlip, England that Friday evening, December 19, 1941 it was just 12 days after Pearl Harbor had been attacked and eight days after America declared war on Germany. They must have felt that the world was coming to an end, and yet, Dr. Nicoll specifically called their attention to make effort during this time!
Indeed, during those harrowing days of anxiety for the whole civilized world, and at the beginning of the new year, 1942, effort was the topic Dr. Nicoll chose to teach on for the next month, encompassing the group's next three gatherings, concluding on Saturday, January 17, 1942. We can learn much from Dr. Nicoll's focus on effort.
"Commentary on Effort, Part I," December 19, 1941, pp. 91-96
"Commentary on Effort, Part II," January 3, 1942, pp. 96-101
"Commentary on Effort, Part III," January 12, 1942, pp. 102-104
"Commentary on Effort, Part IV," January 17, 1942, pp. 104-108
"A Short Commentary on the Importance of Individual Work Effort," October 30, 1943, pp. 342-343
"The Conception of Entropy in Science and The Conception of Effort in the Work," April 7, 1945, pp. 665-671
"Further Commentary on Making Work-Effort," September 1, 1945, pp. 766-770
"A Note on Effort," November 30, 1946, pp. 971-974
"Efforts Against Certain 'I's," December 7, 1946, pp. 974-977
"Further Note on Work-Effort," July 31, 1948, pp. 1200-1202
"Further Note on Effort," June 11, 1949, pp. 1304-1307
"The Difference Between Mechanical and Conscious Effort," July 8, 1950, pp. 1406-1407
A brief synopsis of the various ways effort intersects a multitude of Work ideas can be seen in this brief and incomplete list, all of which comprises lines taken from the above-mentioned commentaries:
Effort is the opposite of drifting in the Work.
Conscious effort is not necessary in ordinary life – rather it belongs to something extra, outside life – something very interesting.
Make effort on knowledge and effort on being.
Distinguish between needful mechanical effort in life and these extra Work-efforts. To will what happens lifts us above mechanicalness. Make effort of non-identifying with negative emotions, to become hermetically sealed towards negative emotions.
Make intelligent, practical effort based on self-observation.
Make effort developing undeveloped sides of ourselves.
Make effort to Self-remember.
The supreme effort is against Chief Feature.
We draw particular attention to this exceptional passage. Notice the call to make efforts on oneself. Notice how this relates to the idea of our Chief Feature. There is much to ponder in this passage, and it is worthy of reading slowly and digesting quietly.
Commentaries, "Further Commentary on Making Work-Effort,"
September 1, 1945, Vol. 2, p. 769
Grace and Effort in the Christian Esoteric Tradition
Let's now turn our attention briefly to the other hand, so to speak, and explore the role grace plays when paired with effort.
Jesus' teaching recorded in the Sermon on the Mount gives a precise formula for the integration of grace and effort: Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).
The wisdom teaching of esotericist Valentin Tomberg indicates the importance of synthesizing grace and effort. Tomberg's commentary on Jesus' teaching noted above gives wise guidance for us to ponder. Tomberg writes, "This [teaching by Jesus] is the formula of the synthesis of effort and grace, of the principle of work and that of receptivity, and, lastly, of merit and gift. This synthesis enunciates the absolute law of all spiritual progress and, consequently, all spiritual discipline, whether it be practiced by a solitary Christian Hermeticist, or by a community in a cloister or convent, or by a religious or mystical order, or by any esoteric or Christian-Hermetic fraternity. It is the law which every Christian disciple, of every Christian spiritual school, obeys. And Christian Hermeticism, i.e., the whole of traditional mysticism, gnosis, magic and occult philosophy, passed through baptism and transfiguration by the fire, light and life of Christianity, is in no way an exception here. Hermeticism without grace is only sterile erudite historicism; Hermeticism without effort is only superficial sentimental aestheticism. There is certainly THE WORK in Hermeticism, and this work is the child of grace and effort. Dear Unknown Friend, if you have knowledge of theology, you will recognize here the pure and simple doctrine of the Catholic Church concerning the relationship between work and grace. You find here again the rejection of Pelagianism, according to which it is only work (or effort) which counts, and also of Luther's Protestantism, according to which it is only grace which counts. You find here the doctrine of the Catholic Church — natura vulnerata, non deleta — is also implied, i.e., that nature is not entirely corrupt in consequence of the Fall, but that it preserves a virgin element and that consequently there is also an element in human nature which is therefore capable of effort and work which counts" (Meditations on the Tarot, "The Lover," p. 135).
Perhaps the key takeaway from Tomberg's teaching is the insight that all cannot be grace in this world. We are both responsible and capable of effort and working in a way that counts – for ourselves, for others, for the planet, and for God. By way of a final illustration of this harmonization of grace and effort, recall the words of Mother Mary in the Gospel of Luke, chapter one, who having been encountered by the Angel Gabriel, replied with an answer to the invitation that embodied both grace and effort, passivity and activity. She said:
Let it be in me
by means of Thy Word.
And how did this unfold? By the Spirit – hovering over her, filling her, like the wind hovering over the waters of creation (cf. Genesis 1:2 and Luke 1:35). We can all learn from Mother Mary. We can wish to say Yes. We can consent to the Spirit. We can Work. We can let the ideas work in us and birth a new Being in us, beyond anything we could do or become on our own. Though, together, with the Spirit and each other, so very much is possible. Amen.
- Make effort to slowly read as many of the 12 commentaries by Maurice Nicoll on effort indicated above.
- In quiet reflection, through prayer and journaling, and most of all non-critical self-observation, identify an area in your life or journey where you are being called to make more conscious, specific effort.
- Attend the Thursday night class. Make effort to share and participate.
Kneeling to the ground is a symbol of surrender. It is a way of embodying active-passivity, or grace and effort. One summer long ago, a poet walked through the forest and came to the edge of a great grassy field. The poet was feeling sadness, wondering what to do in the face of disappointments. Then, the poet wrote: "I gripped the black humus soil and cupped its scent to my face. What was it I smelled? All time felled and made beautiful. Summer light now fading with cinnamon lights and cool lands, moist to my breath from which it comes and to which it goes." There is much we can learn from getting in close contact with earth. This June, we are all invited to explore the practice of kneeling in nature. You might also try lying down on the earth. Feel the energy. Drop out of your head space and enter more fully into the being of your body in contact with the earth.
Attend The Joureny School Thursday night class tonight
7:00 pm Central Daylight Time via Zoom only.
Click on this link and Zoom should open automatically on your laptop or tablet: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9961019778?pwd=aVFLZVQwNGZSNkQ4TDRTUW9yU1Ywdz09, or
Open Zoom, click on Join Meeting and enter this meeting ID: 996-101-9778, passcode: CCH