(Note: Yesterday’s Old Testament reading was when God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Of course, while it was being read at Mass, I kept thinking of this little bit of writing that I did in February of 2010. I still struggle with these words and with restlessness just as much as I did then, as surrender is seldom quick nor easy. I hope you find these few words edifying.)
“Our hearts are restless,
until they rest in thee.”
St. Augustine, The Confessions.
On Wednesdays throughout Lent, we’ll be doing Evening Prayer with Taize music and a series of meditations on the Saints. Each Wednesday will have a different Saint and a different congregant offering a few thoughts on what their Saint has to speak to us today. I have been asked to give one of these meditations — how foolish of them to ask me! After a little debating, I decided to share about Dame Julian of Norwich. Much of my own spiritual landscape has been shaped by her and my love for her is not unknown on this blog.
As I was deciding which part of her Revelations of Divine Love to use for a reading at the service, I kept returning to that lovely passage where all-of-creation is something the size of a hazelnut in the hand of God. She comes to the realization that all-of-creation only exists because God loves, cares and sustains it. Then she writes this:
For this is the cause why we be not all in ease of heart and soul: that we seek here rest in those things that are so little, wherein is no rest, and know not our God that is All-mighty, All-wise, All-good. For He is the Very Rest. God willeth to be known, and it pleaseth Him that we rest in Him; for all that is beneath Him sufficeth not us.
As I came across these words, I couldn’t help but be moved by them, once again.
Often, if we are not careful, our hearts begin seeking after those things that cannot satisfy (or sufficeth) us. They cannot satisfy us, for we are made to rest alone in God. All diseases of the heart and soul (sin) come from the fact that we try to rest in those things that cannot give us rest ( like _______). These created things are entirely too small: they are like a blanket that covers your arms, but never your feet. And in our seeking of these things, we become restless.
Lest we think these only include “bad” things like drink, smoke, chew or go with those who do, we would be sorely mistaken! AW Tozer points this out in The Pursuit of God. Using Abraham, Tozer writes that God wanted him to sacrifice Isaac because Isaac had taken the seat of God in Abraham’s soul. And Isaac was most certainly a good thing, not a “bad” thing; that blessed and promised child had become simply an idol to Abraham. Julian might say that Abraham had found “rest” in Isaac. Like Abraham, I think we are more in danger (at least I am) of fashioning these wonderful gifts into idols than we are the “bad” things. So, God has us almost-sacrifice those idolized gifts and in the words of Tozer, “It hurt cruelly, but it was effective.”
The Prophet Hosea also writes about this seeking rest in things that cannot give rest with the whoredom of his prostitute-wife, Gomer. We, too, go out prostituting ourselves to those things that we think will give us rest or in which we find fulfillment. We do this with both “good” (Isaac) and “bad” (_______) things. What we fail to realize while doing this, is that any consolations we receive from these things, actually come from God (Hosea 2:8). So, God takes away these consolations and like us, Gomer experiences this same restlessness: “She shall pursue her lovers, but not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better with me then than now.” (2:7)
We come to a crossroads here at this great moment of restlessness, of pursuit without consummation, of seeking without finding. Our options are twofold: 1) Like Abraham, we can almost-sacrifice that-to-which-our-soul-is-attached. We can acknowledge our futility and sinfulness — neither dissembling nor cloaking them — and nail it to the cross. Give it up and say in the words of Hosea:
Come, let us return to the Lord;
for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
he has struck down, and he will bind us up.
After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will raise us up,
that we may live before him. (6:1-2).
And on the third day, that which was willingly crucified (either Isaac or_______) and died will burst forth from the tomb. And it shall become a blessing surpassing even what it was to us before.
Or, 2) we can continue in our vanity, thinking that our control of that-to-which-our-soul-is-attached is good for us and good for the object. That our futile attempts at rest in these things are not so bad (after all, how bad is some cold feet?). Or we think that if we let go, we will loose them forever. Or that if we let go, it will do irreparable damage to that-to-which-our-soul-is-attached. Whatever the reason, if we continue in our vanity, it will kill our very soul. Hosea writes,
Ephraim is oppressed, crushed in judgment,
because he was determined to go after vanity.
Therefore I am like maggots to Ephraim,
and like rottenness to the house of Judah (5:11-12).
That which is salvific becomes poison, that which is good becomes bad and that which is holy becomes silly. The Divine hand in which we find ourselves (like Julian’s Hazelnut) becomes like maggots and rottenness to us. In a few words, by continuing to find our rest in these things, it will kill our very soul. And we find no rest at all.
At the end of that chapter Julian writes this little prayer: “God, of Thy Goodness, give me Thyself: for Thou art enough to me, and I may nothing ask that is less that may be full worship to Thee; and if I ask anything that is less, ever me wanteth,—but only in Thee I have all.” Her words are no truer today than they were when she wrote them so many years ago.