Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Spirit said, "No."

Why is it that so often, the scripture passages that I find the most interesting are the ones that the Lectionary skips? Since Easter, the daily mass readings have included a passage from the Acts of the Apostles, beginning with Chapter 2 (Chapter 1 is featured for the Ascension of the Lord). On Monday of this week, we entered Chapter 16, but we skipped over the first 10 verses. What caught my attention was verses 6 and 7:

And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.

My Navarre Bible attempts to explain this by suggesting that Paul got sick and therefore spent more time with the Galatians. Whatever might have happened, Paul interpreted it as a sign from God. That led my own reflections into the topic of discernment.

To paraphrase the slogan of some diocese's vocations promotion campaign, God's will for any individual is rarely announced with a blast of trumpets. Most of us are dimly aware that we've got to do something, but not quite sure what. A single person might investigate the priesthood or religious life, but even then, there is a wide diversity of religious orders. For married parents, there are family obligations that need to be considered.

Thomas Merton wrote a famous prayer in which he lamented that he did not know whether he was following the path that God wanted him to follow and hoped that his desire to follow the path marked out for him was somehow pleasing to God. I think I can say with some confidence that many of us share his sentiment.

For my part, I hope that if God has a path for me to follow, then He will somehow guide me onto it. If His will is not for me to toil away as an engineer at a manufacturing company, then He will either provide me with an opportunity or push me out of the nest. If God wants somebody to pursue a vocation, then I have to believe that He provides signs, actual graces, that point in that direction. But what to do in the absence of a sign?

If a person feels called to a course of action and finds that one things leads to another in a chain that moves him however improbably along that course, does that mean that God's hand is present? Then again, if someone feels called to a path that seems to encounter roadblock after roadblock, does that mean that God's hand is present, but indicating a different path? Where is the line between perseverence and stubbornness?

Generally speaking, I follow a spirituality of inertia. Inertia is the property in Newtonian physics that states that an object at rest wants to remain at rest, and an object in motion wants to remain in motion. Some outside input is required to cause motion or change direction of motion. If God wants me to make a course correction, He's got to somehow signal the change.

I know the inertia analogy is not perfect. In reality, the world and my own concupiscence provide enough friction and resistance that, without continual impetus, my spiritual life would grind to a halt. To introduce another metaphor, I know that if I don't swim against the current, I'll get swept along by it and move farther from, rather than closer to, the pure spring water of God's grace.

There are practical applications of all of this in my own life, and I struggle with whether to continue down a path that I explored years ago. Am I experiencing a test of my perseverence, or is the Spirit blocking my path? Am I being prudent, or am I being stubborn? My only desire is to follow God's will, and I hope that somehow, that will be enough.

No comments: