By Valerie Bradley-Holliday, Ph.D.
This book is to promote leading and nurturing an “interior life.” God made us multifaceted beings within a social environment with reactions that are: physical, mental, emotional, behavioral and spiritual. The spiritual reactions are what ultimately have the potential to bring us closer to God. Spiritual reactions involve re-evaluating our beliefs, dealing with our emotions towards God, developing our relationship with God, attending a place of worship and building His kingdom. Knowledge of our spiritual reactions requires an active interior life. An active interior life requires an understanding that we are holistic spiritual beings.
What does it mean to be a holistic spiritual being? A holistic spiritual person is comprised of many interdependent facets but driven by trusting God and His direction for his or her life. So, “open up the gates to let in a nation that is just, one that keeps faith (NAB, Isaiah 26:2). The interdependent facets are related to the reactions mentioned earlier:
These reactions do not occur in a vacuum. The above listed reactions can be influenced by the holistic spiritual person’s environment, which consists of family, groups, school, culture, institutions and organizations. Trusting in God and His direction for life can influence the person’s reactions but also can influence his or her environment in profound ways by God’s impact on the person’s self concepts, values, beliefs, priorities, education, and accountability. God’s influence in our lives is built on our trust in his divine providence for our lives:
Lord, your love reaches to heaven; your fidelity, to the clouds. Your justice is like the highest mountains; your judgments, like the mighty deep; all living creatures you sustain, Lord (NAB, Psalms 36: 6-7).
God’s love is binding and all encompassing. To accept God’s love is to follow his lead and expand his kingdom keeping in mind that we must have agape hearts. God’s lead must be welcome:
Make known to me your ways, Lord; teach me your paths. Guide me in your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior. For you I wait all the long day, because of your goodness, Lord. Remember your compassion and love, O Lord; for they are ages old. Remember no more the sins of my youth; remember me only in light of your love.
(NAB, Psalms 26: 4-7).
What is life without an active interior life rooted in the love of God? An atomistic existence, with a person focused on the disparate parts of his or her life and feeling disjointed. Coupled with a lack of trust in the Lord, mistrust and suspicion of others and self can mount resulting in feeling lost. Thomas Merton (1961) wrote, “There is too much passion and too much physical violence for men [and women] to want to reflect on the interior life and its meaning. Yet, since the interior life and contemplation are the things we most of all need—I speak only of contemplation that springs from the love of God . . . .” Without guidance, people try to fill the gap left by a lack of an internal life by seeking power, sometimes through questionable means, like psychics, astrology or conjuring. “Too much passion” can exhibit as the following reactions: coercion, threats, intimidation, emotional abuse and economic domination, which can occur at the level of the individual, family, community and world politics. “Too much passion” can exhibit as the following reactions: isolation, blaming, exercising privilege, using the weak, marginalizing, ignoring, maiming and killing. Passionate acts can occur at the level of the individual, family, community and world politics. In his book, The Struggle for Wholeness, which was set up as a yearly reflection, for January Martii Simojoki (1984) wrote:
A New Year reminds us that our hearts need renewal. Unless we deal with the evil inside us, in the form of lust, envy, bitterness, malice, unkindness, fault-finding, greed and materialism, our new year will surely be ruined. Sins of the past year will follow us into the new year, and God’s wrath will be like a curse upon us. Our inner life must be renewed (p. 1).
To live in a world with too much passion and too much violence, we need to trust and love God to retain our “wholeness.” Reactions that would demonstrate this wholeness: negotiation, fairness, economic partnership, respect, trust, support, responsibility, honesty and accountability.
These are my reflections on promoting and nurturing an active interior life. My book is not to be taken as a treatise on Catholicism or a theological doctrine. As a practicing Catholic and ecclesiastical minister, I take most of my views from a Catholic perspective. All is taken from a Christian perspective that is personal and reflective and draws from the truth of Christian writers before me. By “truth,” I mean those writers’ messages and how they fall in line with the Bible and encourage more self-reflection. Self-reflection is developed in a variety of ways, which is developed through the way that we worship, along with an active prayer life; we worship God through breaking bread with others, sharing God’s greatest gifts, providing justice in action and knowing God is ever present.
Breaking bread comes by sharing meals with others. The meals that I share with others helped me to relax. I got to see the richness of God that comes into a room where Christians are gathered together. When people speak and share stories of their walks with Christ I listen. I observe their lives and see how God has blessed them in all of their circumstances. To look at it now, it is like each of us is a patch on a brightly colored quilt. We are each different and beautiful and without one there would be no whole and God’s grace is the thread that helps us stay together and Jesus love and sacrifice are our tacking and backing. Although this may sound basic, through those yummy church potlucks and leftovers, God helps us look at each other with Jesus’ eyes rather than our circumstances. We look at each others’ eyes rather than our patches. In this way, as a consequence, we also see ourselves differently. Sight, through others, gives us encouragement to continue in Christ’s teaching and deepens our wisdom to know that how we live is as important as what we know, which ultimately allows us to proclaim God’s good news. As a consequence, our innermost being, our interior life, is strengthened.
Our interior life is strengthened through God’s greatest gifts: Faith, hope and love. Daily reflection and continued conviction to God through all our circumstances. Living with a community of believers that share deeply of their trials and how they have let their trials strengthen them--many who have come to be thankful for their lives no matter what they faced.—teaches us about genuineness and trust. Daily reflection on God enables us to pass His gifts to family, friends and strangers. My greatest treasure is what God already gave me: faith, hope and love. These treasures are embossed on my heart.
A heart for justice in action allows us to practice faith in learning, acknowledging and fighting for the social justice of others. The need is great and global. I can be silver tongued, brilliant, or monetarily wealthy but without the richness of God’s love shared through me and by me, what is my worth? Most of our greatest work is through small, selfless acts. A woman that I knew could not get out anymore so she made small handmade items for people and had them handed out at retreats, these gifts went to people she never knew nor would lay eyes on. The work of her hands was God directed and for people she had never met she had expressed the deepest love. In small ways, we can do justice, so even one person can be saved and brought to Jesus. By so doing, we build a community of hearts.
A God directed community of hearts can only occur if we remain consciously aware that God is present. God is ever present and always calling. By our actions, we can cut off our communication. He is always knocking and we need to open that door. More than that, we need to be able to let our love for God help other people open their hearts without fear and trepidation. We need to open up peoples’ hearts to God in this new day. The biggest issue today is the fear of judgment. We need to let people know that they are loved and indeed love the sinner and not the sin. When I have said this, people throw out hard questions like what about Hitler, Dahmer or the guy next door who may harm you and your kids. The answer is simple but the feelings they may invoke are complex. The tough questions are brought out as a justification for hanging onto the hate. The hate is justified and people who do evil should receive what they have wrought. Hanging on to grief, despair and longing for revenge can destroy us and our children for generations. Those evil ones continue to have power over us through the force of our own hatred for them. The hate keeps us from reconciling with God. People fresh in their grief, may not see this and need to be supported through all of their feelings. Forgiveness and love ultimately free us and feel us with hope. Love is what helps us retain our “wholeness.” Having been abused as a child, I hang onto God’s hope each day and for him alone I rise.