The Spiritual Practice of Receiving
I often wish that spirituality followed a market economy system. That is, I wish that if I worked hard and did the right things, I would successfully grow spiritually in proportion to my efforts. Instead, spirituality flows from an economy of grace. God freely gives graces which we are called to receive. Unfortunately, it is often more difficult for me to receive than to craft the illusion of earning.
I can relate to Peter in the upper room as Jesus comes to wash the feet of the disciples. At first, I want to refuse because I don’t feel worthy to receive. Then, I want a superabundance, but even this is just another attempt to control rather than receive grace. Instead, the spiritual practice of receiving accepts what is given as exactly what is needed, whether we understand it or not.
This all sounds good in the abstract, but how do I receive grace? This was actually one of the first questions that my spiritual director asked me, “How are you receiving grace?” A number of years later and we still revisit this question often. At least now, I have a few tools that help me to recognize and respond to my need to stop struggling, striving, and resisting so that I can simply receive.
The first set of tools is the Three S’s that make up the foundational practices of most books on spiritual practices: silence, sabbath, and solitude. The routine practice of silence allows me to surrender the tasks, worries, regrets, and other distractions to God so that I can receive what He knows I truly need. Sabbath invites me to trust in and receive the provision of God. Periods of solitude invite to further surrender my own striving and agenda to the wisdom and provision of God.
The next set of tools is prayer and praise. I often think that prayer is something I say to God and praise something I give, but in the economy of grace, I come to realize that it is in praise that I learn to receive grace. In prayer, I realize that even the desire to pray is a gift to be received, especially when I do not really feel like praying. Particularly helpful for me is the Daily Office. When I am discouraged, doubting, or otherwise not wanting to pray, I am thankful that in the words of the prayer book, I am drawn into the presence of God to receive. This is the invitation to, “pray until you pray.” Whether I recognize it at the time or not, in the prayers, the Psalms, and the Scripture, I find a gift.
Although there are many ways and practices that help us to recognize and receive the gift of grace, the last one that I will mention is the Eucharist. Truly, the Sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. It is a gift that we receive. I often have people ask whether they should take communion if they don’t feel spiritual or if they have doubts. I can think of no time that simply receiving is more essential.
When I need a reminder of how to receive, I look to my wall at Teri McReynolds’ beautiful painting of a young boy joyfully drinking from a well. This boy’s response to Living Waters reminds me to receive the Living Waters.