“There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:42 NLT
A member of a centering prayer group shared her experience of Jesus showing her heart that was full of worms during one of her meditation sessions. We were sharing our thoughts on Matthew Fox’s observation that we have lost the “mutually loving gaze with God.” Without God’s compassionate gaze in contemplation to look within ourselves, it is not possible to slowly expose and transform the counterproductive negative energy and motivation in a heart full of worms. The practice of silence prepares our hearts and minds to receive God’s loving gaze. Richard Rohr found that the mutually loving gaze of God experienced during meditation is always initiated by grace. Hence we need to learn to rest in God through the discipline of silence.
However, we cannot demand God’s presence nor is He obligated to honour our presence. Like Mary, we just need to humbly sit at the feet of Jesus to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to us through the Scriptures each day. We need to wait on God – to “waste time” doing nothing with God so that the Holy Spirit can open the can of worms in our hearts – resentment, bitterness, guilt, fear, doubts, anxieties, jealousies, selfishness, self righteousness and unforgiveness. Under God’s loving gaze we can confess the sins of greed, envy, lust, gluttony, pride and anger which is manifested through idolatry, immorality and injustice in our world and unmasked by the COVID 19 virus.
Evil, personified as Satan, destroys our relationship with our Heavenly Father through idolatry in our worship of money. In the COVID 19 pandemic we see the sin of greed and selfishness overriding compassion for the poor and needy. And greed leads to envy with the widening of the incomes between the rich and the poor. Satan deceives us through lust which leads to immorality. This, coupled with the gluttony of materialism, drains the power of love in our community through pornography, premarital and extramarital sex. Abortion and divorce are the symptoms of a society infected by immorality. Satan distorts God’s plan for a joyful and peaceful world through the sin of pride which drives political leaders to lust for power instead of exercising humility and compassion. So is not surprising that our world is filled with so much anger and hate.
Satan also discourages us with the sin of acedia and distracts us from practising the spiritual disciplines to draw near to God. Satan steals our identity as a child of God by filling us with guilt and a neurotic fear of a harsh and judgmental God. We are blind to the truth that God sees our sinful and deceitful hearts and is patiently waiting for us to have our hearts purified by the Holy Spirit so that we can have a close and personal relationship with Him as our Heavenly Father. Only then can we experience supernatural encounters like those of Peter and Cornelius:
“One day, about three in the afternoon, he had a vision. He clearly saw an angel from God come to him and say, “Cornelius!” He stared at the angel and was terrified. Cornelius asked the angel, “What do you want, sir?” The angel answered him, “God is aware of your prayers and your gifts to the poor, and he has remembered you. Send messengers now to the city of Joppa, and summon a man whose name is Simon Peter. He is a guest of Simon, a leatherworker, whose house is by the sea.” Acts 10:3-6 GW
“Around noon the next day, while Cornelius’ men were on their way and coming close to Joppa, Peter went on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted to eat. While the food was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw the sky open and something like a large linen sheet being lowered by its four corners to the ground. In the sheet were all kinds of four-footed animals, reptiles, and birds. A voice told him, “Get up, Peter! Kill these animals, and eat them.” Peter answered, “I can’t do that, Lord! I’ve never eaten anything that is impure or unclean.” A voice spoke to him a second time, “Don’t say that the things which God has made clean are impure.” Acts 10:9-15 GW
Peter was praying and in a meditative state when he received a vision of God to open his mind to God’s ways. He then understood that the gospel is for everyone for God is loving and just and no one nation or race has a monopoly on His agape love:
“Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” Acts of the Apostles 10:34-36 NLT
It was by God’s grace that Cornelius and his family experienced the good news of the gospel – that by faith in Jesus Christ we have peace with God. They then receive the gift of speaking in tongues as a confirmation of their faith in Christ:
“Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. For they heard them speaking in other tongues and praising God.” Acts of the Apostles 10:44-46 NLT
The gospel gives us power over sin when we are reborn again as the children of God. This was the experience of John Wesley. He was touched by the Spirit when his heart was strangely warmed as he listened to Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans in a meeting at Aldersgate Street. This assured him that his sins had been taken away and he was saved from the law of sin and death through his faith in Christ. Although he was subsequently buffeted with temptations, he found that he was always the conqueror as he was living by grace. This was in contrast to the times when he was striving to be holy in his own strength and he was more often conquered by sin.
Thomas Merton reminds us that we cannot make God come to us but He will come once our hearts are awakened. Then we will see Jesus, not just as our Shepherd of Love but as our Divine Lover whose loving gaze leads us to give our hearts of worms to him. When we do so, God’s fire of love will burn away the worms in our hearts so that we can bear the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self control. Then we will be candles of light shining in this dark world of sin as we live a life of self sacrifice and not a life of self help. We will be tempted by many sins but in Christ, they become opportunities to sing of God’s redeeming love that endures forever:
Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it
mount of God’s redeeming love.