We become what we love
and who we love shapes what we become.
If we love things, we become a thing.
If we love nothing, we become nothing.
Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ,
rather it means becoming the image of the beloved,
an image disclosed through transformation.
This means… we are to become vessels
of God´s compassionate love for others.
~ St. Clare of Assisi
Many years ago I deliberately chose a path of what I called “downward mobility.” I chose to become a minister and made a subsequent choice to become the sort of minister for which there were few or no models, namely, to consider prayer as the heart of what I offered. I took up work which I knew would not reward me financially and might well require other sacrifices. Instead of remaining on a career track of higher education administration and teaching, I followed a Love that would not let me go anywhere else, but into its heart.
I was naïve. I thought ministry would be different from the stressful, competitive world of higher education and academia. I thought I would be able to focus on prayer and help others who were struggling with their relationships with the Holy One. Of course, I brought along all of my own unfinished business and the issues that had plagued me in that other world were all waiting for me on the doorstep of the church. And, yes, this is where ministry and personal/communal growth always occurs: right in the midst of a stressful, competitive environment, with full of personal, unfinished business.
I soon discovered that downward mobility included more than lesser income, status, and pension benefits. Downward mobility included the inner life as well. Over and over, my attachment to lesser gods, my selfishness, my controlling ego, and my pride are exposed, as Jesus invites me to come down off my high horse and revel with him in the lowly, fertile ground of humility. I do mean revel. Getting myself close to the ground is often painful. I am a master at resistance. Yet it is so much fun, so full of delight and joy, it is well worth whatever it takes to get there.
In the midst of the muck Love seems always to meet me with a different agenda than my own. I call it Love’s way and it haunts me day and night, as I both run from and plead to be conformed to this path of humble trust in God.
Love’s way, which is described extensively in scripture, is accessible, freely available to everyone, and is being offered to us moment by moment. And in Love’s way is where I long to dwell all the time.
I fail over and over. When that happens I am like a child lost in a dark woods. A kind of desperate panic comes over me, until I fumblingly discover where I got off the path and make my way back to joy and peace. I need at least an hour a day of contemplative prayer to maintain this deep abiding in Christ. If I want to work with others and help them in their prayer and relationship with God, I need another hour. If I want to deepen and grow in knowledge and understanding of God, I need still more time.
I do not for the life of me understand how faith can deepen and flourish in the hearts of people without a serious commitment to spending time alone with God in prayer. And further, few activities I engage in take me further from this humble dwelling in the way of Love, than spending too much time on the internet. I see how easily the internet cheapens me, makes me shallow, feeds my surface hungers, plays upon and manipulates my opinions, my understanding of myself and the world.
Let’s take a deeper look at the way of Love. Here is how Jesus described it:
Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30, (CEB)
I especially like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in his paraphrase of Matthew 11: 28-30, The Message:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
To put on Christ’s yoke and learn from him is to become gentle and humble and to find rest. To become an image of Christ is to put down our heavy loads and bend our necks beneath a yoke, which is easy and light.
Peterson enriches Matthew’s words with the beautiful phrase unforced rhythms of grace. That’s it! How would it be if what characterized our lives was not harried, stress-filled days, constant multi-tasking, distracted, pushing and shoving, controlling and anger, but rather the unforced rhythms of grace?
I suspect many of you know those graceful rhythms, when you find yourself in step with the Spirit and your day unfolds with beauty. I also suspect such days do not occur as much as you would like. How would your life look if you put on Jesus’ easy, light yoke more consciously and deliberately? What might change or what would you do differently?
What if your goal was not success and achievement, but gentleness and humility?
How do we do this? Is it even possible in the world we live in? Matthew tells us how. Jesus tells us how in these verses from Matthew. Go back and read them again.
Quite simply, becoming like God and wearing the easy yoke, has to do with the company we keep. “Come to me,” Jesus, says. “Keep company with me.”
The only return Love asks for the gift of living in its way is our love – not our money, time, talents – but first and foremost, Love desires our love. This always slays me. The Love that animates life, binds the whole universe, flows into our hearts with joy and delight wants our love! Love wants to be loved. Jesus affirmed this divine desire in the greatest commandment:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27)
I know how important it is to me to be loved by my children and family, my dog, and my friends. Here is what we may miss: God finds it very important to be loved by us. God desires our attention.
Perhaps, this is because, as St. Clare has written, we become what we love.
“In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human successes, but on how well we have loved.” St. John of the Cross
Oh, Jim, thank you! What beautiful words from St. John.
YOur thoughts are so often where I’m living. The unforced rhythms of grace is truly a beautiful concept that deserves much meditation and application.
I want to tell you about the contemplative cooking blog a gourmet chef and I have had going for about a year. Would love your comments: inspiringcuisine.com.
