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Life’s Growth Rhythm

There is a growth rhythm of invitation and yielding in all of life, including the spiritual life. Without realizing it, I experienced this growth rhythm many years ago on a dance floor at a Polish wedding. My secretary had invited me to her wedding. I was watching the intricate polkas being danced. I noticed only women were dancing.

Suddenly her aunt came to our table, pointed at me, and said, “I want to dance with you.” The tone of her voice made it clear that I could not refuse her invitation. Summoning up my courage, I replied: “I’ll dance with you on one condition—that you lead.” She danced me from one end of the floor to the other with great gusto. Miracle of miracles, I totally relaxed, totally yielded myself to her every move on the floor. People on the sidelines were laughing, but for me it was an ecstatic experience! It should also have been the occasion to discover the growth rhythm of invitation and yielding.

Yielding for Holy Encounters.  Many years later Mary C. Richards has drawn my attention to the yielding half of this growth rhythm in her book, Centering in Pottery, Poetry and the Person. She encourages her pottery student, “not merely use his material to certain ends, but yield up his soul as well as his hands and his intelligence to his love of the clay. Once his soul is yielded up, the transformation of the clay will speak to him as his own.” She is speaking of self-surrender, self-gifting for holy encounters, concepts I have written about in connection with the spirituality of compassion. But her word “yielding” gives us a meaningful, useful nuance.

Perhaps, preoccupation with our moral life, to the exclusion of the rest of living, including our spiritual life, has made us overlook the natural growth rhythm of invitation and yielding. Granted, yielding to the attractions, read invitations, of sin and yielding to our passions has been and always will be our spiritual battleground. We will always need to exercise self-control and self-discipline. But there is more to life than that. Life is a feast. No need to starve.

Yielding’s Paradox. Ms. Richards writes: “To yield means both to lose and to gain. See how the paradox is wisely caught in the words we use. I yield, and my being increases and takes form by having been given up in this way. Love becomes easier and more natural and steadier as over and over again I practice this act of yielding, from the secret center, the quiet will. As I open myself to the presence that faces me, it enters. It is a union. It is communion.”

We see this growth rhythm in Mary’s life. What was the Annunciation but an invitation—to be the mother of God. And she yielded: “Be it done to me according to your word.” And she experienced union, communion with the divine. Mary is the archetype of holiness.  Ms. Richards states: “We are all Mary, virgin and undelivered to whom the announcement has been made, in whom the infant grows.”

Yielding vs. Willpower. In Man Becoming, Theologian Gregory Baum writes: “The growth and development of human life through man’s own efforts is always dependent on and carried by gifts which are received in the community and ultimately come from God himself. The gift-dimension of human life is God’s gift of himself as Holy Spirit.” The gift that the willful person does not perceive. Spirit’s gifts are Spirit’s invitations. Like Mary, our spiritual growth comes from the Spirit’s invitations to us and our yielding to them.

Unfortunately for many years, we have been taught a will-powered dominated ideal of holiness. Baum notes: “The Gospel denounces the willful man, the man who uses will power to bring himself into conformity with a set of rules or the self-image he has chosen for himself.” We might add that the willful person is unlikely to be open to life’s growth rhythm of invitation and yielding, unlikely to be open to the Spirit’s operation.

Yielding Freely. Personal freedom makes the difference in the kind of yielding I am talking about. When I am enslaved by the attractions of sin or the pull of passion, I am not free. At that time we need all the wisdom of traditional ascetical teaching to fight our battles. But it is when I can give myself away freely that yielding becomes a positive growth experience. It is the difference between the act of love and rape. Ms. Richards writes: “Sexuality is a sacrament of the yielding of one center to another, the sacrament of love.”

Our concept of yielding gives us a new concept of prayer. We can say that prayer is the yielding of one’s center to the Divine Love Center at the core of our being and all being. Words are not needed when you are yielding. I have found that the practice of yielding to be helpful in my wordless prayer of centering. In my meditative walks, this practice helps me to connect with the Divine Love Center. Celebrating Mass can be a time for practicing yielding—to God’s presence in Scripture and sermon, to ritual, to community.

Invitation.  However, before there can be yielding, there must be invitation. That’s life’s growth rhythm. But what is the source of invitation? The Infinite Lover at the core of our being.  It is up to us to center down and yield to the source of invitation, yield to the love beams being radiated out through our mind, heart and will, so that we see all through the eyes of love. When we perceive through the eyes of love, everything can become a source of invitation—people, nature, the arts, spiritual reading—inviting us to yield. The sources of invitation have been multiplied many times!

In a Buddhist paper, entitled “Incorporating Meditative Practice into Everyday Life,” the author encourages us to “value each moment of life as an invitation to practice.”  For us, it is the practice of the spiritual life, expecting invitations of the Spirit of Love and yielding to them.