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Developing a friendship with God may be the starting point for the spiritual journey, but how can that important internal relationship move us to make an impact on—and even transform—the world around us? In Changed Heart, Changed World , renowned spiritual director William A. Barry, SJ, delves into such topics as how friendship with God impacts our role in society, how to see forgiveness as a way of life, and how compassion can make its mark on the world. Throughout the book, Fr. Barry provides many practical ...
Developing a friendship with God may be the starting point for the spiritual journey, but how can that important internal relationship move us to make an impact on—and even transform—the world around us? In Changed Heart, Changed World , renowned spiritual director William A. Barry, SJ, delves into such topics as how friendship with God impacts our role in society, how to see forgiveness as a way of life, and how compassion can make its mark on the world. Throughout the book, Fr. Barry provides many practical ways to integrate the inner life, where we experience a relationship with God, with the outer life, where we live in relationship with our world. Above all else, Changed Heart, Changed World reminds us that God has a dream for his creation here and now—a dream that can only be realized by our becoming “other Christs in this world.”
Early in 2007, Father Agbonkianmeghe Orobator, SJ, then rector of the Jesuit community at Hekima College, in Nairobi, Kenya, invited me to give a lecture at the Hekima Forum for Exploring Faith in Public Life on December 15. I agreed to speak on the topic of friendship with God in the real world. The talk was well received. I was later invited to give the Loyola Lecture at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish at the University of Connecticut on March 22, 2008, where I was privileged to talk on the same topic. These invitations gave me the impetus to begin this book, an exploration of the ways friendship with God affects the worlds we live in. In the meantime, Guest House at Lake Orion, Michigan, invited me to give the keynote address at the fifty-ninth annual convention of the National Catholic Council on Alcoholism in Houston on January 20, 2009, a further impetus. I am grateful to the communities connected with Hekima College, St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Storrs, Connecticut, and Guest House for these invitations, for the positive reception, and for insightful questions and observations that furthered my thinking and prayer on this topic.
A number of friends read the successive drafts of the book. I am very grateful to Robert G. Doherty, SJ; Kathleen Foley, SND; Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ; Robert E. Lindsay, SJ; Thomas J. Massaro, SJ; and William C. Russell, SJ—all of whom read with kindness and acumen and helped me make the end product much better than its beginnings. Vinita Hampton Wright of Loyola Press has been very helpful in making the book more user friendly. I am grateful to readers of articles in Human Development who encouraged me with their comments and insights. I am overwhelmed with gratitude to the many men and women who have given me the privilege of accompanying them as they developed their friendship with God. Some of them have given me permission to use their experiences here to illustrate how friendship changes the real world. The trust I have been given by those who seek spiritual direction continues to bring me to my knees.
For the past thirteen years, I have codirected a program (called tertianship) for priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus in preparation for their final vows. They have come from many parts of the world, and each year, they have made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola for thirty days at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Massachusetts. I’ve been privileged to listen to their experiences of developing a deeper friendship with Jesus—an experience that has impelled them out into the wider world to make their mark in cooperation with their friend. The experience has been enriching for me, and I am immensely grateful to these men, to the staff at Eastern Point Retreat House who help make it a “thin place,” and to my superiors who have given me this profound work to do.
Also for the past thirteen years, I have lived at Campion Center, a building that formerly housed large numbers of young Jesuits studying philosophy and theology in preparation for ordination to the priesthood. Now half of the building contains the Michael G. Pierce, SJ, Pavilion for elderly and sick Jesuits of the New England province; the other half is a renewal center. I live with a wonderful community of Jesuits; many of us are here for our final days before burial in the province cemetery next to the building. It is a great gift to live with my brothers as we all face old age, illness, and death with a spirit of hope, good humor, and deep faith in Jesus, who has called each to be his companion and friend. You might expect gloom here, but you would not find it. Friendship with Jesus seems to be making us better images of God as we age. I say this of my brothers—I am not so sure of myself. But they certainly have encouraged me with their interest in what I am doing, their words of congratulations and helpful suggestions after homilies, and their companionship. I am immensely grateful to be a member of this community of friends in the Lord.
