Friday, June 15, 2007

As Way Opens...

Where am I supposed to go with my life? That’s the question. “To be or not to be,” is profound and fine for a Shakespearean drama, but if we’re asking the “What am I supposed to do with my life” question, then “To be or not to be” is moot. We be. Now what? The “where” question is as universal and old as humankind. It is as personal and contemporary as each one of us alive today. It especially presses upon those of us who sense that we are not merely human trying to be spiritual, but rather that we are deeply spiritual endeavoring to live as fully human. We begin our days with that “what” question. We awaken every morning with a cavalcade of choices before us – beginning with whether to even get up or not. Things get more complicated from there. The very act of making a choice – any choice -- takes us deep into the concept that our lives are more than our own. We belong to ourselves, to be sure, but we also belong to others in our lives. And most of all we belong to God. And God has plans for us. At least that’s what faith and a good deal of religious training tells us.

When I was in college I encountered a group handing out little buff colored booklets titled “The Four Spiritual Laws.” The first spiritual law was "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." That’s not a novel concept. It’s firmly rooted in Christian scriptures. The Bible and the whole of Christian history is full of examples of people seeking to determine what God wants them to do. They cast lots, set out fleeces, prayed, fasted, learned to listen to donkeys, went on retreats, climbed up on cacti, and more. Bookstores are crammed full of titles about learning God’s will – Amazon alone offers more 38,000 books on the subject in its religion section.
While some of these books will offer you five easy steps for discerning what God’s directions are for you, this is not one of them. It is also not about taking charge of our lives in the accepted, self-help best-seller sense. It is not about twenty-one indispensable qualities of a leader or seven highly effective habits.

That’s because coming to an understanding of God’s direction for us is not that simple. It’s also amazingly countercultural – about learning to stop and pay attention rather than shouting and demanding attention. If we want to know what God wants, we have to go to a deeper place than a set number of habits or qualities and become men and women of spiritual quality and the habit of looking for God in every place our life takes us.

That deeper place takes us to the discovery that the act of deciding to seek God’s direction for our lives changes us. We find that such spiritual discernment is more about sensing the presence and call of God than it is about making the right decision. In a grace filled way, this process of discovery awakens us both to a life of constant creation and recreation. It shows us how we are less about being right or making the correct decisions than we are about the work of transforming ourselves. And in the process, we are also transforming the lives of the people around us and ultimately the world. When we pay attention, this is something our souls intuit, but it’s harder to get our minds around. What we do see is that nothing that involves transformation can be accomplished by a recipe found in The God’s Will Cookbook – take one dash of Bible, three tablespoons of prayer, and bake in the oven of God’s light.

Instead, at the heart of discovering God’s direction is contained in the wisdom of the Quaker saying “as way opens.”
Friends drop this tiny phrase into conversation as easily as other folks do “Hello” or “How’re you doing?” “Will you be coming for dinner tomorrow?” asks one. “I will, if way opens,” answers the other. In some ways, it’s our version, in daily conversation, of “Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise.” It’s become almost a Quaker cliché.

But, as with all clichés, there’s powerful truth lurking in this quirky Quaker conversational pattern. That truth is the belief that God’s revelation, even in and integral to daily life, continues for those who seek God’s way. God is at work within and around us, leading, guiding, sometimes when we least expect or feel it.

“As way opens” comes from a bit larger phrase, “To Proceed as Way Opens.” This means “to wait for guidance, to avoid hasty judgment or action, to wait for future circumstances to help solve a problem. The spiritual guidance which may come in a time of seeking or entirely unexpectedly, bringing suggestion for previously unforeseen action.”

As way opens about more than one time spiritual discernment. While its lessons can be used to help us make major life decisions – careers, life partners – and minor ones, as way opens is about a form of Christian discernment that takes us to the heart of the Christian life as living in God's will. It’s about discovering a fresh and deeper way to live a God directed life – a life that eschews simple spiritual solutions and takes us to the deepest, most soulful parts of our being.

It is about learning from God in the daily and life long.

As way opens is how we can come to see our lives, with all their experiences good and bad, as God-directed.

-- Brent


Blue Gal said...

Thank you for this. I've just started attending Quaker meeting this past month and I'm enjoying your blog very much.

I'm wondering about way opens versus the steps we take to make things happen. I'm starting to see that not only do we listen for God's guidance, but Spirit is listening to us too. I feel like the current presidential race has ruined the word "conversation" for all time but that's what it is, when we are open.

Thanks for your writing.

Brent Bill said...

Thanks, Blue Gal!

I think part of the key is not "forcing" things to happen. Part of the conversation were are having w/ God (which is, as you note) a two-way speaking/listening. Too much of my life, even now, I want to "help" the Divine out by pushing some doors open/closed... instead of seeing what comes/opens/closes.