Monday, October 26, 2009

Rosa Mystica

Rosa Mystica:
in Outlines of Romantic Theology by Charles Williams

Charles Williams held that the principles of Romantic Theology can be reduced to a single formula: which is, the identification of love with Jesus Christ, and of marriage with his life. This again can be reduced to the single word—Immanuel.”[1] That is to say romantic love between a man and a woman carried out to its normal end in the rite of marriage and married life is a participation in Him who is Love himself. Such love is not the only incarnation of Love, but it is in our experience the most central one. In working the principle out he turns to the very act of the Incarnation and the enfleshment of Love in the womb of the young Virgin. Here he finds the root understanding of Love in human experience.

“We begin then with the Birth and with the Mother of God. And it is with her that the parallel becomes first apparent….It is in its earliest moments rather a delight of contemplation than a desire of union; being its own satisfaction and asking for nothing more. And though this desire is probably necessary, in order that contemplation may become ever more rich and full, the heart is often so shaken by the mere contemplation of the beloved that it is not conscious of anything beyond its own delight. The whole person of the lover is possessed by a new state of consciousness; love is born in him. “They have changed eyes,” says Shakespeare. But in this state of love he sees and contemplates the beloved as the perfection of living things: love is bestowed by her smile; she is its source and its mother. She appears to him, as it were, without human ties of any sort, for she is before humanity, the first-created of God. To her, for example, may be decently applied all the titles of the Litany of Loretto (and it is the business of Romantic Theology to urge and prove that they may justly be so applied).

She is the Mother of Love, purissima most pure, inviolata inviolate, admirablilis admirable; she is the Maid, virgo veneranda venerable virgin, potens powerful, Clemens merciful, she is the mirror of all mystical titles—speculum iustitiae mirror of justice, sedes sapientiae seat of wisdom, causa nostrae laetitiae cause of our joy, domus aurea house of gold, stella matutina morning star, salus infirmorum health of the sick: Unless the identification of marriage love with Christ be accepted, to press the similarity farther would seem profane. But any lover to whom the application of the titles we have quoted seems natural and right may believe from that in the Godhead of Incarnate Love, and may so dare to apply in a very real sense the titles which remain—Mater divinae gratiae Mother of divine grace, Mater Salvatoris Mother of our Savior, Rosa Mystica mystical Rose, Refugium peccatorum refuge of sinners, Regina Prophetarum Queen of Prophets. Not certainly in herself is she anything but as being glorious in the delight taken in her by the Divine Presence that accompanies her, and yet is born of her; which created her and is helpless as a child in her power. However in all other ways she may be full of error or deliberate evil, in the eyes of the lover, were it but for a moment, she recovers her glory, which is the glory that Love had with the Father before the world was. Immaculate she appears, Theotokos God-bearer, the Mother of God.”[2]

Williams presses the idea to its logical conclusion is saying that Dante, speaking of the beatific gaze of Beatrice that her eyes are “the eyes from which Love shot her earlier arrows, the eyes which … have the power to clear his blindness, the eyes which are in heaven so full of love for him, the eyes in which the two-natured Gryphon of Christ is reflected, the eyes of the Florentine girl—there are the eyes which in the end change only into the eyes of the Mother of God. This is the unique and lasting Mystery of the Way.”[3]

Williams carefully retains the humanity of Mary saying “in all other ways she may be full of error or deliberate evil, in the eyes of her lover, were it but for a moment, she recovers her glory which is the glory that Love had with the Father before the world was.” [4] This is in effect an acknowledgement both of her humanity and of the fact that her glory is a derivative glory that comes from Love Himself. The same theme is picked up in his discussion of Dante and Beatrice. Of Beatrice he says, “in the end it is he only at whom her eyes gaze before they plunge into the mystery of God himself. She is a divine thing, but she is also, still and always, the Florentine girl.” [5] It is important to bear in mind that when all is said and done that Beatrice is still and always the laughing Florentine girl. It is that understanding that reveals that this Love is Incarnate Love revealed in very human form. It is in fact Romantic Love enfleshed. Ultimately through the eyes of the Florentine girl Beatrice the eyes of the Mother of God looks, and in and through her the Divine Presence of Love Himself gazes. But this is not a distant, nor even a peculiar thing, but rather the heart experience of every lover who so beholds his love and marvels and the brilliance of her gaze. Through the gaze of my own true love, Mother Mary smiles on me, and through her eyes, the Christ in love beholds me.

