This coming Sunday’s scripture readings are about the relationship between power and trust. When we are willing to be vulnerable, we become receptive to a power greater than ourselves. St. Paul speaks of this as “weakness” with respect to self-will so that we make room for the “strength” of Christ’s power working through us (2 Cor. 12:9-10). Gerald May describes this dynamic in terms of “willingness” vs. “willfulness”:
. . . willingness implies a surrendering of one’s self-separateness, an entering-into, and immersion in the deepest processes of life itself. It is a realization that one already is a part of some ultimate cosmic process and it is a commitment to participation in that process. In contrast, willfulness is a setting of oneself apart from the fundamental essence of life in an attempt to master, direct, control or otherwise manipulate existence. (Will and Spirit, p. 6)
One begins to realize that it is not possible to belong to the universe, to participate in its vital flow, if one is either being controlled by it or trying to control it. (Will and Spirit, p. 13)
Jesus was unable to do any deeds of power in his hometown, because the people there did not trust him (Mark 6:1-6). He was amazed by their unbelief AND he refused to act coercively in the absence of trust, even for their benefit. This is the ultimate meaning of self-surrender in spiritual terms. It is the realization that we are neither a slave nor a master of the universe, but rather an expression of God’s loving, life-giving energy. We consent to what T. de Chardin described as the slow work of God in us, without attachment to any particular outcome and without trying to manipulate anyone or anything.
What may appear as “weakness” is really the willingness to become transparent to God’s redeeming power in the world. Can we trust God enough to surrender our self-will? What would that look like in our lives? How do we know that we have surrendered to God and not to some delusion? These are among the questions I’m pondering in preparation for Sunday’s sermon.