The following is a reflection from Jane Lee Wolfe, St. James, Woodstock parishioner and Director of Bog Chapel, Inc. an educational not-for-profit organization that focuses on the spiritual health and spiritual fitness of human beings, from youth through old age.
A cousin, and faithful church-goer, once said, “I’m not very ambitious spiritually.” She speaks for many of us, I’m sure. In contemporary life, spirituality is sort of an optional category when it comes to excelling. We go to church, maybe read something religious during Lent, go to a discussion session or two on social dilemmas sometime during the year, and participate in some sort of kind ministry with church folks in the community. Our ambition is deed-based. We’re getting about a “C” and that is good, because God never gives more than a “C” no matter how good or ambitious you are.
What we are not ambitious about, spiritually, is our personal relationship with God. This is not because of ill-will or recalcitrance of some sort; it is because of lack of exposure to that dimension of life. We don’t learn a lot about personal relationship with God. We don’t focus on that aspect of life. What we don’t know much about, we don’t have much ambition to succeed. How many of us are ambitious to succeed as tightrope walkers? Probably few. Why? Because we have not been raised in families of tightrope walkers, we do not come from a culture that has a keen focus on tightrope walking.
When we focus on personal spirituality, we are focusing on personal relationship with God. Personal relationship is not the same as public relationship. Public or communal relationship with God has a different dynamic from personal relationship with God. We know this from our own behavior: How we present in public is different from how we present to others personally. This isn’t wrong; it’s appropriate. The intimacy of personal relationships and the collegiality of public relationships require different aspects of who we are to come forth.
Personal relationship with God – intimacy, is always there, always possible, whether we tend to it or not. Like all relationships, it matures when engaged. There are rough spots and glorious experiences and everything in between. The great thing about getting going on personal/intimate relationship with God is that it is “whole” at every stage of development. If you are a spiritual infant when you open your heart and find yourself in the arms of God, you are absolutely whole, no matter your physical years. An infant is not an incomplete adult, it is an infant, and it lives wholly as an infant, until toddler, childhood, young adult, adult, ancient of days. This is being-based instead of deed-based spirituality. Both are necessary, in both we can get a “C” from God.
How to develop personal relationship with God? How to be ambitious to succeed? First, know that you have the gifts and skills necessary to connect intimately with God and commit to that connection. Two, know that in order to grow the relationship you have to spend some time with the person you are committed to, that includes God. Three, know that this intimate commitment will have an experience base. You cannot read or study yourself into intimacy with another. You have to present, flesh and blood. You have to know God and have God know you. Intimately, personally, experientially.
You start by presenting yourself for intimate relationship. You allow your partner to open your heart. You trust you are protected and you are. You listen with your heart to the fine words of love and individual commitment to you. You respond. You’ve begun, Enjoy. And love that “C”!