Tuesday, December 20, 2016

St. Theresa of Avila and Trevor Hudson (on Souls, Gardens, and a Loving God)

I'm reading my way somewhat slowly through Majestic is Your Name: A 40-Day Journey in the Company of Theresa of Avila. I say somewhat slowly because I'm not doing it daily, and during the worst craziness of our move (and we're still unpacking) I missed a bunch of days. But I am over half-way through now, and I continue to find that my heart resonates with this great Carmelite teacher. (I've been realizing that I've always had a love for the Carmelites, but I'll save that insight for another post.)

Today's beautiful devotional included these words from St. Theresa, excerpted from her Life:

"When you enter into the spiritual life through the gateway of prayer, you would do well to see yourself as one who has set out to create a garden.

This garden is a place wherein our Lord wants to come and walk and to take pleasure...His Majesty wants to uproot the weeds and plant in this garden many fruitful and fragrant and blossoming plants. You may take it for granted that the Lord is already afoot, walking in His garden, if you have had any desire to seek him in prayer, for He always calls to us first and it is His voice we hear when we think it is our desire to pray.

If we want to be good gardeners of this new-sown soul, we must, with God's help, see to it that the good plantings are tended and grow -- and I am speaking now of the godly virtues. At very least, we must see that these good things are not neglected and die. Rather, we tend our souls carefully so that the first blossoms appear.

These are the spiritual "fragrances" that begin to rise from our lives -- the fragrances of faith, goodness, self-control, love, and the like. By them, many, many others are refreshed in spirit and attracted to the Lord...Then our Lord himself comes to walk in the midst of our garden. And it is all our joy to sense that He is there, taking pleasure in these lovely virtues."

I love this whole extended metaphor! (And quick side-note to poetic self, a slip of my neuropathied fingers made me realize that "soil" and "soul" are just one letter off.) I love the expression "fragrances of faith..." and that the purpose of the growing of good things is our lives is at least threefold: for our Lord's pleasure, for our own growth and joy, and for the refreshment of others that they may be drawn to the loving Lord and King we know.

I also love how the Lord, in his goodness, has this meditation dancing in my heart and mind today along with another meditation I've been contemplating for a few days, from Trevor Hudson's book Beyond Loneliness: The Gift of God's Friendship. I've been slowly working my way through the second chapter there, entitled "God's Passionate Longing for Friendship" in which he makes a couple of wonderful points. One is that God, of course, already has passionate and beautiful friendship within the triune Godhead. He did not create us because he *needed* friendship, but because he wanted it. He created us not out of need, but out of "the abundance of this divine relational life." He wants us to know that life, and so he invites us into it. And he takes the initiative to do this.

Where do we first see this? In the garden, the first garden, where we see the very first question in the Scriptures. The question is "where are you?" and God asks it of Adam and Eve when they hide from him after sinning because they are afraid.

I remember my daughter, when we read this story together when she was very little, asking me "why did God ask them that?" I think she was five or six at the time, and it already occurred to her very young mind that it seems like an odd question for the God of the universe to be asking. I remember her pointing out that God, being God, would know where they were. And it's true. He would also know why they were hiding. So why does he ask? As Hudson points out, he asks because

"even when we mess up, when we let ourselves down, when we fail to obey God, God does not reject us. Nor does God give up on us. Rather God comes looking for us. God continues to pursue our companionship. God knows the worst about us, but that knowledge does not prevent God from taking the initiative in reaching out to us. Here is the bottom line of God's good news: Nothing can ever extinguish the flame of God's passionate longing to be our friend."

Let's hear that last line again, and let's put it in bold: Nothing can ever extinguish the flame of God's passionate longing to be our friend. Can you hear that truth on this wintry Advent evening, during a season of life and love and light in the midst of darkness? God longs for us. And he longs to walk with us in the beautiful garden that together with him, we can create of our lives. He didn't have to go looking for Adam and Eve. But he did, because that is who he is, and has been, from all eternity. Jesus revealed God's heart to us even further when he gave us the picture of the Good Shepherd who went in pursuit of the one sheep who had wandered off from the fold.

Contemplate that amazing heart of God this Christmas. Contemplate that the loving heart that went to the cross has always, from the beginning of time, come looking for us when we are lost. That he does that for you, for me, and for every single person who ever lived. There is no one beyond the reach of that grace, no one he doesn't long to find and bring back into a close walk with him in a beautiful garden. When we know this with all our heart, it will shine forth from us in gospel beauty, refreshing others and attracting them to his heart. That's why we're here on earth, and for no other, deeper reason, I am coming to believe. We are here to learn to walk with him and to draw others into that loving walk.

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