Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess, Thou hast given me: I surrender it all to Thee to be disposed of according to Thy will. Give me only Thy love and Thy grace; with these I will be rich enough and will desire nothing more. Amen.
-St. Ignatius of Loyola
I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.Ephesians 3:16-18
At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee; and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
-A prayer of self-dedication, from the Book of Common Prayer (p. 832)
Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.
“When I realized there was nothing I could do, and when the black cloud reached me I would either live or die, I turned and faced it, summoned every ounce of life within me, and hurled it heavenward, praying, “Take me.” It was both an incredibly terrifying moment and an incredibly liberating moment. I felt that everything that happened after that in terms of being swept up into the incredible witness of people of faith at St. Paul’s, flowed from that moment of total surrender. Thanks be to God.”
I share this witness from Dr. Courtney Cowart, a leader in our church and a friend. Her witness builds on my post last week, as I spoke about how the peace that passes understanding reaches to the most extraordinary moments. I’ve added Courtney’s story to the great cloud of witnesses, her recollection of September 11, 2001, when she gathered church leaders to tape a video about the spiritual journey, a video interrupted by planes slamming into skyscrapers. First told to stay put, then told to run, she spoke of her encounter with the divine in a moment. She let that awful, awesome experience lead her into a healing ministry in lower Manhattan at St. Paul’s Chapel for months to come. After that, with the hard-earned wisdom of that New York experience, she spent years in New Orleans, helping the rebuilding process after Katrina. She is a saint in our times.
In the witness with which I began, Courtney used the word “surrender,” which when you break it down means “rendering over” or maybe “turning over” or maybe even “letting go.” As a good Episcopalian, and for good reason, I have ambivalence about the term “surrender.” In my own goofy spiritual history, surrendering to God or Christ or the Holy Spirit seemed to suggest diminished self, a denial of original blessing, a weak view of human dignity, a heretical assertion that when God said creation was very good, God didn’t really mean it. There’s a big old tradition that says sinners simply need to raise the white flag. We’re no good. Just give up.
I remember a time when I was puzzling with some Episcopalians about this idea of surrendering our lives to God or Christ. These Episcopalians were not buying it. I could relate to ways they felt ill at ease. There’s a lot in the Christian tradition that stresses, maybe even glories in our status as miserable offenders.
That afternoon conversation gave way to some quiet time in my office, when by the working of the Holy Spirit, I was reading some Thomas Merton. I found a passage in which he wrote that we were called to surrender to the creative power of God’s grace in our lives. I printed out this prayer and posted it prominently in my office.
I found myself thinking that if Thomas Merton could speak of surrender, maybe I should pay attention. I found myself wondering what it would mean to surrender in such a way, to let go of my own agenda (easier said than done when you take a gander at my to-do list). What would it mean to render over, to give over my own illusion of control and mastery, and trust in God’s guidance, providence, creativity, grace?
Jesus said that if we lose our lives we will find them. Meanwhile, we grasp and hoard, gripping tightly. We practice teeth-gritting religion. May God give us grace this week to surrender to God’s creative power of grace in our lives.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.