Saturday, March 5, 2011

Spirituality from below

"If you want to know God,
learn to know yourself first."
Evagrius, a Desert Father 

There are many people who have become fascinated too soon with spiritual paths. They think they can take these paths while skipping the difficult path of self-knowledge, the encounter with their own shadow side. The Desert Fathers warn us about spirituality that seeks to take heaven by storm: it can easily share the fate of Icarus, who made waxen wings and then plummeted when he came too close to the sun.

It’s important that piety keep its feet on the ground, that it penetrates everyday life and work. St. Benedict describes this spirituality from below in the chapter of his Rule on humilitas. He takes Jacob’s ladder (Gen. 28) as an image for our way to God. The paradox of our spiritual path consists in the fact that we ascend to God by descending into our own reality.

By descending into our earth-boundedness (humility is derived from humus, or soil) we come into contact with heaven, with God. When we find the courage to climb down into our own passions, they lead us up to God.

The Church fathers see in Jesus Christ, who first descended into hell before ascending into heaven (Eph. 4:9), another model for our ascent to God. Like Jesus, we first have to go down into our humanity before going up to God together with him.

Spirituality from below points out that we come to God through careful self-observation and sincere self-knowledge. We don’t find out what God wants from us in the lofty ideals we set for ourselves. Spirituality from below believes that we discover God’s will for us, that we can find our vocation, only if we have the courage to descend into our reality and deal with our passions, our drives, our needs and wishes. The way to God leads through the encounter with myself, through the descent into my reality.
Anselm Gruen, O.S.B.
Monk of the Abbey of Muensterschwarzach, Germany
(Heaven Begins with You: Wisdom from the Desert Fathers, 1999)

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