Friday, December 13, 2013

A Love Song: Learning to Let Go Like St. Teresa

Majestic sovereign, timeless wisdom, your kindness melts my hard, cold soul.
Handsome lover, selfless giver, your beauty fills my dull, sad eyes.
I am yours, you made me.
I am yours, you called me.
I am yours, you saved me.
I am yours, you loved me.
I will never leave your presence.
Give me death, give me life.
Give me sickness, give me health.
Give me honor, give me shame.
Give me weakness, give me strength.
I will have whatever you give. Amen.

These words from St. Teresa of Avila, entitled "A Love Song", seem hyperobolic to us who comparatively only play at devotion. We who have more than we need, who stress ourselves out over getting more and keeping it, would scarcely pray such words, much less truly desire what they mean. In our culture when we say "whatever", we mean, "I'm not, in my frustration, accepting what you have to say." When St. Teresa said "Whatever", she meant "whatever". But we think: "Really, Teresa?" "I will have whatever you give?" "Death or life, sickness or health, honor or shame, weakness or strength? Really?" "Whichever you choose for me to have, I'll gladly receive from you, Lord"?  

My strength and health decline a little bit each year. I get frustrated over my increasing limitations. I have watched my mother and my mother-in-law, both in their 80's, and both fiercely independent widows, become more and more dependent because of their human deterioration. Jesus said to Peter, "When you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go." And after this He said, "Follow me." (John 21:18, 19) Peter, who made such grand claims, only deluded himself ("I will go to death for you, Lord" ..."I tell you, I do not know that man."). Only after he had lost much in the service of His Lord did he begin to understand surrender.

At a quiet day not so long ago here at St. George's, Sr. Donna Larue from the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy on James Island reflected on the attitudes and transformation (or lack thereof) of some of the elderly sisters in the convent. As they approached their deaths, some of the sisters were of gracious demeanor, reconciled, at peace and accepting. "These sisters," observed Sr. Donna, "who are open of heart, seem to have easy deaths." "One or two of the others are resistant, easily frustrated, cantankerous and curmudgeonly [might I say 'bitter'?] about many things. I am afraid I do not foresee an easy death, but rather a hard death for them."

Well, guess what? The truth is, whether we want them or not, and no matter how much we try to control life, we cannot, and so we will have these things indeed: death and life, sickness and health, honor and shame, weakness and strength. These words remind me of a marriage vow. And anybody who has been married for longer than fifteen minutes knows that love has to mature and transform from the ego-based, self-satisfying, consumerist sort to the other-focused, come-what-may, self-giving variety if disappointment and not getting our way are not going to knock our relationships sideways.

The way we bail on each other in everything from marriage to our bosses and employees, our denominations and affiliations, our churches and fellowships...just because we do not get our way... tells me that we do not make ourselves available to God. For if we did, we would not be seeking self, but rather and only Him. And gladly so.

Only those who have brought their suffering and loss to Him as an offering upon His altar, and who have stopped struggling, ranting, kicking and screaming...only those who have cast their naive dreams onto the flaming funeral pyre of God's love, can begin to die to self enough to value only Him.

We only think we are in control. We who have everything have nothing until we lose it. It's really about humility at the basic level. Am I so important that I deserve more than anyone else? I would do well to let it go, because for me, He is more than enough. Everything else is on a come-what-may basis. It always is. I just need to accept it.


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