[1] Charles Williams, Outlines of Romantic Theology, (Berkeley: The Apocryphile Press, 2005), p. 14
[2] Ibid. p. 15-17
[3] Ibid, “Religion and Love in Dante”, p. 111
[4] Ibid, p. 16-17
[5] Ibid, p. 99

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Abba Moses Teaches on Confession

A Story Worth Repeating From Somewhere in the Western Desert Fathers

Abba Moses said: "It is a good thing, as I said, not to hide your thoughts from the fathers. But you should not tell them to just anyone; you should confess them to spiritual masters who have discrimination, not simply to those whose hair has grown white with age. Many who have looked to age as a guide, and then revealed their thoughts, have not only remained unhealed but have been driven to despair because of the inexperience of those to whom they confessed.

There was one a very zealous brother who was greatly troubled by the demon of unchastity. He went to a certain father and confessed his private thoughts to him; but this father, being inexperienced, became angry when he heard about them and told the brother that he was contemptible and unworthy of the monastic habit for having entertained thoughts such as these. When the brother heard this, he lost heart, left his cell and set off back to the world.

Through God's providence, however, Abba Apollos, one of the most experienced of the elders, chanced to meet him and, seeing him over-wrought and very despondent, asked him why he was in this state. At first the brother did not reply because he was so depressed but, after the elder had pleaded with him, he told him what was wrong, saying: "Because I was often troubled by evil thoughts, I went to tell them to the elder; and as he said I have no hope of salvation, I have given up and am now on my way back to the world."

When Abba Apollos heard this, he comforted and encouraged him, saying: "Do not be surprised, my child, and do not lose hope. I too, old and grey as I am, am still much troubled by these thoughts. Do not be discouraged by this burning desire, which is healed not so much by human effort as by God's compassion. Please do this for me: go back to your cell just for today." This the brother did; and Apollos, after leaving him, went to the cell of the elder who had caused his despair. Standing outside he implored God with tears and said: "O Lord, who puts us to the test for our own benefit, let this elder be given the brother's battle, so that in old age he may learn through experience what he has not been taught over these many years: how to feel sympathy with those who are under attack by the demons." As he finished his prayer, he saw a dark figure standing near the cell shooting arrows at the elder. Wounded by the arrows, the elder at once began to stumble back and forth as though drunk. Unable to withstand the attack, he finally left his cell and set off for the world by the same road that young monk had taken.

Seeing what had happened, Abba Apollos confronted him, and asked him where he was going and why he was so deeply troubled. Although he realized that the holy man knew what was wrong with him, he was too ashamed to say anything. Abba Apollos then said to him: "Return to your cell, and the future recognize your own weakness. The devil has either not noticed or has despised you, and so not thought you worth fighting. Not there has been any question of a fight: you could not stand up to his provocation even for a day! This has happened to you because, when you received a younger brother who was attacked by our common enemy, you drove him to despair instead of preparing him for the battle.

You did not recall the wise precept: "Deliver them that are being led away to death; and redeem them that are appointed to be slain" (Prov. 24:11 LXX). You did not even remember the parable of our Savior, which teaches us not to break a bruised reed or quench a smoking flax (cf. Matt. 12:20). None of us could endure the plots of the enemy, or allay the fiery turmoil of our nature, if God's grace did not protect our human weakness. Seeing, then, that God has had this compassion for us, let us pray to Him together and ask Him to withdraw the whip with which he has lashed you. "For He wounds but binds up; He strikes but His hands heal" (Job 5:18) "The Lord kills and gives life; he brings down to the grave and raises again. . . . He brings low and lifts up" (I Sam. 2:6-7). After Abba Apollos had said this and he had prayed, the attack which had been launched against the elder was at once suspended. Finally, Abba Apollos advised him to ask God to give him "tongue of the learned" so as to know "how to speak a word in season" (Is. 50:4).

