Thursday, January 11, 2007

Journey (3)

My two previous posts have deal with the image of journeying. Here is another aspect of journeying and its impact on individual spiritual growth.
I have a tendency to want stability and predictability in my life (I think this is typical of a lot of people). I seek to make my life comfortable and when something disrupts this comfort my first reaction is to try to dismiss whatever is causing this disruption. People familiar with dependency issues (alcoholism and such) refer to this reaction as denial. In actual fact we all have this denial reaction in us. When something challenges the system of perceptions and meanings that I have built up in my life my first reaction is probably not to find new ways of thinking about my life, but rather to find ways to dismiss the cause of the disruption.
We see this tendency in scripture. In Genesis 22 God’s instructs Abraham to sacrifice his only son. This would have been a deeply repulsive act for Abraham to do. Abraham’s willingness to do this makes him justified in the eyes of God and God promises many blessings to Abraham. Later on in Exodus Moses does not want to answer the call of God to return to Egypt. Moses finds a number of reasons why he cannot be the one to answer the call finally complaining that he is “slow of speech and slow of tongue”. (Exodus 4:10) Still later (Jonah 1:1) the reaction of the prophet Jonah on being commissioned to go preach in Nineveh is to set sail in the opposite direction. Likewise the reaction of the prophet Jeremiah to his call is that he is too young and cannot speak (Jeremiah 1:6). Jeremiah’s reaction is understandable of course, given the tendency of the people of the time to murder their prophets.
Similar stories are found in the Gospels of course. The rich young man (Matthew 19:21,22) leaves when Jesus challenges him to sell what he has. In chapter 6 of John’s gospel we find the people leaving Jesus because of his difficult teaching. The invitation of Jesus to follow him is in the context of taking up his cross (Matthew 16:24).
What these stories tell me is that while I am on my journey trying to discern the path that I should take in following Jesus I am likely to be given directions that I would rather not hear. When this happens the easiest reaction for me is to disregard the direction and choose my own way. I tell myself that I am a mature Christian with good knowledge of my faith and I have the freedom to make my own choices. The danger is, of course that I stop doing the will of God and end up following my own path. I make God in my own image rather than following the real God.
It is because of this danger that the Church urges me to be docile. The first meaning of docile is easily taught. The secondary meaning is easily led. My first reaction to the notion of being docile was quite negative. But I can see the value of docility in the context of the tendency that I might have (as outlined above) to put too much reliance on my own knowledge and will in discerning God’s path for me. Being docile or being obedient to the teaching authority of the Church does not mean that I ignore my own conscience or intelligence. What it means is that even when the teaching of the Church is hard for me my first inclination should be to try and understand why the teaching in question is reasonable and logical. I have faith that the magisterium of the Church is essentially only trying to point out God’s will for me and is not some arbitrary or capricious force depriving me of something.

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