The Third Consent for Advent

William 2

Okay, so I liked Thomas Keating’s first consent: God asks us to consent to the basic goodness of our nature with all its parts. This work contradicts all those church messages about how bad we are, and helps us see God’s goodness shining within each of us.

Then I really liked his suggestion of a second consent: It is to “accept the full development of our being by activating our talents and creative energies.” How cool is that – to be all that we can be!

But then he gets to the third consent: embracing vulnerability. What does it mean to say “yes” to life’s diminishments? Are aging, illness, heartache, and suffering to be our teachers?

I don’t want to say “yes” to aging:

my eyes growing dimmer

my hearing slipping

my energy diminishing.

I want to stay fully alive; I want

vibrant, youthful, vigorous;

I want generativity,

streams of living water flowing

from my innermost being.

 

Then I look in the mirror

and see this visage

and know I am well past my youth.

Age is some stranger

who has taken over my face

and made it his own.

 

And so, I long for The Coming

of a Christ child

who will stay near in my old age,

who will remind me that

vulnerable is a tender mercy, and

fragile is a dearest gift.

Then I can sing:

“O come let us adore him

O come let us adore him

O come let us adore him

Christ the Lord.”

 

And why does there have to be illness?

Life looks very different from a sickbed.

The body has grown weary,

the defenses of the immune system have been assaulted,

and the walls of protection have come down.

Illness comes rushing in and a paradox happens.

 

Illness calls for surrender, not fighting.

The body has been overwhelmed and it pleads for rest.

Illness asks us to return to the bed, our nightly home,

and the body calls us back into the dark places

where we can listen acutely to what the body needs.

 

Is it just rest, more fluids, vitamin C,

or a string of garlic around the neck?

(That was my uncle’s favorite remedy for everything).

Is the body asking for quiet time, fallow time,

time for inner stillness and letting go?

Is our Life asking for another kind of listening,

like paying attention to the pace with which we speed through our days,

the pressures we bow down to,

the expectations we have of ourselves and others,

the resentments we carry in the body?

 

Saying “yes” to the diminishing of our lives through illness

is a spiritual practice.

We are getting back in sync with the Healer

who is speaking through the body.

We say, “Speak Lord, your servants are listening.

Come Healer of our every ill.

Restore us to the wholeness beneath all brokenness.”

 

Together we sing:

“O come let us adore him

O come let us adore him

O come let us adore him

Christ the Lord.”

 

Life can also become twisted out of shape

by our places of emotional suffering.

These, too, we have often avoided

until our suffering digs under our defenses

and comes looking for us.

Our personal suffering can only be dodged so long,

and then it comes knocking at our door.

 

When we are done with running, what then?

Shall we also say “yes,”

consenting to the presence of our own suffering

and our need for the coming of a Healer?

 

Rumi says this:

Trust your wound to a Teacher’s surgery

Don’t turn your head. Keep looking

at the bandaged place. That’s where

the light enters you.

And don’t believe for a moment

that you’re healing yourself.

 

In her poem “To Love Life,” Ellen Bass says this:

 

The thing is

to love life

to love it even when you have no

stomach for it, when everything you’ve held

dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands

and your throat is filled with the silt of it…

How long can a body withstand this? you think,

and yet you hold life like a face between your palms,

a plain face, with no charming smile

or twinkle in her eye,

and you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you again.

 

This is how we begin to welcome Advent, the Coming One.

We embrace what we would rather reject or discard.

We stare into the hurt face of our own life and say,

“yes, I will take you, I will love you again.”

Right there, in that moment,

the Healer of our every ill enters too.

And together we find the strength and grace

to bring our suffering home.

 

This homecoming brings us to our knees

and so we cry:

 

“O come let us adore him

O come let us adore him

O come let us adore him

Christ the Lord.”

For more writing like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture.

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About soulcare4u

I am the author of Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic World, published by Wipf & Stock and available through Amazon.com; and of a blog on Wordpress.com, "A Contemplative Path." I serve as the founding spiritual director of The School for Contemplative Living (www.thescl.net), adjunct faculty of Loyola University, and as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director in private practice.
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