There are four essential steps to regaining the full health of spirit:
Ask, release, surrender, act.
Last week we covered ask, so now we’re progressing on to the lovely concept of release.
Before we get further into the process of spiritual alignment, I need to mention something I call “Soul Space” (St. Catherine of Siena called it the “Cell of Self-Knowledge”). This is the place within ourselves where our intuitive work begins, where our true self blossoms and extends outward; the point of spiritual entry, the light within. Soul space is our natural state of being — open, blessed, able to see through the veils and illusions which constantly crowd our lives. We’re meant to dwell in this space, to be free in our vision and insight, open to all possibilities without judgment or prejudice. Somewhere along the line, however, we’ve failed. Perhaps forgotten is a kinder word, but the meaning is the same: our crowded lives have caused us to lose soul space, and in order to survive and spiritually thrive, we need to gain it back. The best way to do this is by erasing anything that acts as a block to our soul’s progress. If we’re already filled with useless “stuff” and, even more damaging, toxic people and circumstances, we can’t be filled with the light of our true spiritual essence. If there's no room at the inn, where will we rest?
We have to create the space.
Just as a page filled with scribbles is of no use to a writer, so are we of no use if we’re already filled with the things that no longer serve us. Preconceived notions, blocks of anger or resentment, holding grudges against self or others, prejudice and biases … all those things get in our way of growth and progression. So, too, does toxicity—such as abuse, self-blame, and other toxic situations. We need to begin to love ourselves as much as we love others. We need to be empty, a blank page. We need to erase so we can be filled with the only words that matter — those of the Spirit.
It’s crucial to realize our true spiritual essence, here and now. The Kingdom is within — why wait?
Release: The Power of Becoming an Empty Vessel
We’re all vessels, blessed with the spiritual potential to be filled with the richest wine. In order to overflow with the benefits of the Divine, to create this soul space, we first need to erase. In other words, we need to become empty. If we’re not empty, we can’t be filled. This is what the Biblical story of the wedding at Cana is all about.
The story goes like this: an unidentified couple kissed under the huppa, and after this beautiful consummation (with an even better one to come), they threw a huge reception. This celebration was so festive that soon the wine was depleted. (Whether there were a profuse amount of semi-sober of guests or a mere handful of very drunk guests, the Gospel of John doesn’t specify. Regardless, it sounds like a fun time.)
Anyway, Jesus’ mother approached him with the dire wedding predicament, but what was he supposed to do? He wasn’t the bartender, so it really wasn’t any of his business.
“It’s not my time,” he said to the Holy Mum. In all honesty, in his humanity he may have been feeling unsure; up to that point he’d never done anything supernatural, and he was a bit buzzed from the previously-consumed wine, combined with a severe lack of food. (He’d just spent forty days in the desert eating nothing but an occasional and inadvertent fruit fly.)
Holy Mum wasn’t fazed. “Just do whatever he says,” she instructed the servants. Then she gave them a very large tip. (This morsel of information isn’t found in the Bible, although it does seem appropriate given her Son’s penchant for charity.) She either held a place of authority at this wedding or was extremely generous in her tipping abilities, because the servants obeyed without question.
Jesus obviously had a change of heart. Perhaps he took pity on his mother, who was trying so hard to make this wedding a success, or maybe he didn’t want to see the guests lose their revelry. Regardless, he told the servants to fill six large vessels with water. He then instructed them to pour some of the liquid into a goblet and take it to the headwaiter for tasting.
When the headwaiter took a sip, he tasted not water but the finest wine. He was shocked at how fabulous the stuff was, saying, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the guests are tumbling over themselves in ridiculous drunkenness and can no longer tell the difference, the inferior wine is served. Here, the best wine has been saved for last.”
Apparently, Jesus was quite the winemaker.
Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, if those vessels hadn’t been empty and waiting, they never would have been chosen for such a worthy calling.
We must be those vessels. We must release, we must empty ourselves. If we don’t, we can’t ever be filled with the goodness of divine wine.
This “empty” point is the first step, just as the miracle of the empty vessels at the Cana wedding was Jesus’ first astonishing deed. Turning water into wine is the story of awakening from the singular level of our surface-selves into the wholeness of our divinely-graced selves.
To be filled is to realize our true divinity, the God-seed which we can now nourish and allow to grow. As the bold 14th century mystic Meister Eckhart said, “The seed of God is in us … and accordingly its fruits will be God-nature. Pear seeds grow into pear trees, nut seeds into nut trees, and God-seed into God.” Watching this God-seed sprout and grow is the greatest joy of all, for it’s an eternal joy; it’s the knowing of the true self, the recognition of the depth of our interior soul space.
This is why the idea of a Lenten sacrifice isn’t simply about letting go, but also about filling that newly-cleared void with something positive and ultimately beneficial to your soul. Rather than merely giving something up, it’s important to realize we also need to replace. The only way to release fear is to replace it with the direct essence of love. Once we’ve released, we need to allow ourselves to be filled with the divine Water, and then we can watch it transform from within, into rich and spiritually intoxicating wine.
In a nutshell:
Erase … Create Soul Space
Inspirational quotes for the week:
“The seed of God is in us … and accordingly its fruits will be God-nature. Pear seeds grow into pear trees, nut seeds into nut trees, and God-seed into God.” (Meister Eckhart, 14th century German mystic)
“God’s Son or Idea is like a flowing spring in the core of the soul. If you throw earth over it ... it will be choked up and covered so that you won’t know where it is or be aware of it any longer. It’s still flowing, however, and if the dirt that has been thrown over it is removed, it’ll be discovered again, and one will know about it.” (Origen, 3rd century scholar of Alexandria)
Ask ... And Receive
Lent is a time of release, of letting go, of shedding what doesn’t work in our lives so we can create the space to welcome new growth and blessings. Often it can be difficult to let go, not because we’re being asked to rid ourselves of something valuable but because our habits and internal rhythms are so ingrained within us that it’s easier to cling to the familiar, even if it no longer serves us, than to face something new.