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Forming Christian Identity in a Complex Age!

How wide is the gap between the ways of Jesus and the ways of the world? An historian writes of the eighteen century English statesman Sir Robert Walpole: “He was unscrupulous, and did very dirty work; but he did it to serve his country, and not for any selfish end other than that of retaining political power. He himself said that he was ‘no saint, no Spartan, no reformer’; it was all a matter of business.”[1] There is at least a bracing honesty in Walpole’s assessment of himself. While that remark could stand as a motto for any number of contemporary public figures, I think I heard it originally in one of the Godfather movies.

At the other extreme is a seemingly frivolous remark, “Encumbered with a low self-image, Bob takes a job as a speed bump.” That reveals the depth of the problem of identity formation as it is experienced by many other people. A simple truth from Proverbs catches us up short: “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7). The question that should be raised immediately is, “Are we stuck with character flaws and weaknesses we now have?”

An essential element in human personality formation is understanding the basic freedom we have in effecting change within ourselves. A principle of psychology says that if we know where in our past we learned the behavior that upsets us in the present, that knowledge frees us to decide to do things differently. Jesus said, “If you know the truth, the truth will set you free” (John 8:23). That includes even the truth about yourself. Contemplative Theology tells us that there is no true knowledge of God without the accompanying knowledge of one’s self; that is in knowing Him, we begin, only begin, to see ourselves as He sees us.

An Old Testament figure named Jabez illustrates the importance of self-knowledge and its place in our prayers. Jabez’ name unfortunately translates as: “He Will Cause Pain.”

Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez (He Will Cause Pain) saying, because I bore him in pain." And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, "Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I might not cause pain!" So God granted him what he requested." I Chron. 4:9,10

When we acknowledge to God the pains and inadequacies that spring from our families of origin He stands ready to heal. Indeed God names Himself “I am the God Who Heals You” (Exodus 15:26). Jabez discovery of his origin and his prayer for deliverance from the terrible name he received from his mother must have caused great anguish. A commentary on the Torah speaks of the resistance we have to transformation “the stone does not take sides with the master but against him; to the stone the first stroke struck to form it appears as a most unnatural action.”[2]

This re-formation of our old identity into a new Christian identity is what the Scripture calls sanctification. Sanctification is an old word that unfortunately has fallen out of use. Sanctification is the process of becoming holy, which may be why it is no longer a popular idea today. The deeper meaning of sanctification is the restoration to wholeness. Holiness in thought and action flows from the wholeness that comes as God’s gift of grace in our lives. The theology of the Greek Fathers refers to this as deification following the teaching of St. Peter (2 Peter 1:3-7), “3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” That sanctification, that deification, is in the end result a work of the Cross.

Paul shares with us two secrets about this interior transformation. The first is that we are to be transformed by the “renewing of our minds” (Romans. 12:2). Spiritually you are what you eat, therefore Paul says again, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8) Second, transformation comes from beholding the glory of God in prayer and worship, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). What you put in your mind colours and forms your identity. Who you worship, anchors that identity in practical reality.

