I cannot tell you exactly what happened within me during the spiritual retreat at Northeastern Seminary, but it did. More proof, I suppose, that transformation comes as a pure gift. Sometimes it comes at unsuspecting moments, sometimes after years of waiting and hoping. Perhaps it was the silent space made available for honest admission to God; an invitation to realize, in blunt honesty, my buried desires. Perhaps it was the community which, once again, welcomed me back with open arms. Maybe it was the content of the retreat itself given by a presenter whom I admire. I suspect each of these were facilitative, preparing a space within me to receive the gift of God for which I have been postured. While it is true I no longer live local, this occasion was worth the nearly five-hour long journey. It felt akin to pilgrimage. Indeed, I was a pilgrim in a mobile prayer-space hoping if I showed up, God would, too.
My desire came as unhindered intimacy and union with God. Along with this desire came an awareness of my unfreedom; a brick wall of “ontic evil.” Imagine knowing that freedom and a call to follow Christ lay beyond this wall with a simultaneous recognition of personal inability and insurmountable fear to move beyond it. How paralyzing. This is the universal human struggle. As ministerial leaders, both representative and lay, we invite the people of God to engage in active transformation as participants with Christ on the journey toward wholeness as we become fully human. Our inward looking is a catalyst by which we learn to love God and love our neighbor.
On my way home I was mostly silent as I processed the experience. Finally, I spoke. First, I surrendered my attachments, asking God to pry them from my death-grip, if necessary. I felt a sense that I had been forfeiting the good things of God; holding onto old wineskins when new ones were both desired and given. Then I said, “I am going to say something.” Pause. Tears. Courage rising. “I feel full but empty; inspired but incompetent.” I repeated this several times until petitions and supplications flowed freely from my heart. How many of us live within this paradox without opportunity to acknowledge the both-and of our human experience?
Holy Spirit, help us to continue looking in. May we find the beauty of the self and the love of Christ intertwined. May our desires reveal the heart of God and cause us to love deeply with fierce vulnerability and courage.
Faith Ware (MA-Theological Studies) is from Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania and is a student of spiritual formation and direction at Evangelical Seminary in Meyerstown, Penn.