I want to thank all those who have taken the time to write to thank me, to encourage me, or to make suggestions as a result of reading previous books. Writers send words out into the world in the hope that they will reach someone and have an impact. I have been blessed with this gift and with readers who take the time to respond. Know that I am grateful to all of you who read this book. If you get to the penultimate page, you will see how I pray for all of you. Many thanks!
Finally, my deepest debt of gratitude is to the Friend who created me, gave me the parents and sisters, teachers, mentors and friends who have nurtured me over this long life of eighty years. Laus Deo semper!
Friendship with God in the Real World
See, I am making all things new.
God wants our friendship. Does this statement seem idealistic and otherworldly? To be in touch with God, do you need to get out of touch with the hurly-burly of ordinary life? Retreat houses are usually located in rural areas and have large, private grounds so that you can pray undisturbed. At these retreat houses, near the end of a retreat, retreat directors and those making retreats often speak of returning to the “real world,” and they sound regretful. Closeness to God seems to require distance from the world.
Much of a Christian’s religious teaching invites a separation of religion from ordinary life. Heaven is often presented as a place to which we go when we die, and it is contrasted with this dark and evil world. Church on Sunday becomes a refuge from real life, to which we are forced to return on Monday. For centuries in the Roman Catholic Church, religious life was presented as a retreat from the world to a higher calling; marriage and raising a family and working at a “regular” job seemed to be on a lower rung in the hierarchy of religious values. People easily came to the conclusion that, in some ways, God and the world were in opposition.
In addition, many who are active in the world look with suspicion, even disdain, on religious people who try to give moral or political advice. “Religion has no place and no relevance in the public square,” they say. “Your advice is all well and good, but in the real world, it won’t work. You people stick to your prayers and leave the rough-and-tumble of politics and business to us practical people.” Does closeness to God really mean we must keep our distance from “unreligious” life?
God Has a Dream for This World In the liturgy of Advent, we hear the great prophecies of the Hebrew Bible. These prophecies, most of them from Isaiah, tell us about God’s dream for our world and for our world now. In other words, they do not just foretell what will happen; they proclaim, first and foremost, what God intends and hopes for creation itself. Moreover, the prophesies aim to encourage a discouraged and desperate people to live toward the fulfillment of this dream, to continue to be the light of the world as God’s people.
In Isaiah, God says: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, / and their spears into pruning hooks; / nation shall not lift up sword against nation, / neither shall they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4). “The wolf shall live with the lamb, / the leopard shall lie down with the kid. . . . They will not hurt or destroy / on all my holy mountain; / for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6–9). Rather than see these prophecies as promises about a distant future, think of them as indications of what God wants for our created world now and always. These prophecies express God’s dream in creating our world.
God wants a world in which human beings work together in harmony and friendship with God, with one another, and with all of creation. We are God’s children, created in God’s image and likeness, and asked to help God fulfill the dream for this created world. Sometimes I use the image of God as a parent inviting adult children to join the family business. The world is God’s family business. Only in this world can God attain the dream. But God can attain that dream only if we, who are created in God’s image and likeness, live out our likeness as God’s sons and daughters and accept the invitation to join the family business.
The whole of creation, of course, is made in the image and likeness of God—God is the only reality, the only model for creation. However, we humans are distinct in that we are created to be like God in our self-consciousness, in our thinking, feeling, and acting. Because we act not just from instinct but also from intention, we are created to act in harmony with God’s intention for the world. That’s the awesome and exhilarating challenge of being human, because, like God, we must choose how to act. We can choose to act in harmony—or out of harmony—with God’s dream.
Christians believe that Jesus of Nazareth is God incarnate, in human flesh. It looks as though God, seeing how badly we mishandled our role in this created world, decided to show how a human being should act as one made in God’s image. Jesus grew into an adult friend of his Abba, his “dear Father,” and participated in God’s dream for the world in the way God intends all human beings to cooperate. At the Last Supper, Jesus said to his disciples, and therefore to all of us adult followers:
You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. (John 15:14–17)
After the resurrection, Jesus returned to the upper room and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” and he breathed on them, thus indicating that he was giving them the breath, or spirit, of God (John 20:21–22); this made it possible for them to develop fully into adult friends of God and to participate in God’s life here in the world.
John sets up this scene in the upper room as a new or renewed creation story. We, who at the first creation were created to be the image bearers of God by the breath or spirit of God, now receive that Spirit in a new and even more intimate way so that we can be who we are created to be, images of God, friends of God, other Christs in this world, which so desperately needs such friends of God.
What Are the Practical Consequences of Living as Friends of God?
If what I have been saying is true—and Christians profess that it is—then this spirituality of friendship with God is the purpose for which God created us. We are created to become friends of God and to cooperate with God to develop a world in which the wolf does live with the lamb, in which swords are beaten into ploughshares, in which all God’s children live in peace. Every one of us adults is invited to become a friend of God and a prophet (Wisdom 7:27). Jesus calls each of us Christians his friends and sends us out into this world in the same way he was sent. Each of us is called to follow Jesus, not to imitate him slavishly but to discern what our role in God’s work is to be and how we are to live out our vocation as God-images and adult friends of God in our time and place and circumstances. We can choose to sit out the call, but if we do so, we become part of the world’s problem, not part of the solution.
What does it mean, then, to be a friend of God, an image bearer of God, another Christ? The rest of this book attempts to answer that question.
God, in Whose Image We Are Made
I am the Lord your God. [Y]ou shall have no other gods before me.
The first letter of John states, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. . . . We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:10, 19). When we love someone or something,
we are attracted to what already exists. But we exist because of God’s love. We do not exist for God to be attracted to us; rather, God’s desire for us creates us and makes us attractive—to God! God’s love is not contingent on anything we are or do. Nor is God’s love utilitarian—that is, God does not love us to achieve some other purpose, for instance, to convert some other person or to achieve a goal in God’s scheme for the world. Before we ever became aware of God, we were already the focus of God’s love. Also, nothing we do or say changes God’s love for us. Through sin we alienate ourselves from God, but God still loves us and pursues our friendship.
We are made in God’s image. And the God in whose image we are made is absolute love, given and not deserved.
Assess Your Perception of God Perceiving God as absolute love is a hard lesson for us to learn because we are so conditioned to love with ifs and buts attached: “I will love you if you are a good boy”; “I love you because you are so beautiful”; “I will love you as long as you are faithful to me”; “If you loved me, you would . . .” God is not, however, like King Lear in Shakespeare’s play, who demands to know how much his three daughters love him before dividing his kingdom among them. When Cordelia, the one he loves most and who loves him gratuitously, cannot come up with words to match the flattery of her sisters, Lear disowns her and banishes her from his sight forever. Many of us tend to imagine God as being like Lear, testing us to see whether we are worthy of love. But that’s not the truth about God, as the first letter of John points out. God loves us first, and without conditions.
When we realize that we are attracted to God and want closeness to God, we are like a young man or woman who is attracted to someone else. Can you recall a time when you were attracted to someone but were not sure that the other person was attracted to you? I remember times like that. What a surge of joy when I found out that the other person was just as attracted to me! It seemed like a miracle; I found it difficult to contain my happiness. Well, that’s just a pale comparison to what we experience in our growing love for God. We could say that God is hopelessly in love with us from the get-go. In fact, that love is the great energy that creates us. Experiencing even a taste of God’s love for you can make you very happy indeed. And, as we shall see in chapter 4, happy people have an effect on the world.
There’s something else we need to know: God is neither coercive nor violent. God can have friendship with us only if we willingly accept the offer. In creating human beings, God has tied his own hands, so to speak, and become vulnerable—vulnerable to our rejection, our lack of response. This idea flies in the face of the way God is often depicted in Scripture and in religious discourse. We hear that God is a God of power and might.
There is a strand of the Scriptures that would lead us to see God as using coercion and violence against disobedient people. Some sections of the Old Testament seem to sanction ethnic cleansing as God’s way of ensuring that the people remain true to the covenant they have with God. Other passages show God as vengeful and violent against those who refuse to obey the law. But I would urge you to take the long view both of Scripture and of tradition as you ponder the Mystery who is God.
The Old Testament also shows God as endlessly forgiving and merciful and as willing almost to grovel before his people to bring them back to their senses (Micah 6:3). Finally, a sustained contemplation of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth raises questions about the ambiguity of Scripture and gives us permission to see the portrayal of God as violent as a sign of our own ambivalence about God and about our own use of power. For one thing, Jesus never uses coercion to attain his purposes. Even his healing power can be accessed only by those who are willing to receive it. He often says to those who have been cured, “Your faith has made you well” (Mark 5:34). In his hometown of Nazareth, he could do little healing because of the people’s lack of faith; he seems perplexed at their unbelief (see Mark 6:1–6). He was the Messiah, the anointed one, promised by God to bring about restoration of God’s dream for the world, yet he refused the devil’s temptations to use his powers in coercive ways to prove his credentials.
And if ever God had reason to react in violence, it was at Golgotha. We Christians believe that Jesus is God Incarnate. He is God’s response to the mess we have made of the good world God created. Yet we delivered him to a cruel and tortured death. God did not respond with anger and violence but with forgiveness and resurrection. In light of the life and death of Jesus, the God in whose image we are created cannot be said to be violent.
Dare to Contemplate God’s Love Ignatius of Loyola must have experienced the immense joy and happiness of realizing that God had always loved him passionately and without reservation, even while he was doing everything in his power to keep God at a proper distance or to drive God away. Ignatius had not sought God for most of his early life, but when he awakened to his desire for God, he found that God had been seeking him all his life. His heart overflowed with love and affection for God and with a desire to join God’s loving action in the world. At the end of his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius proposes a contemplation for attaining love to help those who have made these Exercises come to the kind of love for God that Ignatius had experienced. I suggest that you take some time, before going ahead with the reading of this book, to do this contemplation.1
Before you begin, let me say something about the word contemplation. For Ignatius, contemplation was a rather simple exercise, one in which we allow our heart, mind, senses, and imagination free rein so that God can use them to reveal something about Godself to us. It is a way to forget our concerns and ourselves so that God can get a word in edgewise. You are contemplative when you pay attention to the play of sunlight on snow, for example; as you do, you forget the pain in your back or the concern about your bank account, and God has a chance to break through to reveal something important to you. You can also read a passage of Scripture and let it capture your imagination the way a novel or a poem might. The process of paying attention to something besides your own concerns and worries gives God a chance to communicate. That’s what Ignatius meant by contemplation. Just recently, for example, a woman read aloud the words of Isaiah 43:4, “You are precious in my sight, / and honored, and I love you,” and found herself unaccountably sobbing with relief, joy, and desire for God; her reactions surprised her. She had paid attention to those words, and something unexpected happened.
So when Ignatius calls this exercise Contemplation for Attaining Love and then gives four points, he does not intend for us to spend the time of prayer merely thinking about those points. He wants us to experience the world in that way. So if you want to engage in the exercise, I invite you to use all your senses, your mind, your imagination, your emotions, and your memory; if you enjoy the outdoors, go outside and walk or sit or play; if you enjoy music, listen to it or play it; if you like to paint or use clay or any other medium, go ahead. The main thing is that you are asking to experience how much God has loved and cherished you so that you will grow in your own love for God.
Ignatius makes two preliminary points: first, love is shown more in deeds than in words, and second, love desires mutuality. The first is rather easy to understand, but the second can take your breath away when you realize that the One who wants something from us in mutuality is the Creator of the universe—the one who needs nothing. Yet without our acceptance of the love God offers, God is helpless; under those circumstances, God is a lover who seems to love in vain. Let that thought sink in. Doesn’t it boggle the mind?
?A Contemplation to Attain Love Remember that God is looking at you, waiting for you to pay attention. Even that thought can knock you over. The Creator of the universe is looking at you, waiting for you to pay attention. Then tell God what you want, namely to have a deeply felt knowledge of how good God is and has been to you so that you will want to love God in return (S.E. No. 233).
First (S.E. No. 234) allow your memory to recall all the gifts you have received in life.
Ignatius mentions the gifts of “creation, redemption, and particular gifts.” Let the memories roll. Ignatius suggests “pondering with great affection how much God our Lord has done for me, and how much He has given me of what He has; and further, how according to His divine plan, it is the Lord’s wish, as far as He is able, to give me Himself.” God wants you to exist in this world and has done everything to make that possible; also, God wants to give you Godself “as far as He is able.” Let that sink in. How do you react? Tell God what’s in your mind and heart. Give yourself some time with this exercise. Don’t rush to the next point.
In his second point (S.E. No. 235), Ignatius invites us to “see how God dwells in creatures.”
