Led by the Spirit

Just what is it that leads us through this life? This is a question we should ask ourselves and wrestle with from time to time. However, we should do this only after we have wrestled with the first and more immediate question: Where we are going in this life? Or perhaps more accurately, what is life really all about?

Some people can give you a fairly clear picture of where they are heading in their life. They may not have worked out all the details, but, generally speaking, they can offer a vision of their own future, what they are going to be doing in a specific period of time, what they will accomplish in the years ahead, and maybe even some of the details about how they are going to get there. If you do not happen to be one of these people, do not be concerned; you might actually be in a better place – please read on.

The plans, goals and objectives for defining the future in one’s life are never exclusively described in terms of financial success or career accomplishments, or even by how an individual may decide to spend his or her retirement years. The goals and objectives that relate to a person’s life can, and should, also include the relationships they hope to create in their lives, as well as the political, religious or cultural perspectives and insights they hope to develop over time. It might even include the contributions a person intends to make to society at large – outside of their professional or domestic responsibilities. And certainly our homelife should be where we place a great deal of our effort in terms of defining our contribution and what our life is all about.

However, as life begins to pinball our dreams and schemes, we become less sure of ourselves, less certain about what it is, or perhaps what it was, that we wanted out of life. In fact, some of the most disillusioned individuals in our world are the ones who got exactly what they originally envisioned for themselves, what they went after in life, and what they ultimately achieved.  Once they arrive at their desired end state, however, some individuals begin to question whether what they have attained is really what they wanted. Or, perhaps more to the point, what they sacrificed to get where they find themselves. Perhaps this is true for some of us.

There is, of course, a surefire way of avoiding all this potential disillusionment in our lives, regardless of the age at which we may begin to take advantage of this approach. The approach is no more complicated than following the very same guidance our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ chose to follow in His life. The secret is in not trying to make all those plans, not deciding for ourselves exclusively what it is that our life is all about. Instead, Jesus chose a different path.

“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit.” (Luke 4:1)

If Jesus Christ allowed himself to be led by the Spirit, it seems as though we too ought to be willing to allow ourselves to be led this way, through the difficulties and down the occasional dark alleys and lost lanes of this life. Jesus was about to enter his public ministry just after this period of wilderness wandering referred to in Luke’s Gospel. This experience for Him was analogous to the Israelites themselves wandering in the desert after they left their captivity in Egypt and passed through the (baptismal) waters of the Red Sea. They wandered, somewhat aimlessly for forty years, in what was actually a relatively limited area of desert.

Now perhaps it does not sound too inviting to be “led around…in the wilderness.”  But consider this – if you are lost, if you are not entirely sure of your way, if you are in unfamiliar territory, like, say… the wilderness, what better guidance can you have than to be led by the Holy Spirit?

How many of us can relate to this experience in our own life? Is it not true, at least from time to time, that in this life we have found ourselves wandering around in a wilderness? Do we ever get the sense that this world and this life are not actually our true homeland?

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)

Now if Christ Himself was led through the wilderness by the Spirit, we might well ask just what does it mean to be led by the Spirit? Or, more importantly, how do we receive the guidance we need to be led by the Holy Spirit?

“But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” (Jude 1:20-21)

In this Letter, St. Jude does not mince words when he tells his readers exactly what they, and, consequently, we too, must do if we wish to be led by the Spirit in our lives. We should reflect on and ask the Lord to reveal to us what it means to pray in the Holy Spirit. 

Jude’s words are also echoed with similar instructions by Paul when he writes to the Ephesians:

“Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)

But if we are going to allow ourselves to be led through the often-unfamiliar wilderness of life by praying in the Spirit, we may still want to understand the answer to our original question: “what is life really all about?” If we accept that the destination is and always will remain eternal life, and we know we will not see very far down the path or the long-term view, then it might be beneficial to know how the Holy Spirit is leading us. In other words, if the Spirit is leading us down unfamiliar roads, then what are we to understand about all our good efforts to make something of our life?

“All the good work that you do will come not from you, but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more often, and gradually you will be free of the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.” (variation on a letter by Thomas Merton)

The Holy Spirit does not read us chapter and verse of our life beforehand, or how our lives are going to work out, much as we might wish for this. In the end, the Spirit moves where it will.

“The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

This is because the Spirit knows better than we do how we should proceed through the unfamiliar wilderness of this life. We must place our faith in this fact. The Holy Spirit was the greatest single gift Jesus promised us just before He left to return to His Heavenly Father.

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

The only question then is, are we willing to open this gift – every day?

God Bless

Copyright © 2020 by Mark Danis

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About the Author

Mark Danis

Mark Danis, OCDS, is co-host of the weekly radio program, Carmelite Conversations, which aired internationally for six years on the Radio Maria network. The program focuses on the method and blessings of contemplative prayer practiced in the in our busy day to day lives. Episodes can be streamed at http://www.carmeliteconversations.com.

Mark's primary ministry is providing teaching and spiritual direction in contemplative prayer and removing the obstacles to prayer. He is grounded primarily in the teachings of the Carmelites, most especially St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross.

Mark is a popular speaker and often gives large-group presentations and retreats on Prayer and Carmelite spirituality. He also writes a weekly reflection on prayer for a large nation-wide prayer community, and he leads a weekly prayer group focused on the Teresian Method of Prayer. Mark's most recent appearance was at the 2018 OCDS Congress where he delivered a powerful message to more than 400 Secular Carmelites.

Mark attended St. Michael’s college in Winooski, Vermont, where he received his undergraduate degree in English Literature. He later received a masters degree in theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.

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