[1] Alfred Plummer, The Church of England in the Eighteenth Century, (London: Methuen, 1910), p. 17
[2] - Thomas Mann, in The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. Gunther Plaut, (New York:Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981), p.665

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Mighty Soaring Eagle:

After Meister Eckhart:

John the Evangelist,
Was a mighty soaring eagle
Whose concern
Was to trust us with Christ’s Divinity
And the mystery of the Trinity,
In the beginning was the Word.
What proceeds from the Father’s Essence
Is the Son of His source. He is
Other in person, but
Not other in nature,
The Essence made present
The Radiance of the Father.
The Son Who is the Word
Is in the essence what the Father is.
In the beginning was the Word,
And the Word was with God
That the Word might proceed from God,
And the Word was God
And The Word is God
In the flesh, and
In Him was life, and the
Life was the light of men, no rather,
In Him is life, and that Life
Is the light of men.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Unitive Experience: A Personal Reflection

While I do not “feel” God all the time I acknowledge that when I turn my gaze toward Him most often His Presence comes rushing in. I have always attributed that to the experience of the Holy Spirit six weeks after my conversion. It was an experience of complete abandonment in the Presence of God. It came unsought, pure infused grace after a year of wrestling with purgation. Infused grace is that grace which comes as pure gift, poured on one seemingly without conscious preparation. Purgation is a season of self-discovery under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit and ends in penitence and confession.

The purgative stage was cyclical and I was through sorrow and the experience of guilt and alienation from God gradually led to such a place of self-awareness that I abandoned all and cast myself in utter trust on the mercy and love of God. The moment of surrender and final confession opened a door into an immediate sense of the Presence of God without guilt, and without recrimination.

I had no words for the deeper experience that came six weeks later. Eventually Charismatic theology and the words of Scripture would identify the experience as the Baptism with the Holy Spirit. Such an identification however falls short in understanding the essence of the encounter. An older theology would have understood it as an experience of being rapt in God that issued in a sense of being at unity with God, of oneness, a lostness in the enrapturing Presence that for those moments removed me from all awareness of my surroundings and held me tossed to and fro in the ocean of God’s boundless love. The circumstances are not as important as the event itself. It happened in the midst of a superficial community that was accepting at least that such things could and should happen. But the experience itself was intensely personal and removed me emotionally, spiritually, and it seemed physically from the community itself.

Basically such an experience is word based and perhaps even the result of acquired grace. For me the experience was preceded by avid and disciplined reading of the New Testament and by exposure to the psalms, particularly expressions like the old Scot’s Psalter tune for Psalm 42, “As pants the heart for cooling streams When heated in the chase, So longs my soul, O God, for Thee, And Thy refreshing grace.”

Some of the mystics would have identified it as an experience of initiatory grace. Initiatory grace is that grace we sometimes experience at the very beginning of our spiritual journey giving us a foretaste of spiritual delights and drawing us on into disciplines that prepare us for acquired grace. Although acquired grace is itself a gift, it is experientially the immersion in the Presence that comes in response to quiet discipline.

Certainly it was initiatory grace, but it marked me forever and left within me a spiritual and emotional receptor, a doorway for the Presence of God. It had nothing to do with worthiness. “I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but speak the word only and Your servant shall be healed.” To my sorrow and occasional confusion I grieve that I am so slow in responding obedience, but I hasten to add that whatever obedience I have is responsive by nature. The experience left me with a sense of unity with God that fades and then is renewed in the ebb and flow of my experience of God’s love and grace in rhythm with my ongoing process of self-discovery and penitence. The experience of unity with God has also marked me with a willingness for abandonment with God. I would not want to be tempted to abandon the experience of the Presence which comes as pure gift, even in those times when on the surface it seems to be acquired grace.

I have had dark nights of the soul since then, some of them unsought, some blundered into. What I have learned is that God loves me, in tune, out of tune, at all times and delights to have me know that love. His love precedes and transcends my transformation. The issues of the human soul move very slowly and God will not await our timing but takes us to His bosom, as we are, in transition, in partial and sometimes inadequate, very inadequate states of sanctification. That is what the blood of Christ is for, cleansing and purifying even as it makes this union with God a possibility.