Everything that exists is an image of God; God dwells in everything. So pay attention to rocks, flowers, birds, dumps, trees, deer, and other human beings. As you pay attention, do you feel a sense of awe, a sense of divine presence? God dwells in everything, including you and me. Again, take time with this exercise and tell God what’s in your mind and heart.
In the third point (S.E. No. 236), Ignatius invites us to “consider how God works and labors on my behalf in all the created things on the face of the earth.”
God is acting always in everything to bring about the kind of world God wants for you and for all of humanity and for the whole of creation. How do you react as you allow yourself to imagine this whole world as a place where God is working for your good and the good of the whole? Tell God what is in your mind and heart.
In the fourth point (S.E. No. 237), Ignatius suggests that we “see how all that is good and every gift descends from on high . . . as rays descend from the sun, waters from a fountain.”
You might spend time outside on a sunny day, seeing the sunlight illuminating everything, feeling its warmth on your body, and imagining how God is creating and bathing you in love. Again, tell God what’s in your mind and heart.
This kind of contemplation can lead us to want to love God with our whole mind and heart and soul, to become the friend God wants us to be. Ignatius suggests a prayer that may express what you want to say to God.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
and my entire will,
all that I have and possess.
You gave it all to me;
to you, Lord, I give it all back.
All is yours,
dispose of it entirely according to your will.
Give me the grace to love you,
for that is enough for me.
(S.E. No. 234)
What a radical prayer! You may not be able to say it with your whole heart and mind right away. If you find it too much, ask God to help you be able to say it and mean it. When you get right down to it, this prayer is only an expression of the truth of things, namely that we are all creatures who have everything by gift from God’s creative hand and heart. It is an expression of the first commandment, affirming that God alone is God and everything else depends on God’s creative desire at every moment. But this truth is not at all easy for us to live out. So as we say this prayer, we might add the words of the father of the demon-possessed boy: “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Love and faith go hand in hand, and they are both gifts to be prayed for continually.?
Our Role in the World as It Is
God saw everything that he had made, and . . . it was very good.
The Contemplation for Attaining Love can help us realize at a deep level that God does love us first and has only our good in mind. And as we grow into contemplating our world this way, we recognize more and more that every place and situation is holy ground because God is present and working there. Gerard Manley Hopkins, who every year of his Jesuit life made this contemplation at least once, distilled the experience in the poem “God’s Grandeur.”
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And, for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastwards, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.2
Hopkins sees how bleak and hard the world can be, but at the same time, he experiences God’s loving presence lighting it up. The last lines evoke the image of the Holy Spirit as a bird sitting on the egg that is the world, not only bent because eggs are round but also bent with human folly and sin. It is a very hopeful image indeed.
The World Is God’s, Whether or Not We Believe It Just as we need to be clear about who God is as we reflect on what friendship with God in the world entails, so too we need to be clear about the world as it really is. Many Christians have a distorted view of the “world.” For many, it is a place in which we are tested to see whether we are worthy of going to heaven when we die. For others, the world is an evil place. Yet our faith tells us that God, who is Father, Word, and Spirit, created this vast, complex universe out of nothing, with pure generosity, and saw that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Our faith also affirms that God creates this vast universe intentionally; that is, God has a purpose in creation.
I believe that God’s intention for our world can be summed up in this way: God wants a world where we human beings live in harmony and friendship with God, with one another, and with the rest of creation, cooperating with God wherever we are.
God is always creating and sustaining this universe, always at work in it to move it toward the end for which it is created. Hence, we encounter God as present, indwelling, and active in everything that exists at every moment of our existence. And exercises such as the Contemplation for Attaining Love give us a chance to experience that encounter and to rejoice in it. So in this world we meet the living God who is always trying to draw each of us into harmony with the divine intention.
The world is what it is independent of our beliefs. When she was questioning God’s existence, the British theologian Frances Young “heard” these words: “It makes no difference to me whether you believe in me or not.”3 She found it immensely consoling and freeing to realize that God’s existence did not depend on her belief. Well, the reality of our world as created and sustained and, in Jesus, inhabited by God does not depend on our belief. It just is, at every moment of its existence, dependent on God’s creative, sustaining, and redeeming desire. Human beings are created for friendship with God, with one another, and with the whole created universe independent of who believes this.
