I was sitting with my spiritual director this week, trying to identify the disquiet I was feeling. As we talked, I became aware of hidden fears that can cause me to act often in more driven ways than I’d like. It slowly emerged in our conversation that these fears had more to do with the past than the present and I found myself considering again how I experience grace in waves rather than as a constant state. I need grace to repeat. It’s not enough to know I can be free once or twice or a thousand times. I need a present touch.
This reminded me again of the process of transformation that goes on for humans all through our lives. This is a spiritual and neurological truth. We need things to repeat. We may (and should!) identify patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that were rooted in us as defensive processes to help us manage frightening or painful experiences in our early lives, but insight doesn’t change us. Instead we need to have repeating experiences that we can consciously embrace of different conclusions (thoughts) than we had as children and different feelings (fear that is NOT debilitating or joy!) and different behaviors (adapted to the reality of the moment). We need to become awake to these new possibilities. Good therapy can help with this and so can attuned spiritual direction.
In our ongoing discussion here of the small self and Christianity’s invitation to the transformation of it through contemplative surrender, I’m reminded that we all need repeating grace. We too often expect ourselves to change quickly or finally with a new lesson, but are disappointment to find old feelings returning. Our brains go back to their old ways. We need not despair over this, but can lean into the teachings of Jesus and his many followers over the centuries. When disquieted we can listen carefully to the inner dissonance and discover grace again wooing us away from old impulses designed to save ourselves and inviting us into the present moment where our faith teaches us that we are already saved. We confront fear and turn our attention to trust that love will triumph even through dark times. We can live into the Psalmist’s joy from Psalm 23: “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life…” (NLT) Grace repeats and we need to come back again and again to letting the riches of God impact us in the present moment.