I am at a loss to describe the experience of His Presence. I feel enveloped. I would say I feel loved, but how does one feel loved? To be sure it is subjective, but nonetheless it is so persistent and sometimes so pervasive that it cannot be denied. It is Divine hands upon my shoulders, Divine breath breathed deeply in. It is comfort, peace, and at times physical warmth. It is more than subjective. It is an inner knowing, a receiving of the immanent God, “a golden breathable medium.” I relax into it and am still. I pick up the Scripture or my Psalter, or a book written by another child of God and feel the Presence spilling from the pages into my very soul. I pick up my pen and write, or write even on the computer knowing all the time that He is with me. I experience Him with the same clarity that I experience the others whom I love.

I acknowledge that it is not something that I have done although on another level I have allowed myself to thirst for Him and for His Presence. How should it be otherwise? The words of an old hymn come back, “I sought the Lord and afterward I knew He moved my soul to seeking Him seeking me.” At times I have hesitated. At other times I have drifted away. But, by grace, in the final analysis I respond to Him with the words of Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Monday, April 20, 2009


There are times when the burdens seem overwhelming, and those are the very times when one looks down and discovers that one is up to old tricks. No doubt that is why in the evening psalm You remind me, “I am a man who has no strength…I am shut in so that I cannot escape … I am helpless” (Psalm 88:4, 8, 15 ESV).

Once through the first big death in the midst of life, smaller deaths are easier. That is why I am glad to release not just the past, but also the future and the present to You. What is amazing is that You say that Your burden is light. You are glad to share the burden with me, but when I am overwhelmed it is because I have forgotten and am trying to carry it all by myself.

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Monday, April 6, 2009


"Cast away, then, all cowardice out of thine heart,
and with knightly valour ride with me in the lists:
for it becomes not the squire to hesitate,
where his lord goes forward with gallantry and courage.
. . .
No vicarious atonement, then,
will satisfy the instinct of the true lover of reality.
He desires life with all its accidents and misfortunes:
the high heroic life of the chivalry of God."[1]
. . .
My Lord,
so often have I gone out with thee into the lists
not knowing wither I go,
sometimes armed and sometimes not,
sometimes consciously to do battle,
sometimes oblivious of the battle at hand.
Lord, I recognize the lists
as one of the themes of my life.
I praise Thee,
that has called me,
and kept me company.
. . .
Now my liege Lord
I place upon me the panoply of God:
I gird my loins with truth and integrity
and place upon my chest the breastplate
of Your righteousness.
My feet are shod with the Gospel of peace
and I stand ready to bear witness to You
in the midst of the fray.
I hold secure the shield of faith,
its colors the red of your shed blood
its white the purity you purchased for me,
its insignia the rampant Lion and the Lamb.
I fear not the fiery darts of the wicked one.
On my head I place the helm of salvation
its golden plume the sign of
Your victory over death and the grave.
In my hand I grasp the blade of the Spirit
which is the Word of God
sharper than any two-edged sword
piercing even to the division of soul and spirit,
joints and marrow.

My liege Lord
I stand by your side.
I hear the rumble of drums.
My ears ring with the trumpet call.
Lead me, My Lord.
I follow you to battle.

[1]John Cordelier, The Path of Eternal Wisdom, (London: John M. Watkins. 1922), 17.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lectio Divina

“Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.” (Psalm 34:5 RSV)

One of the fruits of Lectio Divina is deification. In the Western Church we use the pale term “sanctification,” but deification glows with an inner light. If you look to Him you will become radiant. Paul speaks of the same thing when he says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV). The words “are being transformed” translate the Greek word for metamorphosis. The transformation is in process now as we behold the glory of the Lord in Lectio. As we gaze upon the Lord in his self-revelation in Holy Scripture we receive into ourselves His likeness. The four steps of Lectio Divina; read, reflect, respond and rest, bring us into the Presence of the God who loves us. Read the text over meditatively several times. Reflect on the meaning of the text. Respond in prayer on the basis of the text. Rest in the Presence of God.

Like Moses on Mount Sinai we look to Him and become radiant (Exodus 34:29-35).

"29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. 34 Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, 35 the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him."

