Updated: Aug 18
Jesus understood that the key to everything is within. When we conquer the forces inside us, and master our inner life, we will be happy and content, no matter what we have or where we are externally.
The fight for contentment is with ourselves.
The irony of spiritual progress is that we become more by pursuing less.
True contentment is learning to love yourself, by yourself, no matter what you have externally.
Contentment is a matter of being, not doing or getting. Doing and getting are an exponential game, the more we get and the more we have, the more it takes to keep feeling satisfied or content, because the true point of contentment in this game isn’t in what you actually have, but in the action of getting. It is like feeding a growing black hole inside us. The goal of the spiritual life is to uncover, face, and shrink that hole.
What we find, as we step away from the paradigm of external acquirement and into the process of surrender, is that our lives are no longer defined by slaving away for that next big payoff – that next car, vacation, house, clothes, promotion, position, and so on – but by the next lesson in becoming more ourselves. As we tune into spiritual growth, we find a new rhythm at play. We are not longer dominated by the ticking punch-clock, by the monotonous march of a metronome called "progress." We are no longer in what appears to be an upward climb towards the penthouse peak of the good life, which is really a slow, methodical stumble towards the grave. As we turn our attention inward, we break out to a wider space where life is measured slow, simple seasons of deepening spiritual growth.
It is the calm rhythm of these seasons which begins to reorient our lives to a different pace. This is life reoriented towards the space of eternity.
Do you feel the pressure of this fast-paced life? Do you feel like time is always running out, days are never long enough, the to-do-list always growing longer? This is not the pressure of the energy of God in the universe. This is the negative pressure of life disconnected from God. This is the frenetic pace of life in the shadow of death, running full tilt towards a grave. But God’s invitation is to let death catch up, to step into that darkness in order to enter a more calm, quiet place. A place where everything slows down, where we can catch our breath in the space of what seems like a grave, but what actually becomes the soil of rebirth into a new way of living. The journey towards the stillness of Shalom cannot come but through the death of all that is pushing us in the opposite direction. The opposite of the life lived by the metronome pace is a life lived by the seasons of God’s renewal.
What is your favorite season? Mine used to be spring. Now I've learned to like them all for their own unique qualities. What makes Spring so welcoming is the cold, calm season of winter, preceded by the slowing and cooling down of Fall, which seems so nice because we’ve been running in a hard sweat all summer, which began in the hopeful promise of Spring. It is not just the seasons that I love, but the rhythm of the seasons that grounds life in a constant state of renewal. What I’ve realized is that this renewal is what I love the most, which requires the movement of every season. I also believe that the rhythm of this renewal is God’s inherent message in the book of creation about how we are intended to live.
The very earth itself is singing to us through falling leaves, falling snow, blooming petals and bright summer days of what our lives are meant to be. The earth sets the pace of the life we were made for. It is a steady, slow, four step dance towards becoming grounded in the very ground we walk.
One of my friends gets up every day, walks out into his back yard barefoot, and grounds himself by stomping in a soft patch of bare earth. The problem of the modern world is that we’ve worked ourselves out of sync with the world around us in many ways. We're no longer grounded in the rhythms of that world. We’ve created our own rhythm and tried to make the world keep pace with us. There is a very strong call today to slow down the pace of our consumption, but not to slow down the pace of our lives. We cannot continue consuming at an ever-increasing pace while trying to use up less of the earth.
One of the mains themes in the books of the Prophets was a call for the powerful to stop abusing the powerless, and for everyone to stop abusing the earth. As these books reveal, it's God’s desire that we treat each other right, and that we treat the earth right. The two are closely linked. For all our desire to be good people, we will never get there if we don’t understand how to slow down and get in tune with the message of the world in which we live.
The message of God through the created universe is that everything is in a slow evolution towards renewal. The disconnected pace of current human culture, especially in the over industrialized West, is the fast-paced run towards our own demise. We are trying to get too much, too fast, and are burning the world down around us in the process. We need to learn to slow down, breath, and enjoy the moment in every moment.
The energy of God is constantly ordering all things under one unifying flow. The earth and everything in it is in rhythm with that flow. No tree, bush, or plant ever rejects the call of spring to bloom, or of winter to take and break and rest. No animal, bird or insect ever decides to try and work against the current season by acting as if it wasn’t happening. Birds always birth their young in spring. Squirrels always store up for the winter. Bees and bears hibernate, and we can tell the age of a tree by the rings which the seasons produce. Everything honors the rhythm of life which God has put in place, except for us.
The sun goes down, and we turn on the lights. The harvest comes in, and we press it into processed food. We fight against the rhythms of renewal by resisting the very impetus of that renewal, which is death. We fight for eternal spring, and against the very process which always brings it back around. We do not know how to live on the earth, in tune with the earth, simply because we are unwilling to die. We have become like vampires, continually sucking the life out of an ever-dying summer and fall, instead of letting things go the way of death in order to come back to life.
The call of seasons is to live in a way that sustains the earth which sustains us. I love the phrase “mother earth.” I also love the way the catholic saint Francis of Assisi called everything brother and sister. Everything to him was brother tree, sister moon, brother flower, sister fox, father sky, and mother earth. He understood a deeper connection to God through a bigger view of the material world. He knew he belonged to the big family of the universe, where we are all siblings charged with sharing and caring for each other. This is a vision shaped by the rhythms of a bigger earth, and a smaller view of ourselves as humans. We are not individuals, but individual parts of a greater whole. And the rhythm of that greater whole is grounded in the energy flow of a God who calls us to surrender our attempt to make life what we want, in order to fall into the life that has already been decided for us. It is evident in the rhythm and flow of life all around us.
The journey of personal transformation embodies that rhythm.
We will go through seasons of death, renewal, growth, and harvesting which will lead us back to death again, in order to start all over. Seeing our lives in the flow of our own individual seasons, and as a part of the cosmic flow of Divinely oriented seasons, is how we participate in that. But it also helps us mark the rhythm of our lives in a slower and more discernable pace towards the growth of ever-expanding happiness and peace. That is the peace of moving through every season towards greater stillness. It is a stillness marked by the rhythm of a dance I am participating in, which I did not instigate, cannot control, and do not need to worry about keeping up with. It is the dance with a God who is leading me, as I learn to stop trying to lead myself.