On Spiritual Styles

I agree there are different spiritual “styles”—though I’m not terribly keen on that word—ranging along a spectrum between the combative and the contented, if one might put it this way. But they are by no means exclusive; everyone needs to make use of both, sometimes successively and sometimes simultaneously. I’ve quoted Philippians 2:12-13 before, but it’s worth quoting again: “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” writes Saint Paul, thus giving support to the spiritual warriors; “for God is at work within you, to will and to do His good pleasure”, thus giving support to those who are looking for consolation and peace.

So do we have to fight or do we simply repose in a victory that’s already won? Yes—both! It’s not an either/or situation. We should firmly believe everything depends on God while vigorously acting as though everything depends on us—a case, I suppose, of “not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matt. 6:3). For it’s only by acting, struggling, as if our spiritual life depended on it that we may finally come to the place where we realize “all shall be well, and every manner of thing shall be well” (Dame Julian of Norwich).

Or consider what Schuon says on this score:

“All great spiritual experiences agree in this: there is no common measure between the means put into operation and the result. ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible,’ says the Gospel. In fact, what separates man from divine Reality is but a thin partition: God is infinitely close to man, but man is infinitely far from God. This partition, for man, is a mountain; man stands in front of a mountain, which he must remove with his own hands. He digs away the earth, but in vain, the mountain remains; man however goes on digging, in the name of God. And the mountain vanishes. It was never there” (Stations of Wisdom).

One final observation. For those like you with an especially anxious sort of disposition—who can’t seem to sit still but must always be doing, doing, doing, lest the world fall apart without them—the real “fight” may be to stop fighting. Which is what I had in mind above in speaking of simultaneity and which, let it be said, is considerably easier said than done!

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