I have been keenly aware of the work of the Holy Spirit in my life recently. So, I suppose, on this week before Pentecost, I should not feel surprised that I feel the Holy Spirit has guided my reflections here. Nevertheless, I still feel awed.
Over the past two years, I have witnessed the breakdown of one of the most effective, faith-filled teams with which I ever have had the pleasure of working. A cancerous tumor had metastasized and spread both deep and wide throughout the team’s relationships. Though the tumor itself was recently removed, the effects of those cancerous spreading fingers remain. True healing will require the deepest levels of love and compassion – a truth that resonates in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. As I ponder all the pain that exists and all the people that have been hurt, I am reminded of Thomas Keating’s thoughts related to crises and spiritual development.
In his book Open Mind, Open Heart on the contemplative dimension of the Gospel, Thomas Keating states, “By not answering our prayers, God is answering our greatest prayer, which is to be transformed” (68). Keating positions that God guides us to a higher state of consciousness in our relationship with Him through the crises we face in life – challenges that can take many forms and exude differing levels of pain – from deaths, to divorces, to family quarrels, to simple disappointments, to health concerns, to organizational chaos. Through crisis points in our lives, we either hold on to our false selves (think “ego”) or grow in our relationship with and understanding of God. Keating states that the false self, an illusion, is how we perceive the world and ourselves, and Christian practice is about dismantling this false self (67). If we resist the crisis, we risk regressing spiritually. We either regress, strengthening the false self, or mature, strengthening our spiritual self while overcoming our weaknesses. In the calamity I have faced these past two years, I have witnessed many examples of both spiritual maturation and regression in my fellow sisters and brothers, as well as myself. Keating reminds us that if we do regress, we have to wait until God presents us with a new challenge. “Fortunately,” Keating says, “He has plans for us and never gives up” (67). Thank you God.
A similar pattern of Keating’s challenge – regression/growth – challenge occurs throughout the Gospel of John. Jesus has several dialogs of misunderstanding with his disciples and others within which He presents challenges (e.g., dialogs with Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the blind man, Mary Magdalene, John, Peter). In the challenge, Jesus tries to capture and direct the person’s spirit and guide him or her to a higher level of understanding and faith. As the quintessential servant leader, Jesus used challenges to transform others. Why shouldn’t we, then, accept the challenges and crises in our lives as opportunities for spiritual growth?
Our God, in the abiding Trinitarian relationship with us, uses the Holy Spirit to guide us not only in our relationship with Him but also with all others. Our spiritual transformation may take any number of repeats of Keating’s pattern (only God knows what it will take), but ultimately if we are open to dismantling our false selves, we can find the compassion, mercy, and forgiveness to transform all our relationships and grow spiritually. All of this brings to mind my favorite leadership quote which I found over 25 years ago and titled “Leadership Means Helping God Transform Others:”
“The ability to understand and deal effectively with human beings – to get them to fully exploit their own capabilities, and overcome their shortcomings – to give them the opportunity to find success in life, and the courage to make good on that opportunity – in effect, the ability to capture and direct their spirit, and to guide them from where they are to where they need to be – that’s what leadership is all about.”
Yes, God hears our prayers, but he does not always answer them in the way we expect. He answers them in the way we need. We must trust and look for the Holy Spirit working on, within, and through us as well as on, within, and through the others God places in our path – especially during those crisis points.
My God, please send your Holy Spirit to help me to help You to heal emotional wounds, bring mercy, and transform others.
Fawn Waranauskas teaches spirituality for the Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Program.