The way it works in experience is something like this: The believing man is overwhelmed suddenly by a powerful feeling that only God matters . . . . A mighty desire to please only God lays hold of him. Soon he learns to love above all else the assurance that he is well pleasing to the Father in heaven.
–A.W. Tozer, The Divine Conquest, 1950
This Sunday, the first of the new year, our church will hold its annual White Stone Ceremony in which we each choose the word that expresses our intention for the new year and write it on a stone.
My stone will say ‘Only.’
Only God matters. A mighty desire to please only God.
For the joy of it, as Jesus said, I am going to be like the man who sold everything he had and purchased the field with the hidden treasure. Just for the joy of it. Because, as He also said, where my treasure is, there shall my heart also be.
An undivided heart – puritas cordis – pure heart. A heart that doesn’t serve two masters.
Only one. Only.
This year I’m not going to spend a lot of time counting my blessings or writing my nightly list of things for which I’m grateful. All the little exercises designed to make me feel better about my life. To make me happier. To always keep me focused on me and all the little things that happen to me.
I’ve spent the last fifty-odd years focused on all the little things that happen to me. And sifting through them and separating them into little piles of ‘grateful for’ and ‘not so much’ keeps my attention fixed on me.
I want to learn to “love above all else the assurance that I am well-pleasing to the Father in heaven.”
What an old-fashioned evangelical text with old-fashioned ideas. A mighty desire to please only God. The assurance of being well pleasing to the Father.
This brings to mind words like obedience, submission, humility, devotion. Servitude.
It brings to mind these words: Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Thou hast been faithful over a few things; I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of the Lord! (Matthew 25:21)
(There’s that word joy again.)
Today much of our spirituality and practice within the integral and contemplative spheres seems to be centered on the goal or the endgame: non-dual consciousness; self/god realization. Unitive seeing meaning seeing with the eyes of God and knowing that “the eyes with which I see God are the eyes with which God sees me,” as Meister Eckhart put it.
Mystics have always known this as the Only True Thing, that towards which the undivided heart yearns exclusively. It is the ‘joy of the Lord’ into which one enters.
Into which one enters after having been faithful over the few things. After having served faithfully without counting the cost to oneself, only seeking to be well pleasing to the Father.
There is so much talk about the Divine within us, birthing the Christ within ourselves. Realizing ourselves as Divine. And this is all real and true – except it isn’t.
Because we – the thinking, talking, doing individuals with our little egos are not divine at all! We’re not really real at all – just contingently so. Someone once said to me that they had been in a class that taught them to know themselves as Christ by substituting their own name for Jesus’. Fred Christ. Ann Christ. It’s all about thoughts – change how you think about yourself – you’re divine! – and you change your life.
You may in fact change the circumstances and the feeling state of your life. But if our goal is more of God and less of me (none of me!), this misses two important pieces.
First, faithful servitude and obedience. Even the great despiser of Christianity, Friedrich Nietzsche understood this:
The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.
The practice of obedience, of looking to God to know what is well pleasing, is most effectively done in the context of relationship. Which means two. Which means dualism. Not actual dualism, but dualism in lived experience because this is where the rich juicy heart of Love is. Lover and Beloved. Divine Master and Faithful Servant. We know we are One and not two. Exactly that: Not-Two. But not quite One while our personal small ego self is still in play.
So I want to live the Not-Two that is God and myself by always looking to what pleases Him. And I know that this will not necessarily bring me happiness or a sense of spiritual fulfillment. This long obedience – a long daily, often emotionally dry practice is the absolutely needful beginning place. Worship and devotion to God are not for God’s sake, but for our sake as we learn to acknowledge the Mystery and Majesty and Otherness of the Beloved. Other than our concepts; other than our egos.
For true devotion to God comes when, with our heart, we keep in view our lowly, empty state apart from Christ. Walk in the light of this truth. . . .Make it your goal to become so emptied of self that you can be flooded by the presence and power of Christ that comes only from above.
–St. John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, Book 1, Chapter 3
And as my heart becomes more pure and undivided; as my eye, which is the lamp of my body, becomes more single, so then more and more I am filled with Light (Luke 11:34). And this light is the Holy Spirit. The grace of God. This is the point where everything is up to God. I can’t transform myself. I can only make myself willing and submit to the divine transformation, that work in the deep interior of my soul to which only God has access.
This is the abundant life that Christ promised. This is the living water. This is the hidden treasure in the field for which we sell everything for the pure Joy of having only this.