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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.

Sacred Dance

Lovers know it. Would-be mystics discover it. The Song of Songs celebrates it. It is the Sacred Dance. What is it? Putting ourselves gradually at the disposal of the beloved. Gifting ourselves, yielding ourselves, surrendering ourselves to the beloved’s invitation to union. We must dance this Sacred Dance, for it is our surrender that leads us deeply into our love union, or spiritual communion or mystical union.

Why is it sacred? Because the Sacred Dance is a psychic-spiritual drama between God and ourselves. As human beings, we experience a mysterious hunger for relationship with God. We intuit that we are mystics at heart. We use our strongest creative force—our power of desire—to seek union. We pray that the Spirit of Love (Divine Eros) will gift us with Divine encounter. Our hearts slip gradually into surrender to the Spirit’s invitation. The Sacred Dance is all about desire and our gradual surrender into Divine union.

Self-emptying. There is another fact of life that lovers and would-be mystics discover. Before they can dance the Sacred Dance of surrender to the beloved, they must first experience self-emptying. They must strip themselves of their masks, behind which they hide to enhance their false self. They must experience psychic nakedness.

How do we experience this self-emptying before our God? We contemplate the dialectic that is at the heart of our spiritual lives. We are programmed for relationship with an Infinite Being—an Infinite Lover at that—but we are powerless to live that relationship. We are absolutely dependent on the Spirit’s gift to enter into union with the Infinite Lover. We pray to the Spirit for this gift.

We even need the Spirit, who is the energy source at the core of our beings, to awaken our desire for Divine union. We have the Spirit’s standing invitation for union but we are usually unaware of it. And we can’t even surrender ourselves to the Infinite Lover on our own. Most importantly, the Spirit only acts when we have expressed our powerlessness and we have experienced our psychic nakedness. Then we can dance the Sacred Dance of surrender.

New Paradigm. Our Eucharistic Celebration—Jesus’ Love Meal—is a paradigm of the Sacred Dance for all our spiritual activities. Here we can follow the steps of the Sacred Dance. Before Jesus’ Love Meal even begins, we must experience self-emptying and our powerlessness on our own to encounter God. Then we can respond to Jesus’ invitation to the Sacred Dance by offering our gifts of bread and wine, symbol of our lives, symbol of our desire to be consecrated for sacrifice with him.

Jesus’ invitation is climaxed by a Communal Act of Love when we receive Jesus and our sisters and brothers as Eucharist, and they receive us as bread and wine. We are brought into Mystical Communion, Mystical Union with Jesus and with the community to bring about the Beloved Community.

But note: along with this ritual of action in our Eucharistic Celebrations, we have experienced a ritual of the heart. We have danced the Sacred Dance of putting ourselves at Jesus’ disposal to prepare our hearts for self-giving, gifting ourselves to be consecrated with Jesus, and surrendering ourselves with Jesus in our Communal Act of Love, which includes all our sisters and brothers, without exception. In this Mystical union, the crucible of Divine love is created. The Spirit plunges us into that crucible where the Spirit works at our personal transformation to create the Beloved Community.

Wall Flower. What happens when we decide to sit out the Sacred Dance before our spiritual activities such as our Eucharistic Celebrations, spiritual reading, praying the Office, centering prayer, faith sharing through Scripture, praying the Rosary or other devotions? We engage our computer-like minds which are designed for analysis, judgments, comparisons, for living self-centered lives, and unfortunately building up our False Self. Our minds want control, not the surrender required for our spiritual activities.

Worse, our minds disengage our hearts. The result: We don’t do the spiritual spiritually:

  • Our Eucharistic Celebrations become a church service rather than a transforming experience.
  • Our spiritual reading becomes an intellectual exercise. We purchase the latest recommendation on the best seller list with good intentions. But we don’t have the spiritual desire for self-transformation—the only goal of all our spiritual activities.
  • Our prayer becomes routine. We recite only words. But we don’t experience the vibrations of the heart that the words should impart.
  • Our Scripture sharing becomes an analysis of the text or a meaningless exchange of thoughts—with no revelations of our hearts or our faith.
  • Sharing our spiritual life becomes an embarrassing encounter, rather than a supporting experience for the faith of our sisters and brothers.

Passionate Centering. Elsewhere we have emphasized the importance of the practice of centering down. Indeed, it is the practice that should precede all our spiritual activities. We have defined it as the conscious gathering of our mind, heart and will to open us to the Divine Center within us.

Now we have recommended adding a new dimension to this practice of centering down—experiencing a psychic-spiritual drama. It is the twofold spiritual activity of self-emptying and dancing the Sacred Dance before all our spiritual activities. First, it is experiencing our psychic nakedness. We strip ourselves of our self-centeredness. We recognize our powerlessness as a human being to encounter the Infinite Lover. It is an act of humility, being honest with ourselves that without the Spirit we can’t do the spiritual spiritually.

Second, we look to the Spirit who is Divine Love in action to gift us with the capacity to dance the Sacred Dance of gifting ourselves, yielding ourselves and surrendering ourselves—before we enter our spiritual activities.

Passionate centering down helps us to do the spiritual spiritually! Passion is quite appropriate. After all, we are attempting to encounter our Infinite Lover.