I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for June Mears Driedger’s reflection Yielding to Emerging Life.
I learned the story of Celtic Saint Kevin of Glendalough, the founder of the ancient Glendalough monastery, while on a Celtic pilgrimage with Abbey of the Arts in 2016. As the story is told, St. Kevin was praying with his arms outstretched in his monastery cell which was so small his right arm extended through the window. As he prayed, a blackbird nestled in his hand then began to build a nest. When the nest was complete, the blackbird laid an egg and not wanting to disturb the bird St. Kevin left his hand outstretched. With the nest and egg in his hand, St. Kevin chose not to move until the egg had hatched and the fledgling had flown away.
This story holds two invitations for me: the first invitation is to find love in hard places, a feature of Celtic spirituality. The second invitation is to yield to the emerging life that may be unfolding.
Once home, I found a small wooden sculpture of hands to which I added a small nest with a fabric bird. I placed this sculpture on our home altar and passed it several times a day for months. With each passing, consciously and subconsciously, I recalled the legend of St. Kevin and his decision to yield to the life that was emerging in his hand. I held him as an example of yielding what needed surrendering for new life to emerge in me. Over time, I understood that God’s invitation had birthed itself into my heart as a deeper desire to allow God’s transforming Love. This birth, my yielding, has unfolded within me through contemplative prayer.
Silent prayer does not come easily to me. I grew up in a church that believed intercessory prayer was the only form of prayer and I continue to pray for others. But it is not the only way to pray. My shift in prayer has evolved as I have practiced contemplative prayer. In this form of prayer, I am not telling God how I think God should move and act in my life or around the globe. For me, contemplative prayer is a way of surrendering my will, of declaring “…not my will but your will be done.” I am gradually understanding I can offer my concerns and then yield my preferred outcomes to God.
Contemplative prayer also means releasing my impulse to make God into my own image and instead, allow God to transform me into God’s image. I surrender my limited vision for God’s boundless vision. Silent prayer enables me to release my ego—the desire to be in charge, to be the ruler of my life, to be a little dictator—which is not easy. Surrendering my ego is a daily (hourly) practice to not insist on having my own way. The struggle is deep and challenging! My ego finds a myriad of creative and clever ways to reclaim control. Yet, as Benedict wrote: “Always we begin again.” When I recognize my resistance to God’s transforming Love, I return to yielding control of my life to God’s ever-merciful, ever-loving will. My life becomes a continual prayerful practice of yielding, submitting, surrendering to God for God’s Love to emerge and grow in me.
When I return to contemplative prayer, I focus on Love, which is the essence of God. I yield my mind and soul routinely to Love while offering Love more space in my heart to transform my heart. In contemplative prayer I become aware of the places where I cling to an inner hardness of heart that I am unwilling to surrender to God’s touch. When I resist yielding my heart to God, I am unable to wholeheartedly love God, which in the innermost depths of my heart, truly is my desire. And it is in contemplation that I admit this. In silence, my heart is most open. I’m not keeping God at arms-length but instead, allowing God to come near. It is in silence that I gaze at God as God gazes me (to use Julian of Norwich’s description of prayer). In contemplative prayer I cradle vulnerable life as it gestates into new and transformed life.
June Mears Driedger is a new immigrant to the Canadian prairies of Manitoba with her spouse Kevin Driedger. Previously, they were on staff at The Hermitage Community retreat center in southwest Michigan. She is a writer, spiritual director, and retreat leader. She can be found at www.junemearsdriedger.ca, and Instagram and Facebook.