Release is a crucial aspect of spiritual progression, but before we can even get that far we need to ask. This means that we have to become open to the knowledge that we can’t do it alone. We need to become aware that yes, we do need supernatural help and yes, it is available to us. So often we go through our days on our own toes, stretching ourselves to the limit yet still unable to see the tops of the trees. What we need to realize is that the treetops don’t matter—the spaces between the branches hold the greatest treasures. It’s these little blessings we need to look for, but in order to see clearly we need to ask the Holy Spirit for the inner release to recognize our needs so our spiritual path can open up to us in brilliant new ways.
One of Jesus’ most famous teachings comes from Luke (11:9) and Matthew (7:7) “Ask and it will be given to you ... knock and the door will be opened to you," but what is this asking thing all about, and will it really change our lives in discernible ways?
To ask means we have a desire: a desire to seek, a desire to change, a desire to progress, and a desire to know God. The actual details of desire often remain shrouded at this early stage, yet that’s natural. We know we’re yearning, we know our soul needs to be filled, but how—and with what, exactly?
At this beginning point our asking takes on the pure form of belief, a belief that we will receive once we knock, once we allow that door to be opened to allow the Light of Life (John 8:12) to stream through. Yet even if we don’t know what we’re asking for, one crucial component remains true: part of our asking should always be a request to be open to divine possibility, to the light and the truth which God guarantees if we just allow ourselves to be filled with His goodness.
Whenever I heard the quote, “Knock and the door will be opened,” I used to imagine myself standing outside, perhaps even in a cold, wintry landscape, knocking on a door so I could be welcomed into the warmth of God’s presence. But what if we reverse that image?
Imagine this: We’re not outside, waiting for interior entrance. Rather, the door we’re knocking upon is inside. We’re inside our own small room, and it’s dark; because we’ve closed the door we can’t see anything, but we can feel our way around, and this is our saving grace. We knock. Our knock is a cry, a scream, a whimper: Let me out, let me out!
We put ourselves in this small room—and we must take the steps to get out.
That first step is simply to ask.
Often it’s fear that drives us out of our self-imposed room. We’re afraid of the dark. We want the door to be opened so the Light will stream through, so we can join the rest of the Household. This initial fear is fine, and quite natural, but it needs to quickly be replaced. The path of fear must become the path of Love. Love, gratitude, and holy desire ... all these virtues build our spiritual strength.
This means that through an inner commitment of prayer, we turn from the fear of what if? which often plagues our lives, and tumble into the surrender of God’s will. That’s one of the purposes of prayer, and one of its benefits. When we envelope ourselves in that atmosphere of God’s loving peace, it’s easier to see the door when it creaks open. Scott Hahn says in his book, Signs of Life:
There are many good, natural reasons to take up prayer. Physiologists
recognize that they relax our bodies, reduce our stress levels, and unfurrow
our brows. They also burn durable neural pathways ... Even amid the most
extraordinary circumstances, we can escape to God, we can endure, and we
can prevail, using the most ordinary means of prayer. It is a very good thing
if all we need to do is touch a bead ... in order to turn our thoughts to God,
because we may come to moments when that’s all we can do.
“Pray constantly" (1 Thess. 5:17). Prayer, inner commitment, devotion, and peace literally reform our brain. Once we’ve established these patterns in our lives, old habitual tendencies which no longer serve us tend to fall away as we make room for spiritual growth and inner harmony. We create the soul space for God to enter. He’s eagerly awaiting our knock. He wants to open the door of your soul, to help you out of your dark room and into His merciful Light.
If you’re not quite sure how to ask for a deeper spiritual path and inner commitment to peace, simply repeat that one word--Peace--in a slow, meditative way throughout your day. There’s no need to pray with a lot of words, explanations, or beseeching; it’s the energy of your soul, the inner commitment of your spirit, which God hears.
This week, focus on the theme of asking. One of the greatest spiritual tools you can use for daily renewal is this simple morning request, made as soon as you wake up: What occasions for love will I be given today? Then, allow your intuitive eyes to open to the possibilities. So many of us begin our morning with the unconscious yet more egotistical question of What can I get out of this day? When we shift our focus just slightly, searching for ways to love every part of our day—including ourselves, all circumstances we’re faced with, the people and situations and animals we interact with—our time takes on an entirely new bloom of renaissance.
In a nutshell:
Asking is simple, yet so very profound. Let’s begin today, and continue all our days. Ask and you will receive—in ways expected and unexpected, yet always in the best way possible.
Inspirational quotes for the week:
On the importance of asking: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9 and Matthew 7:7)
On the initial blessings of asking through prayer: “Don’t give up, then, but labour at [prayer] till you feel desire. The first time you do it, you’ll find a cloud of unknowing, you don’t know what, except that you feel in your soul a naked purpose towards God.” (14th century mystical text, The Cloud of Unknowing, chapter 3)
“A soul rises up, restless with tremendous desire ...” (St. Catherine of Siena, introduction to The Dialogue)
I'm Jenny duBay, a domestic abuse survivor and now advocate. My degree is in Christian theology with a concentration on spiritual direction, and my vocational emphasis is on helping those who have suffered from domestic abuse to heal and reclaim their true selves.