Whether or not we believe, our hearts are restless until they rest in God. And in this universe, the Son of God became a human being, lived, died, and was raised from the dead. Our world and everyone in it—independent of anyone’s belief—have physical ties with the risen Jesus and are different because of his existence. And whether or not we believe it, the spirit of God has been poured out into the hearts and minds of human beings and influences them to act as sons and daughters of God, wherever they are in the world.
In other words, God is always at work to bring about the divine dream, the kingdom or rule of God—whether or not we believe it.
The World Is Both Old and New But we human beings have not lived in harmony with the divine intention. To explain the sorry state of the world, the third chapter of Genesis tells the story of the man and woman eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. According to the story, by God’s generous gift alone, the man and the woman were like God and would live forever as God’s friends. The tempter, however, insinuated that God did not want them to eat this fruit because then they would be like God. God is not a rival of anyone or anything, but, insanely, the man and woman disobey God to become like God—and thus they become less like God, distorted images of God. Because of their folly, alienation from God and from God’s intention for us entered our world and ruined the dream.
Still, God has not given up on the dream. God chose a people, the Jews, to keep alive belief in the one true God and hope for the world, which is now broken and alienated. The prophets, such as the one known as Third Isaiah, articulated that hope as a promise to create a new heavens and a new earth.
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
The prophet delivered these words to the Israelites, who had returned from exile in Babylon. They were experiencing the difficulties of rebuilding their lives and their religious practices in a land that was alien to them, a land most of them had never seen. Often in the Bible we find such promises of what God wants to do and will do, and often they are delivered at dark times in the history of the Israelites. Jews and Christians believe that the new heavens and the new earth have to do with this world, not with a world of heavenly spirits alone. Somehow God will make this world new.
For many Jews in Jesus’ time, this belief in God’s promise of a new heavens and a new earth meant belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead, which would come to pass with the arrival of the Messiah at the end of history. Christians believe that the Messiah has come in Jesus of Nazareth and that within history God has already resurrected him. Thus, we believe that by raising Jesus bodily from the dead, God has already begun the new heavens and new earth. And because Jesus has a body with ties to the whole universe, in some mysterious way, the new heavens and new earth are transforming our world right now. We, who still live in the “old earth,” are invited to live now as citizens of that “new earth.” This is what friendship with God in Christ Jesus entails.
But our world is not totally transformed. We still feel the effects of original sin, of alienation from God, and we continually have to struggle with the pulls of that old earth in which we are enmeshed. Hence, nothing we do, even our holiest action, is totally free from the effects of the old earth. Those effects color our motivations, our attitudes, and our behaviors. It is good to remember this as we try to do our best to live as citizens of the new heavens and the new earth.
Living in Two Worlds Requires Discernment Because we live simultaneously in two worlds (which are really one world in the process of redemption), we need to become discerning. We are the products of a world that is simultaneously alienated from God and, in Jesus, united with God. We constantly hear siren calls that want to pull us back to the old earth. That world exerts a mighty pull because we are part of it in every fiber of our being. Jesus himself became part of it, which is why he was vulnerable to temptation, just as we are. If we are moved to treat those who oppose us with kindness and courtesy, we will be tempted to think that we are being weak and cowardly. If we sense an urge to speak out against something unjust or immoral, we might have the thought, But others who are good people don’t seem to be bothered. The values of the two worlds we live in are at odds, and unfortunately, the loudest voice often is that of the world alienated from God.
In addition, another voice tries to keep us from developing our friendship with God, namely the Father of Lies, the one Jesus called the Satan. It is not fashionable to speak of the devil these days, but that fashion may be the best strategy the devil has devised. At least that is what C. S. Lewis suggested in his humorous but deadly serious The Screwtape Letters. The letters purport to be written by a senior devil to his nephew, giving him instruction on how to tempt human beings. In the preface, Lewis writes:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.4
Jesus surely believed in the existence of the one he called the Satan, but he did not show an excessive interest in Satan, and the same is true for saints throughout the centuries.
Friendship Changes Both Heart and Mind In a series of lectures for BBC Radio in 1930 and 1932, the Scottish philosopher John Macmurray spoke of the dangerous situation into which the Western world had fallen as a result of the Enlightenment. He rightly extolled the development of the intellect that the Enlightenment had fostered, a development that led to great scientific and technological breakthroughs, modern methods of historical and literary criticism, and the growth of democratic governments. But there was a downside, he noted, in that there had not been a comparable development of the human heart, of human affectivity, to match our intellectual development. “As a result,” he said:
we are intellectually civilized and emotionally primitive; and we have reached the point at which the development of knowledge threatens to destroy us. Knowledge is power, but emotion is the master of our values and of the uses, therefore, to which we put our power. Emotionally we are primitive, childish, undeveloped. Therefore, we have the tastes, the appetites, the interests and apprehensions of children. But we have in our hands a vast set of powers, which are the products of our intellectual development. We have used these powers to construct an intricate machinery of life, all in the service of our childish desires. And now we are waking up to the fact that we cannot control it; that we do not even know what we want to do with it. So we are beginning to be afraid of the work of our hands. That is the modern dilemma.5
Do you sense, as I do, that he is talking about our present world even though the lectures were delivered before the outbreak of World War II, the horrors of Hitler’s “final solution,” the atomic bomb, and all the other horrors our world has seen since that time? We do not seem to have advanced much beyond the primitive, childish emotional development Macmurray diagnosed at that time, nor are we less afraid of what we are capable of doing with the work of our hands. How do we develop emotionally into the maturity that will allow us to use the power our intellects have put into our hands for the good of our world rather than its destruction? In the terms of this book, how do we become the kind of adult friends God needs to bring about the new heavens and the new earth?
Macmurray believed that “emotion is the master of our values and of the uses . . . to which we put our power.” So the answer to our question is not a matter of getting our ideas or our values straight through disciplined thinking. Disciplined thinking alone is what got us into this predicament. We need to develop a discipline of the heart, and this is precisely what engaging in friendship with God can do.
We Grow into Emotional Maturity When we engage in any friendship, our hearts are changed, often without our noticing what has happened. The closer I become to a friend, the more both of us reveal of our true selves. Some of what I reveal is not pretty, but I find that my friend remains my friend in spite of my shabbiness, my narrow-mindedness, my bouts of anger and moodiness. As a result, I am changed, and for the better. I find that I do not have to be so defensive with this friend, with other friends, and with others I meet. I become more confident and unafraid with people and, in the process, become less shabby, less narrow-minded, and less prone to bouts of anger or moodiness. And others become less edgy and on alert when they’re around me. As friendship changes my heart, I become emotionally more mature and better able to use what power I have for the good of others and not just to protect myself.
The same thing happens, and with greater effect, in our friendship with God. As I engage in friendship with God, I find that God loves me warts and all, and I am more and more willing to face my dark moods and sinful tendencies with God. Not only that, but I also begin to ask God for help in overcoming these tendencies, to make me more like Jesus. God’s friendship helps me face the truth about myself in a way that leads to a more honest relationship with others as well. I regret hurting others and so ask for forgiveness and make amends. In my relationship with God, I reveal more and more of myself and become freer of the hang-ups and neuroses that bedevil my other relationships at home and at work. I talk with God about my life at home and at work and find that this kind of conversation helps me bring harmony and productivity to both places. Simply put, engaging in the friendship with God transforms me, and through me—and, of course, through those around me—a small part of the world changes for the better.
