One evening, at a party just a week or so before I was to leave the town I had lived in for 16 years, and move across the country to go to seminary, an acquaintance of mine asked me why I was going. I said that I felt called to go. Later in the evening, he said, “You feel called? By whom? Ma Bell?” I laughed, but not so heartily. Obviously, he couldn’t even relate to what a calling meant. A lot of people can’t, until they can.
As I have said before, I’m a panentheist. I don’t believe in a micro-managing God. I don’t think that God is “up there” looking at me directly, and sending me messages about what to do. That said, there are things I have felt called to do in my life. I have felt very clearly the pull of things that seemed unavoidable. Decisions that had to be made in the way they were made. Things I just had to do. I felt like I had no choice.
But that isn’t really true. I have always had the freedom to choose differently. But once I jumped into the stream, as it were, once I decided to align myself with the great flow of Spirit that can lead us all to our best nature, and follow the teachings of the man from Nazareth, I choose to follow that stream. I’m not getting out. And so the stream takes me where it will take me. I don’t always know where I will end up.
My favorite quote about God’s will is from Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
From my perspective, God’s will is simply the pull of that stream that leads us where we can best fulfill the two greatest commandments: “Love God with all your heart, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” There are so many things that within those commandments. Of course, at its heart, it’s about love and compassion, and our ability to express that freely, not only to God, but to our neighbor, too. This is not only everyone we meet, but in these days of instantaneous communication with the world – literally every single person is our neighbor. And we are called to love each one as we love ourselves. Sometimes I can’t even get my mind around how hard this is. And how hard it is to fulfill in this time of alienation and separation.
Jesus didn’t choose the Samaritan for the parable randomly, of course. He chose someone of a group of people who were outcasts of the time. Considered unclean and unworthy. It is a commandment that we love those even we would consider unclean and unworthy as we would love ourselves.
The only way I know how to get to that place of love and compassion is by actively cultivating it. That cultivation allows us to see our fears, and reactions, and the things that get in the way of that love. Some would argue that idea is “corrupted” by eastern philosophical notions of meditative practice. But it’s not, not by a longshot. Way before the Buddha’s teaching made it to the west, mystics like Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, and the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, as well as many Eastern Orthodox monks from a thousand years ago, have talked about the active cultivation of inner quiet – the quiet that allows us to listen to the still, small voice of God–that ever flowing stream.