Friday, February 1, 2013

A Vocation To Passivity


Last month I wrote about obtaining a Swahili translation of a catechesis book called The King’s Highway.  In my searching for this book I came across another by the same author, George D. Carleton, entitled The Spirit of Discipleship; published in 1933.  I would like to share an (edited) selection from this book that I found to be helpful to me.


     "Peter liked doing things:  he did not like have things done for him or to him.  It takes great humility to receive gracefully, a humility such as Peter had not got.  Even in his surrender he must be active, and direct the manner in which our Lord washed his feet.  In his zeal, like many zealous Christians, he wanted to be more active than Christ.  He could always better Christ’s suggestions.  The great matter was to get something done, and done quickly.  Activity precludes all thinking that is not superficial, and therefore gives one the pleasing sense of being useful.

We see Peter again in the garden, not thinking to wait for an answer to the question, “Lord, shall we smite with the sword?”  Of course he would smite:  what are swords for, and “what’s the good of talking:  watch me!”  And of course he would miss his aim.  Hoping to split open Malchus’ head, he only hit him on the ear:  which is a parable containing great admonition for Anglicans.

Christ redeemed the world, not by doing but by suffering, not by speaking but in silence, not by action but in human weakness of the dereliction, not by life but by death.  Our ideals of work and active service are good, they are God-given; but doing without being, action without suffering, energy without agony, are unsanctified and un-Christlike and unfruitful.  Christ was passive, enduring.  But he was praying.  In his unacting passion there was the intense activity, the energy, the suffering, the agony of prayer.

We hear the words which Peter heard addressed to him by our Lord.  “Couldest thou not watch with me one hour?”  It was a personal reproach.  Peter had no effective opportunity during our Lord’s agony of doing the active things which he wanted to do:  therefore the more readily did he fail in doing the passive things he was asked to do, and fail in being what he was asked to be.

He could fight, and he could work.  He had not yet learned to watch and pray.  Here is the test of the experienced church-worker, of the priest ordained many years ago, of the Religious whose profession was made many years back.  Our youthful enthusiasm has faded away.  We are middle-aged, and enthusiasm is a youthful virtue.  What has taken its place?  Either endurance, the fixed will, perseverance, growth in prayer, stability:  leading to spiritual advance in Christlikeness.  Or a dull acquiescence in a dull world, which means spiritual slumber, stagnation, and forgetfulness of Christ.

First Christ says, “Come, work”.  Later He says, “Watch with me”.

Let us listen further to the words of our Lord’s prayer in the garden:  “O my Father, if it be possible, if Thou be willing, let this cup pass from me.”  And we try to appreciate the agony of his human will now as always made obedient to the divine will.  He was facing the horror, the blackness of his doom.  He was taking up his cross before men laid it upon him.  We may compare the great things of Christ with our own small things, which yet to us are great.  Our depressions, our “blues”, when we are oppressed by our vivid imaginings and restive emotions, not unmixed with self-love, are as much of a Gethsemane as many of us ever enter into; but we know how bitter such experiences may be, and how near we then are to the rebellion of the will.

We must cure our blues, and cure them along with Christ.  We must paint the picture in our imagination in the very darkest colors, leaving out whatever may suggest itself as the compensation attractiveness, making the whole picture one blackness.  Then looking at it, we must accept it:  “If this cup may not pass away from me except I drink it, Thy will be done”.  We shall then have taken the self-love out of our depressions; we shall have accepted worse than will in fact befall us; we shall have conquered our blues.  Blues are the God-given opportunities for genuine surrender of our will to him.  It is just when the burden laid upon us seems heavier than we can bear, that we have our chance of showing to God that we love him.

The words of Jesus in the garden imply the thought in his mind that perhaps after all there might be some easier way for him according to the divine will, and that the cross might be avoided.  And that is what everyone feels at times, who is following any special vocation, ore rule of life, or mortification, harder than what others are called to.  Our will is tempted by the devil upsetting our right judgment, and our self-love makes us ready to be persuaded.  “Why should I be living in this way?  Am I not merely quixotic, or even blinded by my own vanity, in arrogating to myself a harder way of service than others have who are better than I?  Perhaps after all it would be sufficient, or even better, for me to walk in the ordinary ways of men?”

Christ resisted and conquered, because his will was already and always set firm; he had humanly the strength of previous conquests and formed habits of surrender.  And because he prayed:  “being in agony, he prayed more earnestly”.  In your agonies, kneel with the passive Christ, and pray.  And to you also God will send his angel, and you will no longer agonize alone.

In your prayer now, let your mind dwell upon the dark hours that have been in your past life."


May the peace of Christ be with you,
Brother Nathan

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