The Spirit of God is the engine behind all human becoming. We might think that we are that engine, but this is far from true. This is why it is more accurate to describe the journey of awakening and unfolding as involving steps of response rather than steps of initiative – response to the initiatives of the Spirit who continuously invites, woos, supports, sustains, and enables our becoming. Or, if I can change the metaphor, the whole thing is a dance. Your partner is the Spirit who has already entered the dance floor and is calling for you to come. The Spirit will lead the dance. You only need to follow. Don’t hold back trying to first learn the dance steps. Just get out onto the floor and trust your partner to teach you everything you need to know and to give you everything you need to receive.
One of the great paradoxes of the transformational journey is that effort and initiative are both counterproductive. All that is required of you is consent that is offered in openness and faith. Effort may sometimes be enough to change behaviour but it is never enough to awaken a self. But do not read this limitation of effort in awakening as suggesting that our role is simply to passively await awakening. The offering of consent involves an active response. Awakening is always an active response to the Spirit and if what we offer is not a response to Spirit, it is not a spiritual response.
Contemporary understandings of Christian spirituality miss this truth much more often than they recognize it. So often the spiritual journey is presented in terms of what we must do. And what we are told we must do is to be faithful in our effort and discipline. This is a recipe for spiritual disaster because what it does is strengthen the false self. When the spiritual journey is my own self-improvement project the major product will be an ego that is in even more control than before the journey began.
Even the notion of seeking God seems misguided. Describing her own spiritual journey, Simone Weil stated that she had never understood all the talk about seeking God because never once in her life had she sought after God. God found her even without her seeking. Like the fish in the Sufi tale that was swimming around madly seeking for the sea only to be confronted by the wise old fish who told it that it could now relax because it was already in the sea, we too do not need to seek the God in whom we exist. Instead, we need to awaken to the truth and reality of our existence. Awakening is not an achievement. It is a grace – a gift that we can receive if we are willing to receive it in openness and faith.
Anthony de Mello reminds us that we do not need to engineer our own awakening by means of a story of the river and one sitting by it seeking enlightenment. Noticing this person striving to attain something that he could not produce, the river said: “Does one really have to fret about enlightenment? No matter which way I turn, I’m homeward bound.” We too are homeward bound when we notice and then respond to the invitations of Spirit to become all we were meant to be.
Spirituality and the Awakening Self: The Sacred Journey of Transformation
(Brazos Press, 2012).