My spiritual director recently asked me, “What is God’s essence to you?” I was taken aback by the question, but also intrigued. So I went to prayer, asking God to reveal the answer. We have been in the Dominican Republic for over three weeks now. When we arrived, January weather was upon us—lots of rain and high winds. The palm trees were waving to me, dancing with abandon. This seems to have passed, and I am now sensing a stillness in the air. Each morning as I come out to my balcony and greet the day, I notice how still the palm trees are. As I sink into the rhythm here, I also sense a stillness come upon me. I definitely feel that I encounter God in the silence and stillness. A new thought has been coming to me. Perhaps God’s essence is stillness?
In silence and stillness, my heart waits for you. (Psalm 62)
It seems that God not only reveals Himself to me in the stillness, but He uses stillness to reveal myself to me. To show me my essence and the condition of my heart. These winter stays in the Dominican Republic the past four years have been so healing for me. While I didn’t come with any expectations this year, I sense a greater openness to surrender to God, His ways, and His plan for me. I feel He has given me the desire, or the grace, to long to go deeper with Him, to allow Him to transform me more into the image of His son, Jesus.
In one of the Spiritual Direction classes that I am currently taking, we are following the life of Jesus from his birth to his death as told in the Gospels. Recently we have been looking at the concept Poverty of Spirit. This seems to me like an old term—one that I am drawn to understand more fully, or should I say, experience more fully. I recently read in the Rule of Benedict, “…in the dark days of the spiritual life, when we have failed ourselves miserably, we must remember the God who walks with us on the journey to our best selves and cling without end to the God who fails us never.” I believe this speaks to Poverty of Spirit —a deep knowing of my fragile human state, and God’s desire that I come to Him in that Poverty, and completely depend on Him to show me the way. Simply put, I constantly ask Him, “God, what would you have me do or be in this situation, and would you give me the grace to act or be as you desire?”
So, all this is a backdrop to the title of this blog. As I’ve been enjoying the stillness of this place and the stillness within me, God is revealing more truth to me about myself. Things that get in the way of me loving God and others well. Things that keep me bound in fear rather than free in God’s grace. Often, God uses relationships to teach me these truths about Him and about me. I have found that when I feel either hurt, misunderstood, or not held in high esteem, this can easily turn into contempt for another or self-contempt. Contempt— I don’t really like that word. When I first encountered it, I wasn’t sure of its meaning, but I am learning.
Contempt is a pattern of attitudes and behavior, often toward an individual or group, but sometimes towards an ideology, which has the characteristics of disgust and anger.
Treat-with-contempt is to consider someone or something or myself to be unworthy of respect or attention.
Treating others with disrespect, disdain, mockery, name-calling, aggressive humor, and sarcasm are examples of contemptuous behavior.
Years ago, I was in a ministry situation where I was upset with the leader of the organization and how I perceived that he treated others. I realize now that my anger had turned into contempt towards him. It filled my heart and showed itself in ways that I was unaware of. At the time, God had given me a dear, wise, older woman who took the time to listen to my heart in the matter. After hearing my narrative of the situation, she replied that I needed to get that “venom” out of my system. Venom was an accurate description of what filled my spirit at the time. My heart was very dark. She then asked me a simple question, “Cherry, do you have any compassion for this man?” That stopped me cold. I knew that I did not. I hadn’t even considered, up until that point, that I should have compassion for him. Her insight began a long healing process in me.
Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” To show kindness, caring, and a willingness to help the other.
This past year, I seem to have revisited the ugly emotion of contempt toward another. Feeling hurt, misunderstood, and not held in high esteem, contempt slithered its way into my spirit. It subtly showed itself in sarcasm, disrespect, unkind humor, or a dismissive attitude. While these revelations are painful, I am grateful to God’s gracious Spirit for pricking my own spirit and revealing more of myself to me. I have prayed that God show me my blind spots, and God always answers that prayer. God opens my eyes and I can see. As we are studying Poverty of Spirit, God has gently shown me my heart, and invited me to allow Him to exchange my contempt for His compassion—for all involved in the situation. A friend describes God’s interior work saying, “God is melting me.” It has felt like God “melts” my contempt and brings forth His compassion in me—through a day by day process.
Poverty of Spirit means letting go of my feelings and depending on God’s wisdom. My spiritual director suggested I spend time BEING with God, watching the ocean waves come in and out. I can talk to God about my contempt or any other negative or troubling feelings, and allow Him to take them. Let those negative feelings roll out with the waves. As a new wave comes in, I can view it as God giving me His grace, His compassion, allowing me to see myself and the other more clearly. And to see how God is working in all this for the good of us all. God offers me freedom from the things that bind me—freedom to genuinely love God and others. I was reminded of John 8:31-32—
“To the Jews who believed in him Jesus said: If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples; you will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
When I’m living free in God’s kingdom, I can truly live. When our oldest son started his freshman year in college, I remember him sharing with me, “Mom, I love life. I want to take a great big bite out of it.” His words describe the essence of my word for this year—savor. I, too, want to take a great big bite out of life, to savor it.
Over the years, I am coming to deeply believe that I must depend on God for all the things that really matter in life. Those are usually things of the heart— relationships. At my age, I have come to know through experience God’s transforming power in my life and in the lives of others. I want to continue to be open to that power all the rest of my days. I believe that God wants to bring out the best in me and in all my relationships. This belief gives me hope and is something for which I’m willing to fight. I am open to do the hard work of cooperating with God in this transformation. This usually means doing things that make me uncomfortable or may cause me fear and anxiety. Time and time again, I find that freedom awaits me on the other side. Poverty of Spirit, a complete dependence on God, can indeed melt contempt and bring forth compassion.
I recently read Psalm 92 and wrote in my journal: “I want to flourish like the palm trees. To flourish in your courts, O God. To still bring forth fruit in my old age, and be ever full of sap and green.”
I’ll end will a simple prayer that always moves me deeply.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.