Wednesday, November 9, 2005

THREE ENGAGEMENTS FOR THE JOURNEY

INWARD, OUTWARD. Elizabeth O’Connor writes of three engagements on the journey inward in her book Journey Inward; Journey Outward. The following excerpts touch on each of these engagements, first articulated by Gordon Cosby, Pastor of Church of the Savior in Washington, D.C. The three engagements are with (1) self, (2) God, and (3) others. Whether or not we make, keep, and live with these engagements will determine the extent to which we effectively “journey outward.” Outward effectiveness depends on inward integrity.

TOWARD SELF KNOWLEDGE. “We have come increasingly to see the need of consciously moving toward self-knowledge. We need the collaboration of our own experience in a community to understand that self-examination is essential if we are to have a life together and to be in any meaningful way the Church in the world. We have to be people engaged with ourselves if we are going to find out where we are and where it is we want to go.”

LIGHT AND DARKNESS. O’Connor explores various ways we engage with ourselves -- through vigilant awareness, in asking ourselves questions, attention to our dreams, and to our inner fragmentation. Of this latter condition she notes: “Recognition of the division in ourselves begins when we shift the attention we have been giving to the mote in our brother’s eye and fasten it on the beam in our own. In an age, however, when so many suffer because they feel no sense of self-worth, it is equally important to become aware of the light in us -- that part of us which is based on truth. Light and dark -- they are both there, and each has many children, the children of darkness and the children of light. ‘My name is Legion’ is the plight of us all.”

ENGAGEMENT WITH GOD. “We need the engagement with self to find out that we have our houses resting on sand, but there is no possibility of getting them over on rock without an engagement with God,” writes O’Connor. “If we are really to know our own life, we will have to emerge now and then from study of self and meditate on the ‘greatness and majesty’ of God. ‘As I see it,’ said St. Teresa of Avila, ‘we shall never succeed in knowing ourselves unless we seek to know God.’”

RECOLLECTION FOR PRESSED PEOPLE. “For most of us the days are not filled with events that we label ‘important.’ But the content and quality of our lives is determined by how we respond to the ordinary, and this depends on whether or not we have taken the time to nourish an inner life. The more pressed we are for time the more essential it is to make recollection a part of our day.”

FOR WHAT ARE WE ASKING? “There is a profound sense in which our whole life is prayer, whether we strive for it or not, so that much of what we wail and complain about is an answer to requests we are not conscious of making. If we take with any seriousness the idea that our whole life is prayer, surely we will want solitude to meditate on what our posture, and attitudes and acts, are really petitioning.”

DIFFICULT, REWARDING. The journey inward also needs the depth companionship of heart-seeking fellow sojourners. O’Connor writes: “Engagement with others in depth is always difficult within the church, which is probably why so few try it and why there is so little genuine Christian community in the world.” And yet, when tried, “it is the most rewarding and the most essential to those on an inward journey. As we grow in depth relationship with those whose values and experiences are different from ours, the horizons of our little worlds are pushed back -- our ‘Umwelts’ are enlarged. Life comes to have a variety and a richness that was not there before.”

FROM MISERABLE TO MYSTERY. Gordon Cosby describes the kind of commitment required in this engagement: “This is never a tentative commitment that I can withdraw from. It is a commitment to a group of miserable, faltering sinners who make with me a covenant to live in depth until we see in each other the mystery of Christ himself and until in these relationships we come to know ourselves as belonging to the Body of Chirst.”

FREE TO ACT AND SPEAK. “In this strange community where commitment is not tentative we become free to act and to speak. We can take risks that we could not take in other situations, which include the risks of getting in touch with our own unfelt feelings. We can afford to express negative reactions and move toward meeting, if we know our words do not cut us off. We can choose to express anger and therefore keep the sun from setting on it. We can take the risk of telling a brother what stands between us, if we know there will be another time when we are together, and that it does not depend on what does or does not happen in this moment.”

CONFRONTED WITH OURSELVES. “To the extent that a community has a continuing life together we are going to be challenged at the point of our illusions about the kind of people we are. The task is always to change ourselves - - to deal with that in us which prevents our going forth to meet the other. It is when we are locked in a permanent kind of relationship, however, that the conflicts arise which confront us with ourselves. Peace is not the object of Christian fellowship, though we have thought it was and have maintained ‘good’ relationships at the terrible expense of not being real with each other. When this happens, we forego being a people on a pilgrimage together.”

HANG IN THERE. “The Church is wherever two or three gather in His Name. But this does not mean the choosing of a few kindred friends with whom to pray. We gather in that Name when with other faltering, estranged persons we agree to live a life in depth, which means learning something about forgiveness and what it means to be forgiven. It means staying locked in a concrete, given web of relationships until we come to know ourselves as belonging to one another and belonging to the Body of Christ.”

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