Confronted by Grace

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Sometimes the light of grace makes present some very hard truths that I know I try hard to steer around. The great iceberg of the truth is the ever-present menace to my Titanic of pride.

And it is a shame I should view it with this metaphor because the Truth is the ground of our being. Truth is, in fact a Person. "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). "For in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). The truth in love is where we live. But too often I perceive the truth as a threat. It is a threat to my image of self, carefully built up and preserved over the years--but as with any house built on sand subject to the tide (Matt 26-27). Oh, and how painful the day and the moment and the passage of time during which that great but fragile house falls completely to the ground, utterly vanquished, completely demolished--destroyed utterly. What a terrible day when I slink to the mirror and look in it and see the real reflection, the mask removed. How much I am inclined to regard that great moment with fear because it means the death of self.

But perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). And more importantly I know and trust that unless a grain of wheat should die (John 12:24), it will remain only a single grain, isolated, unfruitful, unproductive, desolate. There can be no growth into the complete organic unity of heaven if I decide to remain an isolated grain, wrapped up in all the devices that I have invented to protect me from the truth and from grace.

For truth is the soil and grace the water and warmth in which a new seed quickens and brings forth life. Planted solidly in the truth, trusting the revelation of Jesus Christ received through the Holy Spirit and nourished by the sacraments, I am given the strength to escape the bondage of self. And the bondage of self is far stronger that the bondage of the one called Legion. He only takes up residence with permission and can be cast out with a word from Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus will not enter where the door is not opened. He will not force open the closed center of self. He will not break down the walls I have built up to get at me, until such time as I ask Him to remove them. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the only thing I can do on my own, the only thing that is not a product of grace and God's help is my own refusal to accept grace, to enter Christ's life, to live in unity with God. In short, all I can do by myself is sin and each sin makes the closed castle of self a little bit darker. I'm put in mind of the image at the beginning of The Interior Castle where St. Teresa of Avila tells us of the Castle environs:

from The Interior Castle
St. Teresa of Avila

Chapter 2
You must note that the light which comes from the palace occupied by the King hardly reaches these first Mansions at all; for, although they are not dark and black, as when the soul is in a state of sin, they are to some extent darkened, so that they cannot be seen (I mean by anyone who is in them); and this not because of anything that is wrong with the room, but rather (I hardly know how to explain myself) because there are so many bad things -- snakes and vipers and poisonous creatures -- which have come in with the soul that they prevent it from seeing the light. It is as if one were to enter a place flooded by sunlight with his eyes so full of dust[37] that he could hardly open them. The room itself is light enough, but he cannot enjoy the light because he is prevented from doing so by these wild beasts and animals, which force him to close his eyes to everything but themselves. This seems to me to be the condition of a soul which, though not in a bad state, is so completely absorbed in things of the world and so deeply immersed, as I have said, in possessions or honours or business, that, although as a matter of fact it would like to gaze at the castle and enjoy its beauty, it is prevented from doing so, and seems quite unable to free itself from all these impediments.

But even these souls, who have started on the way to unity, are better off than those who stay securely fastened inside the kernel of self. For a little earlier in the same chapter St. Teresa has this to say:

For, just as all the streamlets that flow from a clear spring are as clear as the spring itself, so the works of a soul in grace are pleasing in the eyes both of God and of men, since they proceed from this spring of life, in which the soul is as a tree planted. It would give no shade and yield no fruit if it proceeded not thence, for the spring sustains it and prevents it from drying up and causes it to produce good fruit. When the soul, on the other hand, through its own fault, leaves this spring and becomes rooted in a pool of pitch-black, evil-smelling water, it produces nothing but misery and filth.

It should be noted here that it is not the spring, or the brilliant sun which is in the centre of the soul, that loses its splendour and beauty, for they are always within it and nothing can take away their beauty. If a thick black cloth be placed over a crystal in the sunshine, however, it is clear that, although the sun may be shining upon it, its brightness will have no effect upon the crystal.

I am the keeper of my own castle, the guardian of the fortress, the single force within that can say no to the God who also dwells within.

But there is the secret. Whether I like it or not, God dwells inside. I may refuse to look at the light. I can disregard all of his gentle leadings, all of his urgings of love (Hosea 11:4). I can remain ungentled, untamed, unredeemed. I do not have to look at the light.

Even if I do not look, it is there, large and glowing at the center. The rays so dimmed by the huge array of obstacles I have placed in its way as to be nearly undiscernable. Nevertheless, it is there, firmly at the center, waiting for me to turn and with grace uncover and recover it.

Every day I wake and I am confronted by grace again. I have lived another night, I have seen another morning. All is gift. Even in my sinfulness and in my waywardness I cannot but see that all around me is His love, His strength, His fruitfulness, His creativity, His brilliance, His light, His Joy. So long as I can resist the lure of all of these good things, I can remain safe in my dwelling place--alone and away from God. Oh, but what strength it takes to stare so firmly into the mirror when there are so many very good distractions from my own carefully sculpted images. What tremendous force of will it takes to deny God entry.

I suppose that leads to the main point of this long "shaggy dog" story. When confronted by grace (as we are every single day) our greatest recourse is to give in. Confronted by grace we learn to love and the seed is plumped by a little water. Soon the seedcoat will burst open and new life will come forth. Fragile, delicate, evanescent--but it too shall be confronted by grace and so long as we do nothing but surrender, it shall grown toward the light, and like the magic beanstalk it shall grow rapidly. It shall grow toward the light until it enters the light and, in fact, becomes light itself.

But only when there is surrender. Only when we are confronted by Grace and we give in.

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Blogworthies LXXVI from The Blog from the Core on November 12, 2005 11:33 AM

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 9, 2005 7:37 AM.

Where is Joy to Be Found? was the previous entry in this blog.

"Perspective on Faith" is the next entry in this blog.

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