Yours with love and appreciation in HIm,
Hello Ruth Ann! I love your blog. I remember you telling me doing this a while back. It so beautifully done. I love the combination of cooking and devotion. Blessings and abundance, loretta
It is not enough for me to have silent prayer each day. I need a day each week in which I don’t answer the phone or email and in which I stay away from the computer. My friends know this is my “quiet day” of solitude and prayer in which I don’t talk unless necessary. The day unfolds in amazing beauty and joy and goes by in a flash. I feel God’s delight and amazingly, I feel more fully myself as I rest deeply in love. I also devote a whole week in January to silent prayer. I am still a beginner in learning to abide but a grateful and enthusiastic beginner.
Oh Laura we are always beginners. I am so glad you take a weekly day of solitude. I understand how good that is. I have practiced that for many years now. We are blessed to be able to make the time. I work with many people with small children, who work and struggle to sit down to eat at the same time. Do you ever see yourself as offering this solitary attentiveness not only for yourself but also on behalf of those who cannot take the time or do not even have the inclination to do so? Thank you for your prayer.
Loretta, what a compassionate woman you are. Thank you for your question. I am not motivated to offer my time of silent prayer on behalf of those who cannot take the time or even have the inclination for it. What motivates me is a desire to show Jesus my love. I feel my stillness and silence in His presence expresses my love in a way nothing else does. I want Him to know that He is the most important person in my life and that time with Him is a priority. The attentiveness is for Him alone although I greatly, immeasurably benefit.
Loretta, I’ve been rereading this post today. Can you say more about offering silent attentiveness on behalf of those who aren’t able like a frazzled mom or a person who suffers from mental illness. Ho could one offer silence on another’s behalf? It seems like such a compassionate thing to do. is there a reference in scripture that would point to this practice
Contemplative religious orders, as well as others, understand their prayer as being offered on the behalf of others who do not have the time or inclination for such prayer. It is not a call for everyone. I have always felt I am praying on behalf of others who cannot pray. I started this work as a young frazzled mom. Back then my praying times were briefer than now. I do find most people, whatever their state, when given the opportunity and a little guidance naturally discover a place of stillness within. The more peace and stillness within each one of us, the more peace will radiate beyond us to others. I believe this is our responsibility as human beings – to nurture inner peace and allow it to reach beyond us. – As for scriptures there are many – Psalms which were not seen as individualistic as we often do, but were prayed by and for the whole community have references to stillness, silence, and waiting. Jesus’s prayers away from the crowd. Worship prayers, whether corporate or individual, are prayers for the world. Silence is a component of such prayers. See Martin Laird’s “Into the Silent Land”. Feel free to call or email if you want to talk further. Blessings!
Even when I was a nun in a contemplative monastery, I did not feel that I was praying for those who have no time to pray, but I did feel (and continue to feel) that my prayers were very important. I know they are heard and responded to and make a huge difference. I’m aware that I pray differently than many people. My prayers arise from a place deep within me and often surprise me with their intensity and compassion. Some people have told me that I expressed what was in their heart which they did not know how to articulate. My prayers are my gift to the world.
I’m afraid that the words you attribute to St Clare were actually written by Sr Elia Delio: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=eeGvCQAAQBAJ&pg=PA54&lpg=PA54&dq=Ilia%20Delio%20-%20We%20become%20what%20we%20love%20and%20who%20we%20love%20shapes%20what%20we%20become&source=bl&ots=kDLpDAwL1N&sig=ACfU3U0q3h-hbaGOPFUNSnyjwoFXATAY2w&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjIs8vZlofiAhU5XRUIHQiJAA4Q6AEwCXoECAkQAQ&fbclid=IwAR388hydUCd5kCiyXl5SdHtVaQuXPQXFxJ1rWXhYM1h2wSbUhu1oUd-_KiU#v=onepage&q=Ilia%20Delio%20-%20We%20become%20what%20we%20love%20and%20who%20we%20love%20shapes%20what%20we%20become&f=false
Thanks for your comment. I hesitate to tackle this question with a former Franciscan friar, but I found this quote attributed to Clare, long before Ilia Delio was writing theology. I know Ilia and have read several of her books and heard her speak twice. As a good Franciscan I see her as creatively reinterpreting the richness of your founders with clarity and brilliance. Not to mention the full scope of evolution, Teilhard, cosmology, physics, technology… This notion that what we love forms and shapes us guides me as a spiritual director. I believe it probably predates Clare and we could find it in the early church mothers and father. (My formation has been Carmelite.) And this idea seems to me to be the heart of scripture and being created in the image of God.
You sound like you are doing interesting things in London. My best to you! And thanks for noticing and raising a question. You made me think.
Thank you for sharing! I love that quote from St. Clare.