“The spiritual life is a long and often arduous search for what you have already found.”
These last months have been a strange inward journey. I am approaching a significant age milestone, which, to an already introverted, contemplative person, has caused undue amounts of reflection. I passed the three-year mark of living in a different culture—with all the gifts, challenges, sacrifices, and richness that entails. And I am struggling to reshape and redefine my work in light of a new phase of research.
All of these things present me with critical questions for the purpose, meaning and value of my life. But personal reflection cannot be kept isolated from the everyday joys, losses, and unexpected hardships. Yesterday, I attended a funeral of the father of a dear friend of mine who passed away three days ago from cancer. Currently, there are cities in Bosnia and Serbia that are completely submerged in water—the most devastating crisis since the war of 20 years ago (see Serbia flood and Bosnia flood).
I don’t want to be a person of words without action, and yet the ongoing paradoxes of beauty and ugliness, death and life create in me a need to be still—to listen and wait in the lovely garden created by my neighbors.
I realize my life questions are rather cliche and far from earth-shattering, and yet I am still compelled to ask—who am I becoming and how can I use my gifts and abilities toward things that matter for this next phase; is what I am doing actually worthwhile and how can I be doing it better? How to best respond to news of crisis, loss, and hardship?
Recently, I attended an excellent training on cross-cultural resiliency. One of the themes that emerged for me is the idea of framing the aftermath of events in your life—both joyful or difficult— through the question of “What is God inviting me to?”
The idea of God’s invitation can be viewed in a broad or narrow context. Broadly, life itself is an invitation—to partake fully in all the joys and losses, friendships and relationships, and beauty. But to accept the invitation with open arms is only possible if one continues to grow and flourish as one’s unique self—and continually offer oneself back to God and others as a gift. Richard Rohr puts it this way in Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life:
“We are here to give back fully and freely what was first given to us—but now writ personally—by us! It is probably the most courageous and free act we will ever perform—and it takes both halves of our life to do it fully”(xi).
But there is something deeper underlying this concept—to be able to freely give what was given to us, we must experientially know and believe God’s love. The ability to do or not to do this, I believe, has long-range consequences to our spirituality—it can be a pathway to freedom, a road to a stingy and fearful religiosity, or can lead to an exasperated and disappointed movement away from God’s invitation altogether.
Henri Nouwen writes about the “treasure of God’s love” which we often are not ready to own completely because of our many attachments. In other words, just because we “found” the treasure, does not mean that we “own” the treasure.
“The spiritual life,” he writes in his published journal The Inner Voice of Love, is a long and often arduous search for what you have already found”(111).
The search itself is an invitation, although NOT a guarantee of anything we might think we need or want.
“Finding the treasure without being ready yet to fully own it will make you restless. This is the restlessness of the search for God. It is the way to holiness. It is the road to the kingdom. It is the journey to the place where you can rest” (112).