This message was written and given by Adriana Cavina. Thanks, Adriana!
One of my most beloved books of Quaker spirituality begins with these words: “Meister Eckhart wrote: As thou art in church or cell, that same frame of mind carry out into the world, into its turmoil and its fitfulness. The Quaker author comments: “Deep within there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice to which we may continually return. Eternity is in our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself”. But then the author warns us sternly that “But the Light within fades, the will weakens, the humdrum returns. (…) What is here urged are internal practices and habits of the mind”.
As most of you have already guessed the Quaker author is Thomas Kelly in his “Testament of Devotion”, a landmark in my own spiritual journey, and I imagine, many of you. As I was trying to orient myself to find these “internal practices and habits of the mind”, other Quaker authors began to speak to me of “simplicity, service and common sense” (Robert Lawrence Smith) and of “practicing peace” (Catherine Whitmire) with ourselves, first, then with others, the world, under any circumstance, be it fear, conflict or relative tranquility. The same message I heard from other sources in the Christian spiritual tradition and even other traditions, such as Sufism and Buddhism. Yet my life was far from simplicity and serenity, as I navigated across oceans, two cultures, several jobs, many responsibilities. But the call to let go, to trust, to believe that the Light within would eventually shine its beam of guidance through my life and my world was loud and insuppressible. So I continued searching…..
What I want to share with you today are some findings that I have gathered in my bumpy road journey towards a simpler life style and towards radical entrusting to the Source of the Light Within, God. Not that I can claim to have arrived or to have depth of wisdom to preach….I am still journeying, but I have already accumulated a few miles! Those are my credentials.….
In my own Italian heritage there is an author whose work every Italian school child knows well and has memorized; maybe you have heard of him. This author lived in socially and politically turbulent times in the thirteenth century and his major work is The Divine Comedy. His name is Dante Alighieri. Dante speaks of a journey towards a direct and full experience of God and in the last chapter of his long book, he has a spiritual revelation and he describes God as the ultimate “Love” the Love that makes the world, the sun and the stars exist and go round”. This Love embraces all in all. His long search finally brings him to the sublime vision of Love. Love, Light, unconditional, unsurpassable.
The journey, however, is long and begins with his narrative: “In the middle of our journey of life, I came to myself into a dark wood and found myself in a dark forest lost. How shall I say what wood that was! I never saw so dreary, so arduous wilderness. Its very memory gives shape to fear”. I think we all can relate to that experience. Who has not found oneself, at some point in life, lost in the woods, unable to discern the path clearly? Maybe it was a loss, separation, betrayal, loneliness, depression, some form of sickness, and we lost track of the right and straight path. It was scary. We Italians always recite these words by Dante when we feel lost, gone astray, confused. It helps us to know that Dante eventually found his guide and his long but sure path and that he finally emerged back in the sunshine of Divine Love.
In the OT passage we read, Joshua and the tribes of Israel are also lost. A battle is ahead and it is uncertain and scary. God sends a message but it is a daunting message: choose you this day whom you will serve: life or death?
I am personally convinced that his daunting question is not remote; it is actually in front of each of us every single day of our life. Let us look at it closer.
Think of a plant. A plant that is alive grows, gets stronger and taller. A plant that is dying withers, shrinks, gets smaller.
To choose life evokes an expansive movement; to breathe deeply without fear, with an open chest; it means to entrust oneself into God’s love and promise of rescue and comfort, to affirm peace, cooperation, love for our neighbor as diverse as he or she can be; it means forgiveness and letting go of resentments; it means a just and fair sharing of resources because we do not live from a paradigm of scarcity but of abundance; it means to let go of one’s ego and to be open to spiritual growth towards becoming the one that God wants us to be.
To choose death, instead, evokes contraction, rigidity; it means to remain attached to old ways, old possessions, to prefer conformity, to be greedy, selfish, to put ourselves above others, to feel entitled, to grab fast and wide because we live from a paradigm of : “it will soon finish; get it as much as you can now!”
Well, don’t we have to come to terms with this choice daily? Yes, the choice is easy when things go well and smooth, but what happens when resources are scarce, the weather threatens, we fear for our future?
The key word here is fear. Anxiety. Preoccupation.
The Gospel message comes to us in the very words of Jesus: oh, ye, of little faith, do not let worry overwhelm you. Trust. Look around, observe creation, the succession of seasons, rely on the promise of the daily bread that comes to our table. Nothing is important, nothing is precious, but the love of God for each of you, here and now, all the time.
Many years ago, as I was studying the Scriptures, one verse caught my attention and caused me to reflect on it for years, actually, I would say daily, since then. Jesus affirms in the Gospel of John (10:10) I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
What does it mean to have an abundant life? On the word of Deuteronomy it means choosing life over death, expansion over contraction, newness over old ways, practicing sharing instead of hoarding, having a longer table and opening it to the world instead of building walls of separation, choosing to trust instead of closing ourselves in fear. On the words of the Gospel of Matthew it means to let go of attachments and trust that we will be clothed, fed, nourished, guided, supported by Divine Love.
There is a convergence of the message here. From the Old to the New Testament, from the message given to Joshua to the one that Jesus’ disciples receive, the word is only one and it is spelled clear and loud, in capital letters: TRUST.
Yet this simple message is the one that is the most difficult to follow in full integrity, in time and space, in the core activities of daily living. Dallas Willard, another contemporary master of spiritual disciplines, explains why: “God created human beings to be different from anything else. We were created to have a special relationship with God, and to do our work in that relationship. We were to work in a power that is not our own. It is a pretty big job to have dominion over the earth. A lot of things are at work out there, and it is rather hard to control them! (…) It is hard for people to believe that they are spirit-infused beings with such power, privilege, and responsibilities”.
As I read these words, I feel a sense of relief: I am created to live and work in direct relationship with God’s power. And God’s power is Love. I do have an abundant life, here and now. Not as a wish, or a future condition, no, here and now. It has nothing to do with material abundance, although it does not exclude it. It is not prosperity in material terms. Prosperity may be a by-product. What it is, is a spiritual condition that unites heart and mind in the acceptance of a Love that comes to us even before we begin our search for it. “We love – says the First Letter of John—because He first loved us”. (1 John 4:19). Then, the message continues: “Love draws away fear” (1 John 4: ).
Ask yourself what your life would be like if it were completely without fear? If you did not fear death. If you did not fear loss and lack. If you did not fear life and what it might bring. If you did not fear any man, or woman, or any living creature. Would you live differently?
A life without fear is a life without lack. A life without lack is living without fear. It is a very simple thought, simple yet daunting. If we were to experience contentment, safety, security, we would not experience lack; therefore there would not be anything to fear.
Here comes to us the second word for the day. The first was TRUST. The second is CONTENTMENT.
My Quaker journey brings me to encounter innumerable fellow Quakers, from the past and the present, traveling on the rocky but sure path of trust, contentment, simplicity.
As we come to a close, my words become an invitation for myself first, and then for all of you. We may cross times of feeling lost in the dark woods, if it happens, let us hold on to the clear promise that from all angles of Scripture describes a life without lack, an abundant life, a contented life, in the inexhaustible richness of the Love of God for each one of us, a God whose nature and whose name, as my Italian master teacher Dante found, is LOVE.