The discipline of the heart that leads to its transformation, however, will come about only if we pay attention to what goes in our interior life. As we go about our daily lives trying to live as adult friends of God, different voices pull us—some from God, some from our alienated world, some from our own psychological baggage, and some from the Satan. How do we decide which attractions and inclinations are from God? In the history of spirituality, the way to answer this question has been called discernment of spirits. What this term means is that we pay attention to our inner states as we go through life. Why? Because from our inner states come the good and evil that we do (see Matthew 15:18–20). We can learn how to discern the spirits, those inner voices or movements, but we need the help of others to learn how to do so. I have written a short introduction to this process in A Friendship Like No Other: Experiencing God’s Amazing Embrace. But I want to say something here because it bears on how we grow toward emotional maturity and, therefore, on how we live in this real world.6
We Learn the Discernment of Spirits One thing is clear: we cannot discern the spirits if we are not aware of them. To become a discerning friend of God, we need to grow in awareness of what goes on inside us. In a book on Greek Orthodox spirituality, The Mountain of Silence, Kyriacos Markides asks Elder Father Maximos whether, according to Orthodox spirituality, the heart is “the depository where what Freud called ‘repression’ takes place.” Maximos replies: “What you called ‘repression’ is totally unacceptable in real spiritual medicine. . . . In the spiritual arena . . . we aim at the transmutation or metamorphosis of our passions, not the actual storing of them into the so-called subconscious.” Later he continued: “According to the spirituality of the holy elders, the subconscious must never remain dark. The aim is to purify it, distill it, and make it transparent. We must never repress our weaknesses and passions. The aim of the Ecclesia (the church) as a method of healing is to sanctify the human individual, the whole person.”7
Elder Maximos hits the target. For too long in the history of Western Christian spirituality, repression of unwanted feelings, impulses, thoughts, and desires was taught as the preferred method toward spiritual growth. But God wants to heal us through and through. To allow God to do this, we must be willing to face our darkest and most troubling impulses in God’s healing presence. The psalmist who uttered the terrifying words, “Happy shall they be who take your little ones / and dash them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:9) could be healed of his murderous rage against the Babylonians only by letting God know that he felt this way. (It would be comforting to know that, after voicing those sentiments, he later asked God to heal him of this rage.)
As we try to figure out how to act in this world that is simultaneously the old world and the new world, we need to pay attention to everything important that goes through our hearts and minds so that we can discern how to act in tune with God’s dream for the world. The only way forward for God’s dream is for more and more of us friends to learn how to discern in this way.
Please understand that such cooperation cannot be had by blind obedience to authority. It can come only from adults who take seriously their God-given opportunity to try to live as much as possible as citizens of the new earth inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the outpouring of his Spirit. Our cooperation with God will be the result of our ongoing efforts to distinguish the movements of our hearts and minds that come from God from those that come from old-world thinking or from the Satan.
Of course, we don’t experience friendship with God in isolation; this holy friendship is designed for community, and it requires community, the church, for it to flourish. The church as the people of God is the bearer of the tradition that goes back centuries, and that tradition informs the consciences of the individuals in the church. So friends of God do not cavalierly dismiss significant aspects of that tradition as outmoded by modern knowledge. Those of us who have developed our friendship with God will see the tradition and authority of the church as a living source of wisdom. At the same time, friendship with God frees us from servile obedience to tradition and authority in the church and enables us to see this tradition as a living one to which we are called to contribute. We make our contribution by trying to discern how to speak and act in daily life as “friends of God, and prophets” (Wisdom 7:27).
Thus, all of us in the church need to pay attention to our tradition and to what authorities in the church tell us; we find God in and through our membership in the church, and that church has a duty to teach with authority. But the new heavens and the new earth require more and more adult children of God who take seriously their own call to make a significant contribution to God’s family business—through attention to their own friendship with God as it works itself out in real life. No one else can do in God’s world what I am called to do in my small patch. God depends on each of us to bring about the full flowering of the new heavens and new earth that Jesus inaugurated. God depends on the willingness of each of us to engage honestly in the friendship and to submit to the discipline of the heart that it entails—another example of God’s vulnerability!
I know that I have only touched the surface of how discernment will help us figure out how to live as citizens in our workplaces, our countries, and our world. In the notes here, you will find resources for more on this topic. But I cannot end this section without saying as strongly as I can that the future of our world depends on all of us. God cannot achieve the dream without our adult cooperation. And we cannot become adults without allowing our friendship with God to help us grow into emotional adults whose desires correspond with what God desires. How we live and act is immensely important to God. Say that to yourself: “How I live and act in this world is immensely important to God.” Let it sink in, and follow through.8
1 Friendship with God in the Real World 1
2 God, in Whose Image We Are Made 7
3 Our Role in the World as It Is 17
4 Inner Life, Public Life 33
5 Wherever Life Places Us 45
6 Freedom from Fear 55
7 Forgiveness as a Way of Life 73
8 Reconciliation on a Larger Scale 97
9 Compassion of Heart, Global in Scope 117
10 Life with Others 135
11 Can We Say, “We Have Enough”? 159
12 Always, Gratitude 165
Appendix 1: Suggestions for Spiritual Growth 173
Appendix 2: “Rummaging for God: Praying Backward through Your Day” 177
Annotated Bibliography 193