Now comes logic. Equipped with a sincere apprehension of God’s will, we argue and assess. Do we feel consonant or dissonant about God’s nudging? Do we have the right timing? Perhaps there were another way to see things. Our rationality becomes a human subset of our spiritual power.
And for all who are beginning to feel a heavy burden in spiritual reflection, remember that the essence of meditation should not be experienced as weight of responsibility; rather we trust that God is ever abundantly working out a plan for us, equipping us for our calling, and drawing us ever closer to the unique image that He implanted within us.
So to accompany logic, the move of appreciative abandonment (another term of Father Adrian’s) allows us to progress towards action knowing that the Mystery fills our lives with divine love and mercy. Yes, the fabric of our universe demands consequences from our actions, but the Mystery unfolds a greater mission with infinite power through our feeble mistakes using all things for good. We must let that hope guide our spiritual reflection. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously and brilliantly appropriates the insight of Theodore Parker that the arc of the universe bends towards justice. Appreciative abandonment must not become a bulletproof vest for a reckless harnessing of human power and pride. Yet, any action that follows this type of methodical abiding in awe-filled attention and after we utilize our facilities of reasoning puts us well on the journey of discovering God’s will and our unique-communal calling. Then, when tempered by a full heart, we can hand over our projects and aspirations to the Mystery in an abandoned hope. Thus it is true that, “In prayer, we trust God, even in the face of unknowing and uncertainty.”
We all struggle every day with what to do and who to be. Our choices range from which scarf to buy– for your girlfriend who let you travel to Spain– to the change-the-course-of-your life decisions. How long and when we listen to the voice of God is a skill we must all learn to master. I know of a lady who often stands in front of her open closet and lets God decide what she will wear for the day. That may seem extreme, but in this fragmented and global age where a multi-trillion dollar advertising industry depends on influencing our identity, we must learn to trust in more than our frail cleverness. We cannot see all ends.
van Kaam calls the second stage in spiritual reflection, “Apprehension”. What he means is that after awe opens our spirits like like a flower to the morning sun, we are then in the best position to apprehend God’s nudging. Apprehension is like a bridge step that brings us from passive awe to an active weighing and balancing, the utilization of our God-given logic.
“Apprehension”, the second stage, therefore does not signify a timid posture; in the midst of life’s challenges we are not apprehensive. Rather, here we can learn use a sixth sense. Equipped with our intuition, we move carefully but quickly into acknowledgment, argumentation, and assessment (step three).
Many who did not abide in awe filled attention or whose pride secretly rules their heart falter here. Politicians, for example, who may apprehend a logical move, may mis-assess the situation as they rationalize their way around the right response. It is important that we acknowledge our internal resistances and weigh pros and cons. But, apprehension must come first. And, our cost analysis must always give way and be paved by brave assurance that the immense love of God will lead us toward good ends, even if it sometimes seems in the short run that our divine calling would undo our most important investments…
Today, many of us find ourselves on a spiritual quest. We wonder if we have reached the heights of the great spiritual masters or if we have been led into cheap versions of faith. When our tempers rage or life’s storms undo our resolve, it is then we wonder what our foundations are really made of. Wherever we find ourselves, any authentic spiritual journey must find a way to incorporate the Appraisal process.
We worship a deeply personal and good Mystery. Awe and Attention characterize this formational waiting. Father Adrian called this first step of spiritual Appraisal “Abiding in Awe-Filled Attention”
In fact, attention to the divine echo (or sometimes hornblast) flows out of a holy reverence. First, we must turn our thoughts away from our worries and concerns. Rather than solely making our decisions based upon our clever assessments, or worse our of our anxieties, we first gaze into the divine mystery pressing up our awe into the Cloud of Unknowing.
Awe re-places our proud ego driven selves with a humble awareness that we are simply creatures in need of daily direction. Silence facilitates awe as it stills our tongues and paves the way for our transcendent self. In the process, we regain connection to the universe and its transcendent-immanent Mystery. And at the end of this first stage, we should find ourselves readied in full attention. We are freed to delve into our life events seeking its meaning. We grasp life’s gravity pulling us to become our deeper self.
The appraisal process remains central to the healthy formation of any human. In order to hear and comprehend echoes of the Spirit moving in our lives, we must build the spiritual muscles that engage our spiritual eyes and ears. While simple reflection can help us discern right things to do, Appraisal moves far beyond simply pondering the mysteries of our universe. If one were to break it down, Appraisal really includes seven components that moves from “Abiding in Awe Filled Attention” to the “Application of our Yes”.
As a human practice, Appraisal becomes the integrated way through which we stay awakened to the movements of God in our life. Appraisal keeps us radiant. It also becomes and the excercise that fills our eyes with light (Luke 11.33-36). Without engaging the Appraisal process, we are likely destined to be tossed on the storm driven sea of life and fall captive to the executive slavery of our own pride. Therefore, the goal of any spiritual life is to learn and integrate the Appraisal process so that in times of large decisions or in the momentary decision to pick up the hitchhiker, we can naturally engage God’s hearts for wise discernment of direction…
Ever since Socrates defined the human spirit, we have been on our search excellence. Humans have been gifted a powerful spirit. Unlike the rest of the cosmos, our journey to transformation is led along by more than our bio-physical drives. We either become better, or we deform. In the end, we have been twelve or a hundred different people. That’s how we’ve been created. We unfold. We follow some primordial call.
Thousands of spiritual Masters have been on this journey, mapping its contours. Major streams of thought and untold religious effort have been spent to endorse, extinguish, capitalize upon, and support this one fundamental piece of the human DNA.
The discipline of Formative Spirituality, conceived by Father Adrian van Kaam, seeks to scientifically explain the unfolding of a healthy human spirit and locate its obstacles. At its core, spirituality aids a person in the discovery her unique-communal destiny (what one is called to be and do). The pressures of a sick spirituality reinforce human pride and the impulse to dominate and control even one’s own destiny. While Christian Spirituality does not claim that it alone creates deeply good and selfless human beings, it does claim to map the deepest contours of reality, particularly the full flowering of one’s individual calling for the sake of a divine community, which is embraced by Lord of Creation. I use this blog to reflect on the work of these masters and to develop my own style of teaching in the art and science of the human spirit.