Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

February 26, 2017 — Legitimate defense

Accepting Ourselves Realistically: Conversations with Paul Tournier

In recent months as the political landscape in the U.S. has become increasingly hostile and the notion that we must all be winners has taken center stage yet again, my mind has been drawn back to the wise teaching I received years ago in reading the works of Swiss physician and psychotherapist, Paul Tournier.  Tournier was a devout Christian working in the mid-twentieth century. He brought psychological insight to his study of the Bible and of people.  Over the next nine days, we’ll sample his gentle and wise understanding from his book, The Strong and the Weak. Pray as you consider these ideas and let’s ask God to help us find Jesus in these days of strife around us and often within us as well.

Today’s Bible reading 

Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires. Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. — Romans 6:12-14

More thoughts for meditation

“No doubt the important question has been raised in the reader’s mind as to whether it is legitimate to set the Christian attitude, as I have done, not only over against strong reactions, but also over against weak reactions; not only over against hate, aggressiveness, and vengeance, but also against self-sacrifice, abnegation, and forgiveness. Does not Christianity, with its doctrine of non-resistance, provide the apologia for weak reactions? Conflicts between individuals are inevitable in life and we can either return blow for blow, or let ourselves to struck; we can claim justice upon those who treat us unjustly, or give way to them; we can resist those who try to impose their will upon us, or obey them…Does not Jesus Christ in fact call on us to choose the weak reactions every time? Is not the Sermon on the Mount quite explicit on the point?…

Most Christians avoid [the argument] by taking refuge in compromise. They think that the non-resistance taught by [the Bible] is a fine ideal, but that it cannot be applied in practice. So they try to be as gentle, as honest, as disinterested, as kind as possible, but acting in all these things with a proper moderation. When necessary, they defend themselves; they tell the lies that are indispensable to life in society…It is clear that the way of compromise offers no solution. It leaves the malaise untouched…

I am attempting to denounce the dangerous error of confusing weak reactions with Christian morality…Everywhere in the Bible we see people who, made strong by the inner call God addresses to them, dare to assert themselves, to stand up to those in power, to proclaim their message, and defend their convictions. Christ himself once used a whip. And when in Gethsemane he accepted the Cross, he did so because it was God’s will, and not because he did not dare to defend himself. There lies the whole difference. The victory of Gethsemane is obedience to God and not submission to men, an act of courage, not a weak reaction…

The ethic I am seeking to define here has nothing whatever to do with a compromise between resistance and non-resistance, casuistically adopting the one or the other at the dictate of expediency, defending ourselves when we can do so with impunity, and giving in when we dare not defend ourselves. It means discriminating underlying motives of our behavior; asking ourselves whether we are acting in obedience to God or because we are frightened. People often delude themselves in this matter. When they are afraid of asserting themselves, they persuade themselves that their silence is the result of Christian self-sacrifice. But if we pray honestly to God about it, each of us will be enabled to see whether the generosity he is showing is a victory or a defeat. By the light of the same biblical revelation, one person, able and ready to defend himself, sees that God is calling him to forgive; another, about to give way from cowardice, sees that he is being called to stand firm. Thus the spiritual life rises above the level of biological reactions. It breaks the strength of the strong, and strengthens the weak. It is always fertile…

In light of the Bible our life is seen as a gift from God, an incomparable treasure entrusted by him to us, a talent which we must put to use and protect, so that it may bear fruit. To let ourselves be crushed, to allow the aspirations which God has put in our hearts to be stifled, to keep our convictions to ourselves, to abdicate our own personality, to allow someone else to substitute his tastes, his will, and his ideas for ours—that would be to bury our talent in the ground like the servant in the parable. That would be to disobey God for fear of men; and disease, the inevitable witness to every disturbance of the divine order, come to remind us of this…’Unacknowledged, repressed, hatred towards another person, writes Dr. Maeder, ‘can unconsciously transform itself into a destructive hatred against the self. Out of a certain decency one hates one’s own life instead of the person who has been insulting.’ This is indeed the mechanism we can see in operation. At bottom, every external weak reaction is compensated for by an internal strong reaction. The repressed counterstroke is turned back upon the self…[What] they have done is to repress the natural reflexes of defense which come into play quite normally whenever a person is injured. Every attempt at domination of any living being arouses at once a legitimate movement of defense. In a human being a further movement, inspired by grace, may enable him to forgive. But this real forgiveness always difficult, always miraculous, always productive, is one thing, whereas the premature suppression of the first movement of legitimate defense is quite another…It is with a view to this incomparable liberation brought about by true forgiveness that we must first help the weak to unburden their hearts of all the complaints that they have never dared to put into words. There is no forgiveness without that…

