Friday, May 31, 2013

Retreat Report: Surrender--the Intersection of Faith and Prayer

My job is done here! I gave the last talk for our sisters' retreat this morning, and they have just under two hours left of their week of prayer and silence. So far, the reports coming in are good (their superior told me, "I haven't heard much, but if they didn't like it, I would have heard a LOT by now!"), so it sure seems as though all the prayers to the Holy Spirit have been answered. Thanks!

Today's topic is one that could be pretty intimidating: surrender (or, as the old spiritual writers used to put it, "abandonment to the will of God"). There's a page in our prayerbook with a prayer for submission to God's will; I always rephrase it. I just think "surrender" has a deeper meaning to it.

Here's why:

"Surrender" and "submit"  are not spiritual terms. We use them in many different contexts. In a law case, a lawyer might "submit the evidence", but he asks the jury to surrender to the truth (and surrender a verdict). In a war, an army might have to give up because the situation is hopeless; to continue would put their cause or their country at greater risk. They wave the white flag. They surrender. We use expressions like "I give up"; "I quit"; "face the facts"; "reality check"; "we've done all we could" (or "there's nothing else we can try"); "it is what it is."

Sometimes, when we want someone to submit to us, or to surrender to our ideas, we may say, "Just trust me on this!" And when we're driving, we might surrender to the guidance of the GPS and let it determine the road we take.  None of these are particularly spiritual. But they're all forms of submission or surrender.

"Submit" is a biblical term. The way it is in Greek seems to relate to putting things in proper order; a rightly ordered relationship. This (whatever) is "placed under" that. One thing is sent or put beneath or subject to another. We find this word used in the New Testament mostly in the Epistles, typically in an exhortation about Church order (but sometimes about submitting to God!): "Submit to your leaders." Husband and wife are to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Servants must be "submissive" to their human masters; that is the appropriate social order. St. Paul used the word "submit" as the opposite of freedom when he wrote about the Galatians "submitting to the yoke of slavery"--the old Law. There's a strong association with obedience here, but it is not a matter of "listening"; it is a matter of right order; right relationship.

"Surrender" is from the Old French. It means especially to give something over; to hand over, deliver. So we might think of it as highlighting the act of giving; the freedom of the Gift (rather than the way the gift is set in relation to something "over" it). The emphasis is less on "order" and more on giving. Surrender involves a relationship. That's the difference between raising the white flag ("I give up! There's no hope! Might as well surrender...") and making a GIFT of self. (Sometimes the act of resignation, facing the facts; accepting reality, may be a step along the way to surrender in the sense of the gift of self, though.)

We could spend some time looking at the obstacles and impediments and opposites of surrender, but why bother? Let's focus on the grace of surrender itself. And you know what? We automatically respond--or at least most easily and freely and gladly respond in surrender--when we come face to face with what is good or beautiful or true and trustworthy. This is just human  nature.

What happens when you see a fresh, hot, lovely donut? You SURRENDER! You let go! You give yourself to the donut in a way that is appropriate to donuts. The donut is GOOD! You have to go against yourself not to surrender (which is the precise problem with fresh, hot donuts.) But just to say... that is the proper and easy and normal response we make before the good and true and beautiful.

So the paradox of surrender is that it is an act of freedom, not of force. It is a movement of joy and confidence, or at least confidence (there are certainly things our human nature cannot be joyful about, as Mother Thecla was so wise to acknowledge: "We cannot always be joyful, but we can always be at peace"). It is the confidence of the man in the parable who found a treasure hidden in a field, and out of joy went and sold everything he had. He gave it all over; he surrendered all his possessions for the treasure he and he alone had recognized.

The Holy Spirit's goals in any given circumstance are probably going to be vaster and deeper and farther-reaching than any outcome I might be looking for. And so it may seem that the Holy Spirit is not acting when, in fact, he is doing great things on a huge scale!

Surrender is me becoming one with God's creative act that is constantly giving me existence. When Alberione reflected on this, he wrote, "My God, I am entirely the work of your omnipotent love!" Of course he wanted to respond in a complete gift of self! Same thing with the Blessed Mother. Her response to the Annunciation was a laying-down of her life, with complete trust in God to determine and direct the outcome. As we have been praying in the "Come Holy Spirit," "come take possession of our souls and make them all your own," I see Mary and say, "this is what happens when the Holy Spirit takes possession of a soul": Jesus becomes unavoidably manifest. Christ lives in me.


Maureen said...

When do you get back to Chicago... I want to deliver a bag of donuts as a thank you for this post. ;)

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Ha! Tomorrow's afternoon, God willing and weather permitting!


A Good Reflection