St. Paul wrote that God “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” “That’s nice,” I say, but not with much enthusiasm, because deep down I want it to be all about me and this is about some other guy!
But here lies a truth about how the spiritual life works. Woven into the fabric of the universe is the principle of self-giving. What you try to keep for yourself, you lose. What you give away you keep. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it,” as Jesus put it. The idea is repeated so often by Jesus and the biblical writers that we are in danger of taking it for granted.
This principle of self-giving originates in God himself. It is how he is. The Father gives the Son. The Son gives himself back to the Father. The Father and the Son give the Spirit. Giving is the rule of his universe. We live to give. We live by giving. We love by giving.
C.S. Lewis put it this way: “…in self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being . . . From the highest to the lowest, self exists to be abdicated and, by that abdication becomes the more truly self, to be thereupon yet the more abdicated and so forever. This is not a heavenly law we can escape by remaining earthly, nor an earthly law we can escape by being saved. What is outside the system of self-giving is not earth, nor nature, nor ‘ordinary life,’ but simply and solely Hell.”
In the spiritual life, we receive to give, not to grasp. And as we give with one hand, we receive with another. It is a game. A dance. A dance that moves to “uncreated rhythms.” But it is a dance that must be learned. We must learn to give even before we receive, and to receive while expecting to give.
My wife and I recently attended a birthday party at which an instructor led people in a variety of folk dances: the Virginia Reel, a Celtic dance and more. Being good sports but bad dancers, we gave it a whirl (literally). We were taking one person by the right hand, another by the left, constantly moving (sometimes in the wrong direction), receiving to give and giving to receive.
The spiritual life is like this. It will seem as if we are being asked to give before we’ve received, and that is hard for us – hard to trust. But we must. We will be out of position to receive unless we are in position to give. When we stretch out a right hand to give, we will feel God’s grace and love thrust into our left hand. As a person learns to rely on God’s goodwill, the Dance really gets going, and becomes a joy in itself. But refuse to give – get scared and hold on to what you’ve got – and the dance ends; and it ends like a game of Ring-around-the-Rosie: they all fall down.
God gives comfort to one person so that he or she can give it to another, who receives it only to give it away to someone else. When the Dance dies down, God starts it again, from his ever-giving, ever joyful heart. The great ones in heaven will not be those who fasted the most meals or memorized the most verses, kept the most rules or wrote the most books (though some of the great ones may have done any or all of these things). They will be people who have stretched out their hands most quickly and most often to God and to others.
When we are going through trouble, the temptation is to recede into ourselves, grasp at every straw and take care of ourselves. But this is exactly the wrong thing to do. It is in those times, more than ever, that we need to stand up, extend ourselves to others, and join the dance. This is the way that Jesus, the Lord of the Dance and its instructor, taught us.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 2/18/2017