St. Gregory Palamas made a distinction between essence and divine energies, the former in immutable transcendence, the latter incarnate in humanity. From Isaiah 45:19 “I did not say to the seed of Jacob, ‘Seek Me in vain’; I, the Lord, speak righteousness, I declare things that are right.” It is clear that You did not intend me to seek Your face in vain. For me a reductionist interpretation, that would avoid the obvious surface meaning in favor of a spiritualized application, is not adequate. With Moses (Exodus 33:18) I cry, “Show me Your Glory.” My Lord, show me Your face. If it is not possible to see Your essence, the cry of my heart is at least let me see the “effulgence” of Your glory, the outraying of Your Essence in the face of Jesus Christ.1 May I see Your glory as the eye sees. Let me see You with a ‘spiritual sensing’ even as Paul was caught up to heaven, whether in the body or out of the body he did not know. Let me see You as John saw You walking among the golden menorah of the Churches.

Why? Because I love You? Not a shadow of how You love me! No. Because You command it, and say “Seek My face,” and my seeking, which is commanded, will make Your heart glad even as it leaves me “rapt” in Your love.2

St. Gregory Palamas would remind us that in beholding not the essence of God, but the radiance of God we ourselves enter into deification and take on that same radiance. It is the radiance of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration. “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (Matthew 17:1,2).

In Lectio we kneel at the feet of the radiant Christ whom we adore. St. Gregory of Nyssa says, “We receive into ourselves the likeness of whatever we look upon.” This is true both of evil and good. In the present context, as we gaze in Lectio at the radiance of Christ, we receive that radiance into ourselves and are transformed. “Look to him and be radiant. So your faces shall never be ashamed.”

In all of this one thing must be carefully identified. Do not seek the radiance for the sake of being radiant. Seek rather the radiance for His own sake, He who is the express image, the outraying, the effulgence of the Father’s glory. He alone is to be worshipped and adored, for own His sake, and for no other reason. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36 ESV).

Read Reflect Respond Rest
Lectio Meditatio Oratio Contemplatio

1(John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews 1:1-3)
2(Richard Rolle, The Fire of Love)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Impossible Tasks

One of the hardest things we have to learn is the extent of our own capabilities. Several factors come into play: our strength, our health, our understanding, timing, circumstances, and the countless variables inherent in other people in the midst of whom we are called to do our ministries. It is with full awareness of his limitations [probably health issues] that St. Paul hears the words of Christ spoken in his ear "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" [2 Corinthians 12:9].

The bedrock of all spiritual grace is the essential helplessness that we share as human beings. Psalm 88, one of the glummest psalms in the entire Psalter, has three spiritual truths that lay a new foundation. v. 4b "I am a man who has no strength," v. 8b "I am shut in so that I cannot escape." v. 12:c, and "I am helpless." Time and again we will come back to this starting place; the acknowledgement of our essential helplessness before God and humbly surrender to Him, who loves us so that He surrendered all, that we might be complete in Him. Only from that starting place can we go forward. While we are not called to go forward in our own strength, we are called to go forward in His strength. What He demands of us is sometimes more, and sometimes less than what we demand of ourselves. This is where healthy authority relationships can come into play. We are not always the best judge of our own capabilities.

St. Benedict writes:

“If it happens that difficult or impossible tasks are laid on a brother, let him nevertheless receive the order of the one in authority with all meekness and obedience. But if he sees that the weight of the burden altogether exceeds the limit of his strength, let him submit the reasons for his inability to the one who is over him in a quiet way and at an opportune time, without pride, resistance, or contradiction. And if after these representations the Superior still persists in his decision and command, let the subject know that this is for his good, and let him obey out of love, trusting in the help of God.” Chapter 68 Rule of St. Benedict

God is more clearly aware of our limitations than we are and often challenges us above what we think our limitations will allow. Often he will do that through those who exercise godly authority over us. He does this in part that we might learn to lean on Him and not on our own strength, and also in part that we might grow in grace and competence through the power of His Spirit with us.