Conversatio Divina

Part 1 of 14

A Secret Desire

David G. Benner

I have a secret.
This is a secret I try to keep not only from others; it is one I try to keep from myself. It’s seriously at odds with how I want others to see me, but it also makes a mockery of how I want to see myself. It is, in reality, tremendously disruptive to life as I naturally want to live it.

My secret is that I long to surrender myself, fully and completely, to Someone who is absolutely trustworthy and will hold me in perfect love. I want to lose myself in God because at some deep level, I know this is the only place I will truly find myself. But if this is—as well as I can discern it—my absolutely deepest longing, what holds me back? Why is it that I invest so much energy in maintaining the kingdom of self while giving lip service to a desire for the Kingdom of God? And why is it that I have such a hard time offering my life as a “Yes” to the Divine invitation to intimacy and union, instead offering a feeble “Yes, but”—or occasionally, a more openly defiant “No way, Yahweh.”

Sin is the word that springs to mind for many of us. And, ultimately, I suppose it is the answer. But often it doesn’t seem to be a very helpful answer. It may make some sense theologically, but it doesn’t seem to help much spiritually. Perhaps we need to do a better job of unpacking the meaning of this theological concept. Thus, for example, St. Ignatius reframes sin as less an act of rebellion than the consequence of not knowing and deeply trusting the love of God—love that brings with it the assurance that God wants our happiness and fulfillment more than we ever could. Julian of Norwich suggested something quite similar, proposing that sin is spiritual blindness, the failure to see the extravagant
love of our Beloved. These and other similarly creative reconstructions of traditional theories of sin provide helpful ways to begin to understand what holds us back from surrender. Others will be explored in some of the articles in this issue.

But, ultimately, what I think we really need is to start with our experience, not a theological concept. We need to begin by understanding the depth of what I think is not just my, but our secret longing for surrender (for all longings point in the secret places of the depths of our soul toward God). And then we need to face squarely our resistance to this longing and the letting go that it invites. This is what we do in this issue. We have asked our contributors to reflect on what in them blocks their response to their deepest longings. And I know the results will be as helpful for you as they have been for us.

The sad truth is that we substitute words for experience. As A. W. Tozer noted in his classic, The Pursuit of God, we talk a lot about God but settle for astoundingly little direct experience of God. We talk about concepts like conversion, sanctification, and union; but, if we are honest, we have to admit that we know so little of any of them in the reality of our own lives. This issue is for anyone who is prepared to dare to admit the existence of a gap between spiritual experience and religious rhetoric and who longs to know more deeply the reality that stands behind the theological theories and concepts.

If this is you, read on with prayerful openness.