Strong and weak reactions both tend to annihilate the person, by shutting it off from the free inspiration of the spirit and dragging it down into the blind determinism of their mechanisms. Our reply, therefore, to the questions raised above is this vision of a life directed by the Spirit, set over against the automatic mechanisms of the psyche—whether they be strong or weak, stimulating or paralyzing…To defend oneself against the influence of another person does not make one any more free…there are people who constantly defend themselves against those they most admire, for fear of their own personality being swamped. And this very attitude of perpetually being on the defensive is what prevents the free development of their personality. One can make a clean break with everything without being any more oneself as a result. The same happens when we are afraid of being deceived, of being criticized or judged…So we often pass from weak reactions to strong reactions, and vice versa, without in either case ceasing to be actors playing a part. It is not easy to break free from our psychological reactions. The first requisite, of course, is to recognize them. But that is not enough. Their determinism is powerful. It is nourished by the accumulation of past failures, remorse, and bitterness which we all carry about in our hearts, by the knowledge we have of our inner weakness. That is why true liberty is not to be found without the confession of our sins and the experience of divine forgiveness” (pp. 179-199).

Suggestions for action

In today’s passage from Romans, Paul encourages us to resist letting sin control us and to instead give ourselves completely, our bodies and our whole complex selves, over to God. Tournier is detailing from a psychological perspective how to do this challenging task in identifying strong and weak reactions and praying about them to gain fresh insight for confession and spiritual power in the moment to break out of the cycles that prevent liberating growth in us.  Tournier sketches out a path to applying Paul’s encouragement from Romans, a path into richer and richer experiences of God’s grace.  

Pause again now and breathe in God’s grace.  Let yourself name the strong reactions and the weak reactions you can see in yourself. Let yourself name the hurts you might be harboring against people in your life and perhaps against God also. This is the act of pouring out your heart to God.  Go ahead and pour it out.  Get to the very bottom of it.  Close your eyes and visualize this for a moment.  Perhaps you can’t even name all the hurt and bitterness you feel. Picture taking hold of your heart and pouring it out until it is empty. Now imagine simply holding your empty heart before God. You may need to pour it out several times to feel the spacious emptiness that awaits.  Keep pouring and take this image with you today.

February 25, 2017 — Mutual reactions

Accepting Ourselves Realistically: Conversations with Paul Tournier

In recent months as the political landscape in the U.S. has become increasingly hostile and the notion that we must all be winners has taken center stage yet again, my mind has been drawn back to the wise teaching I received years ago in reading the works of Swiss physician and psychotherapist, Paul Tournier.  Tournier was a devout Christian working in the mid-twentieth century. He brought psychological insight to his study of the Bible and of people.  Over the next nine days, we’ll sample his gentle and wise understanding from his book, The Strong and the Weak. Pray as you consider these ideas and let’s ask God to help us find Jesus in these days of strife around us and often within us as well.

Today’s Bible reading 

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. — Romans 6:1-4

More thoughts for meditation

“For my part I believe that every man can at all times act freely, through individual inspiration, and that that is the true art of living and the source of every fertile movement in history. But I agree that this is very rare, and that the play of forces in society is ruled, in its broad lines lines…by fear. Fear is the invisible conductor controlling the symphony—sometimes more harmonious, sometimes less—of strong and weak reactions between human beings…our weak reactions are as likely to spring from pride as our strong reactions are…

In reality we all have in our hearts, simultaneously and with regard to the same persons, contradictory feelings.  Under the appearance of an ardent love may be hidden a desire to dominate and possess, which is in fact a form of aggressiveness.  Submissiveness may be a means of laying a trap–of pushing one’s partner into showing the authoritarianism one complains of, in order to feed the rancor that lies beneath the submissiveness. This also explains the curious and sudden about-turns we often observe in people’s behavior towards one another.  Thus, a man chooses a woman very different from himself, prompted by an intuitive desire to find what he lacks. He is drawn to her because of the unknown treasures she reveals to him. There is no fiance more delighted, more tenderly attentive. He marries her; but then his self-esteem as a husband can no longer bear her thinking and acting differently from him. He has married her for her spirit and now her vigor irritates him, because it puts him in the shade. The enthusiastic lover has given place to the peevish and tyrannical husband…

