There is an old story about a Persian man named Khurram, whose wife promised to make his favorite dish which is filled with nuts. The man was excited about helping his wife in the kitchen. Happily he reached deep into the jar filled with nuts and grabbed as many as he could fit in his hand.
When he tried to pull his arm out of the jar, it was stuck. As hard as he pulled and twisted his arm, the jar would not release it. His wife pulled hard, but his arm remained stuck. They called out to their neighbors for help. One neighbor, named Jamal, came running over and asked how this had happened. With a voice filled with pain and frustration Khurram told his story.
“Oh, I know how to help you, but you must do exactly as I say,” said Jamal.
“Yes, I promise to do exactly as you say,” Khurram replied.
“Okay, then push your arm further into the jar.” Jamal requested.
Khurram thought the request was strange but he did as he was told. Jamal continue, “Now open your hand and drop the nuts you have been holding.” This upset Khurram, because he wanted his nuts for his favorite dish, but reluctantly he followed directions.
Jamal then said, “Make your hand very small and slowly pull your arm out of the jar.”
Khurram did as he was told and without any trouble he pulled his arm out of the jar. He said, “My arm is free now, but what about the nuts?”
Hearing this, Jamal tipped over the jar and let several nuts roll out onto a plate. Wide-eyed and with his mouth open in surprise, Khurram asked, “Are you a magician?’
God invites us to come closer; to enter into the jar of His delights, with all of the gusto of Khurram for his favorite dish, and with the wide eyed, open mouthed surprise of the Wise Men. We have witnessed the birth of Christ and the joy of Christmas. Our journey now is with our compassionate companion; our response is to come closer to God who is among and with us.
St, Ignatius of Loyola begins his Foundation to “The Spiritual Exercises” with: “God who loves us creates us and wants to share life with us forever.” He ends with this entreaty, “Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what leads to God’s deepening life in me.” When we turn toward and listen to the Holy Spirit, whose lessons often come in the form of our neighbor, we are led to God’s desires for us. When we seek to know an unknowable God we find that we are known deeply by Him.
Building the relationship is the essence of spiritual formation or transformation in Christ. We may want a relationship, but choosing what leads to its deepening is where we step up to the reality of a mature and growing relationship. We easily accept that God wants to share in our life. But this choice is about God’s life within us, and the sharing of our life together. The good and perfect message of the gospel is that God will take what we offer, and love us no less. The added gift is that God continues to invite us to come closer. And when we respond, within that choosing and sharing there is found less and less of our own life and more of His will, His work, His Love.
The Holy Spirit is our given teacher and guide for this journey, our neighbor with the gentle insight into our part of our relationship with God. To enter this path one can begin with praying simply for the desire to deepen your relationship with God. Then listen to the Spirit who is already at prayer within you. She is your teacher, and it will be given. You may be led to find a new prayer form, to take a class, begin spiritual direction, or simply to sit in silence. The response may come while in prayer, but it could be found in how you are responding to a busy intersection, to a co-worker, or during a bedtime story. Notice, listen, and welcome the message, and then choose to follow the new path before you.
With a commitment to ongoing formation of our spiritual selves, Graces so often hidden by our own tight grasp become visible, and like Jamal, we are able to tip the jar and receive a deeper knowledge of God, compassion for His creation, and faith for the journey. Whatever you choose to offer or begin this year in response to the God who loves and created you, may it be blessed beyond measure.
Rosemary Hagan, D.Min
“God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.” St. Teresa of Avila