"Be still and know that I am God." –Psalm 46:10
Like most journeyers along the contemplative path, I soon learn that silence holds not only peace but challenge. The initial balm I received in stillness has given way to an even louder clamor than before, and the pattern of my thoughts reveals my less pleasing aspects. Whatever one's issues, problems, or flaws may be, sitting in silence will soon bring them to the surface. Maybe I should just go back to being my anxious, distracted self!
"Do not look at the temptation (to doubt) itself but look straight at our Lord." –St. Francis de Sales
Jane de Chantal's primary spiritual challenge was her strong will. Though her intention was good- to love God and to unite herself with God- she wrongly believed that she could accomplish this by force of will. She drove herself mercilessly with devotional and ascetic practices, only to grow more frustrated by her inability to feel God's love or "consolations." This led Jane to doubt her faith, which she regarded as the gravest sin of all, and plunged her into an abyss of anguished self-hatred. "Will God never take me out of myself and out of the world?" she cries. Seeing her predicament, Francis de Sales, her spiritual director, advised her: "Do not look at the temptation (to doubt) itself but look straight at our Lord." In other words, Jane was so focused on herself and her agenda that there was no room for God.
Jane's willfulness persisted until, at one point in her incessant questioning of Francis, he simply walked out of the room. Jane fled to the chapel where she was finally able to surrender herself on a deeper level. Francis had been waiting for such a moment to be able to help Jane grasp the truth: that all action begins with God. Before Him, we can only wait in emptiness and silence.
Jody Johnson is an oblate and formation director at Visitation Monastery in Minneapolis. She wrote her "In The Desert" series while on a two week study and prayer sabbatical. Jody also teaches contemplative practice and spiritual formation at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. This article is cross-posted from Jody's blog, with her permission.
For In the Desert, Part 4: God Comes to Us, click here.