On this score society behaves like an organism: the strong reactions of some sustain the weak reactions of other, and vice versa…As long as our ascendancy is great enough and the fears of others encourage us, we pursue our little diplomatic enterprises by means of strong reaction, but let the social pattern change, and we seek to attain the same ends by means of weak reactions…In virtue of the phenomenon of rationalization, each age tends to construct a philosophy to account for what it thus experiences in the impulsion of its own unconscious urges. The actions of people, like those of individuals, are dictated by these urges. Fear is the great driving-force behind politics, economics, and culture. It plays the same role in the evolution of society as in that of the individual; and yet society and history are constantly presented to us as determined by material and objective realities…persuading humankind as it does that power is the supreme value. For the respect for the human person, the protection of the weak, charity and the necessity of salvation by God, professed by Christianity, our age has substituted the cult of the State, the veneration of force, the crushing of the weak in the struggle for life, and confidence in the greatness of man, ‘ceaselessly climbing the ladder of progress and power.’ It is this that makes the problem of the strong and the weak so acute today. We live amid a lying philosophy which flatters the strong and despises the weak; which affects to believe that salvation lies in the victory of the strong over the weak; which denies the awful distress of man; which encourages the strong in their perilous strong reactions; which plunges the weak into their fatal weak reactions…

The fundamental principle of the divinely-inspired legislation of the Israelites [in the Old Testament] was the protection of the weak against the threat of the strong…A person’s true value consists in likeness to God. What gives value to thoughts, feelings and actions is the extent to which they are inspired by God, the extent to which they express the thought, the will, and the acts of God.  Sometimes, it is God’s power which is manifested in a man’s courage, in the authority with which he speaks and the strength with which he acts.  But sometimes, also, it is God’s tenderness which we observe in the heart of one who is weak, his creative suffering that we discover in a tormented soul…The fact is that our whole civilization suggests to us a false scale of values. It accords positive value to all that is strong, and negative value to all that is weak. It is shameful to be weak, sensitive, pitiable, or affectionate…

What I am maintaining here is only that the dignity of man derives neither from his strength nor from his weakness, in themselves, but from the use to which he puts them in God’s service; that strength and weakness are merely natural facts, and are therefore neutral like everything else that comes from nature. They involve each its own dangers and privileges, its potential for good or evil…We are generally strong in regard to one person and weak for another and their differences alter our relationships with them. He who becomes the strongest of all in a community runs the greatest danger. His strength cuts him off from all. He is terribly alone…Strength and weakness are suits of armor which disguise the person and prevent fellowship. That is the tragic aspect of the great problem of the strong and the weak: one can be isolated by admiration as surely as by scorn, by the fear one inspires as surely as by the fear one feels…There can be no true fellowship between men so long as they see each other as weak or strong…

So then, there are not, as the world thinks, weak persons on the one hand and on the other the strong. There are, on the one hand, weak persons who are aware of their weakness, who know the vanity of all psychological compensations, and who in the last resort count only on the grace of God. And there are on the other hand weak persons who believe in the value of their strong reactions, of their doctrines, their successes, and their virtues” (pp. 151-176).

Suggestions for action

Our Romans passage for today says that we are raised with Christ and have a new life. It also says that we die with Christ in our baptism.  These aren’t metaphorical phrases. Paul wants us to understand that God has intervened and made what was once impossible, possible in Jesus. We can be free from our narrow view of strength and weakness. We are all baptized into the same death and raised into the new life Christ has won for us.  Gift. Only gift. That is God’s grace. We may wish we could earn this, but God understands our true nature and so God comes in Christ to open a new way.  

Pause again right now and settle your mind in the presence of our gracious Lord. Just breathe for a slow count of 7 and hold for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 7.  Let yourself work with this rhythm till you have it mastered. Breathe, hold, exhale.  When you feel settled, close your eyes and imagine being baptized today. Float back and under the water. Rest.  Jesus comes to you in the water and raises you up. He meets your eye and smiles. Take this image with you today.


February 24, 2017 — Strong reactions

Accepting Ourselves Realistically: Conversations with Paul Tournier

In recent months as the political landscape in the U.S. has become increasingly hostile and the notion that we must all be winners has taken center stage yet again, my mind has been drawn back to the wise teaching I received years ago, in reading the works of Swiss physician and psychotherapist, Paul Tournier.  Tournier was a devout Christian working in the mid-twentieth century. He brought psychological insight to his study of the Bible and of people.  Over the next nine days, we’ll sample his gentle and wise understanding from his book, The Strong and the Weak. Pray as you consider these ideas and let’s ask God to help us find Jesus in these days of strife around us and often within us as well.

