I was reading a book this weekend that peers into the inner life (or obvious lack of it in today's world) of Christian leaders. It was also my birthday, and I’ve been reflecting on my own personal journey – the ups and the downs of life as I’ve lived it. On my Facebook page-list of bday greetings, one was from a friend: ‘Stay hungry’ is what he wrote. I guess it stuck with me because I started to wonder how we stay hungry for what matters in a world that stuffs us full of things that don’t. And it reminded me of what I had read this weekend – about the source of our spiritual power.
I have a habit of seeing the ‘overflow’ of God’s spirit as something poured into me from outside of me. It’s most likely because I have a western consumer view of life and everything is answered from outside of me. Or it could be the sermon illustration that involved a cup and a jug of water… I’m not sure.
But I’ve learned that I have internal suspicions about anything that talks about inside of us, or our inner selves, or listening to our own voice, and I routinely dismiss them as some kind of new-age attempt to hijack my faith. In the past, I’ve declined invitations to monastic retreats ’cause “ain’t nobody got time for that” -- and counseling is something I refer other people to, and I’ve heard yoga is a demonic influence that leaks confusion through my ‘third eye’. It kind of begs the question: ‘What am I so scared of?’
The book reminded me of Jesus’ words and instructions on the kingdom of God. He says it’s ‘inside of us’ and that streams of living water will flow from out of our belly (which is a reference to our inner self). The image is not of a jug pouring spiritual power into an empty cup but of the beginning of a well, bubbling up from the inside – becoming a source of life from, well, inside of us. I know... weird, right? The kingdom of heaven is not over there or over here, Jesus said, but ‘inside of you’. As I read the list of biblical passages where Jesus described the Kingdom of God, I was shocked at how familiar his words are to me and how little I’ve applied them to attending my ‘inner self’.
Why am I so afraid to look inwards if that is where God’s kingdom comes? And why do I keep looking for spiritual sustenance outside of me when Jesus is clearly suggesting I should look within?
All of a sudden I remembered reading the Interior Castle (a prayer classic by the monastic St. Teresa of Avila). She talks about our soul as a castle, and basically suggests that most Christians just hang out at the gates (proud of the majestic features from the outside), yet are afraid to explore the interior areas – where the real treasures lie. The reason they don’t venture inside is that there are monsters there – it’s dark and unknown and well, a bit haunted to tell the truth (at least that’s what her descriptions sound like). And this is also true.
For those of us who can stomach the truth about our interior lives, monsters and dark might be included in the list of reasons we don’t venture too far. But for those of us interested in staying hungry enough for adventures that lead to spiritual power for a long journey – we might want to start paying attention.
Rather than seeking the answers outside of ourselves, looking for the silver bullet or the geographical cure or the latest gadgets promising spiritual renewal, we may want to surrender our tendency for jug-filling stations along the journey and take the time to dig a well.
If I’m going to stay hungry, I should tend the source that bubbles forever from within.