When our ten-year-old son comes to ask me to play, I am sometimes more willing than others.
To be honest, sometimes I agree with an inward sigh because I want to be a good dad and putting in my time is important.
Other times, I fully give myself to Sam with a wide-open heart smile.
I give myself.
I let go of my agenda and allow myself to swept away. I’m clearly not in control and into it, whether it’s dominos, chess, a light saber duel or freestyle wrestling. Whatever the play, I am so There. I will not be a spectator this time. I will not be juggling the thoughts of my little projects. I am in it for a real encounter with my beloved boy, not to check a box when the task is done. Not this time.
There are two ways to approach the spiritual life:
1. Disciplined and goal-driven.
2. Mystical and Experientially-driven.
Neither is wrong. They are two sides of an important coin. However, I think the first mode is what our consumer society imposes, so the latter is more deeply needed in this time.
In the first case, our ambition and desire motivate change. Through discipline, we take the wheel with some measure of assurance that we have what we need to navigate the watercourses of our lives. The positive is that we draw from the strength of our personhood. In this current season of Lent, there are disciplines that may shape the design of a faith-full life. It’s good. Spiritual practice can show us it’s possible to live consciously, intentionally.
The downside of this perspective is that the sense of responsibility for one’s life makes us prone to feel either pain in failure or pride in success. Grace and mystery are kind of bottom shelf.
In the second mode, we are immersed in Great Mystery and, like a daddy with his kid, we give ourselves to It. We are All In. As one theologian puts it, God is shaping us “like water shapes a rock.”
Like a bride to her bridegroom, a mama nursing her baby, a passionate student to her studies, we give ourselves.
The downside is that mystics may be so good at opening, allowing and surrendering, that we neglect agency. (Talk to Neo about that.) Martin Luther wrote that even the will to make the tiniest choice originates from God’s Holy Spirit.
But in every spiritual tradition I can think of, there’s a dimension of surrender where we put ourselves in the flow of something we trust is bigger than ourselves and watch ourselves be part of it.
In Lent, I suggest there is more to give ourselves to than be in charge of. as we hear the stories of Jesus and soak in the Psalms, we might open our imaginations to what transformation looks like in us. There might be some work to do, but maybe most of it is allowing stuff to happen to us. One could make a case that the whole of Jesus’ ministry was about these two words: “Give yourself.” Give yourself to me and share abundant life. Give yourself away to one another and discover a large, round filled-to-overflowing life. You are seasoning for the earth and light for the planet, after all.
It’s human to want to give ourselves. We desire to see our existence expand past our perceived personal borders. A rich life means losing track of our individuality sometimes to know ourselves large, as Uncle Walt wrote.
“And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth,
‘You owe me.’
Look what happens with love like that.
It lights up the sky.”
What this means is that giving yourself is a spiritual practice. When we do it, we are magnetically drawn to Fullness and Goodness and Holy.
So we give ourselves to our kids and to our parents. We give ourselves to our neighbors, to our community, to our leaders because we witness life being more full.
We give ourselves to strangers, to the poor, to the widow, because that’s where we are most certainly present.
We give ourselves to the Samaritan, to the Muslim, to the bullied because we get clear on who we are.
We offer ourselves gift-wrapped to our unique and sometimes hard-to-explain callings.
When you eat, be mindful and completely savor. When you make love, be totally There. In fact, whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of Holiness.
Teachers, give yourself to your students. Nurses, give yourselves to your patients. Dentists, serve as unto the Holy One.
If you fish, consider yourself a fisher of humanity. Surrender to fishing, to the lake, to the fish. Make yourself part of the circle of life. Your life will lure the Holy, your fish will feed the world. Your heart, so present.
Like a gardener, full of hope and trust, plant seeds. Your nests will gather immigrants and strangers into Love.
We are up for anything the spirit of the Living God puts in our way today. We may set aside our preferences in order to serve. We may set aside our theological commitments to say yes to stretching and growing. We offer ourselves as students, disciples– teachable, shapeable ones.
To One we lay ourselves open to service, open to healing, open to surprise and to an ever-emerging future.