Today’s Bible reading

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. — Romans 5:6-11

More thoughts for meditation

“In a manner contrary to weak reactions, which immobilize the person and paralyze thought, strong reactions stimulate motive energy and open the sluice-gates of the imagination and the intellect to an abundant flood of apt mental pictures, interesting concepts, and pertinent arguments…These are automatic, spontaneous, and immediate reactions; a response of the natural temperament to every physical or psychic challenge…Faced with the danger represented by a conflict with another person, a trial of strength, a heavy responsibility, or an association of ideas (conscious or not) calculated to arouse the deep and undefinable malaise which haunts every human being, the psychological defenses of the strong are similarly stimulated. A reassuring thought comes to blot out the unease, a spurt of courage comes to cover up fear, confidence of victory comes to stimulate ardor. The words needed to save the situation are on the lips, the gesture already made which will impose upon the adversary, the will to power is in evidence in the person’s whole attitude…

No one can develop his personality indefinitely without coming into collision with others, so that their strong reactions soon draw the strong into innumerable conflicts in which they clash with the strong and crush the weak. But struggle and risk act as a stimulus to the reactions of the strong, amplifying them in the same way as we have seen weak reactions aggravated in a vicious circle.  What is more, the strong need struggle and risk, they seek them and provoke them for the euphoria they provide, in order to nourish the living flood of reactions which cover up an inner torment as acute as that of the weak…

Psychological analysis thus reveals that much that is good and valuable, many noble acts and generous efforts, are in reality compensations for those same secret anxieties which overwhelm the weak. They are not for that reason to be despised; but it is useful to be aware of this compensatory mechanism if one wishes to know oneself and to understand others…In so far as our activity, however generous and useful it may be, constitutes a psychological compensation for feelings of inferiority or repressed problems, it carries with it a certain tension, an intransigence and exaggeration which corrode it…Often after some costly act of obedience, I catch myself indulging, as a sort of requital, in some act of disobedience which I believe to be harmless…An enormous number of our acts, impulses and feelings really represent vengeance for wounds we have failed to accept…Even the refusal to believe represents in some people a sort of vengeance against God, whom they blame for their ills…Criticism is, in fact, the commonest form of strong reaction…whenever some criticism, however justifiable, comes into my mind—and especially when the criticisms come in a flood, to the exclusion of other considerations—it is because of wounded pride, or else it is a reaction aimed at covering up a bad conscience with regard to the person I am criticizing…

It is a fact that success is the implicit aim of every strong reaction…a terrible vicious circle is quickly set up. For in giving way for the sake of peace to all their whims one makes such people [those with strong reactions] more and more the slaves of their reactions…Every one of our characteristics, both physical and mental, can be seen in its positive form when it shows itself spontaneously, without ulterior motive; but each can take on a negative quality when it becomes the instrument of a more or less conscious attempt to win in the battle of life. Even our moral qualities, our witness to our religious experiences, and our professions of faith, can be used as a means of exercising great influence…Each of us wears a mask, even in our own families. Each strives in a thousand small ways to safeguard the flattering appearance we have given ourselves, or which has been given us by others. We try to play the role we like to play. To lower the mask and admit the weaknesses it conceals is always extremely humiliating, and none of us can do it without a miracle of the Spirit.

Furthermore, we help each other in the game of hide-and-seek which is social life. We pretend to take other people’s masks seriously, for fear that they in their turn will unmask us as well…[even] an appearance of virtue is dangerous. It incites the subject to safeguard the reputation whose prisoner he is, at the price of repression rather than liberation…While a sacrifice can bear much fruit when it is a free response to the inner call of the Spirit, it can also be sterile and destructive when it is merely a psychological reaction. So we are lead in everything to distinguish what is authentic from what is only a psychological reflex; what proceeds from inspired conviction from what is merely a strong or weak reaction…If in fact, as we perceive, time and time again, that we are more bankrupt than we imagined, that the things we thought we could put down on the credit side must often rather be put down as debits, that weakness hides even under our strong reactions, we undergo the most fruitful of human experiences. We abandon our futile attempts to save ourselves from our inner disquiet by means of victories in the social struggle, by drawing comfort from our reputation and all that we do to fortify it. Rather do we turn at last towards God, the only true answer to human distress” (pp. 129-149).

Suggestions for action

We cannot save ourselves by being strong or faithful or kind.  The Romans passage for today clearly declares that we do not need to save ourselves.  We are reconciled with God and do not need to fear or feel God’s anger or God’s distance. We are right to despair over our powerlessness to actually be good, but Christ comes into the midst of that need, at just the right time, and takes care of this deepest of human needs – for reunification with our Creator.  

We are confused about the gift we have been given when we punish ourselves with guilt or when we think too highly of ourselves as good.  Those internal conversations miss the point. While we were enemies, we have been loved and saved.

Quiet yourself again now and breathe deeply and slowly to bring your attention to this moment. Imagine your mind with all those thoughts about the ways you have succeeded or will and all those thoughts about the ways you have failed or will and watch them descend into your heart where Jesus waits within you to bring peace.  Remind yourself all through the day of this image of Jesus dwelling in peace within your heart.

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