BUILDING ON ROCK

Meister Eckhart, the great 14th century mystic, wrote, "When St Paul had done a lot of talking to the Lord, and the Lord had reasoned much with him, that produced nothing, until he surrendered his will, and said: 'Lord, what do you want me to do?' Then the Lord showed him clearly what he ought to do. So too, when the angel appeared to our Lady, nothing either she or he had to say would ever have made her the Mother of God, but as soon as she gave up her own will, at that moment she became a true mother of the everlasting Word and she conceived God immediately.... Nor can anything make a true human being except giving up one's will."
    It is one of the most familiar themes: the difference between talking (or thinking) and doing. People in every age feel the need to tell themselves again about that difference! We all tend to think that when we have said something we have as good as done it! Of course we know there's a difference, but it isn't always clear-edged. There's one moment in day, however, when it is painfully clear-edged: it is when the alarm-clock goes off in the morning! You can think and think about getting up, but really to get up you have to move, and that is a completely different order of reality from thinking! (Would you like to know a trick for that crucial moment? When you put out your hand to stop the alarm, continue the movement: keep moving! Don't go back to thinking! Keep moving slowly and gently until you are standing on the floor! That's my trick. It works!)
    What did Eckhart (and a thousand others) mean by 'giving up your will'? Obviously it doesn't mean: not using your will. It means something much more like 'giving your will up to something', as when we say of someone that he has given himself up (for example) to a life of study, or to some service...or much more humbly, to that action I described of rolling slowly out of bed. Call it putting yourself in motion. Or if you are mechanical minded, say that after all that revving of the engine you must let in the clutch. And as we know, the clutch has to be used gently.
    If then that motion is a godly one, you are doing God's will, as far as you can judge. Your life will have a real base and a real direction. You will be, as Jesus said, like a man who built his house on rock rather than on sand. Sand is rock of course (a billion little rocks!), but it behaves more like water: it doesn't hold its shape, it doesn't hold anything, it flows away. To be forever thinking as a substitute for doing, would be like building your house on sand.
    A rock is the very symbol of stability, consistency, concreteness.... (Of course it is also the symbol of hardness and rigidity, but that is not in focus here.)
    We need those first qualities:
    Stability: not to be blown around by every wind of opinion, every passing enthusiasm, every fashion of the moment....
    Consistency: not to try and get by with clever words alone, but to have the weight of one's life behind each word we speak - so much so, and so habitually, that quite often no words are necessary  
at all.    Concreteness: not to evade issues, but to face what lies before us, even if it threatens to try us sorely or defeat us. Since the Incarnation, abstract-sounding realities like the mind of God, the will of God, etc., are become concrete in Christ. "You are the house whose foundations are the apostles and prophets, and whose cornerstone is Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:20).

Donagh O'Shea

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.