Kent Annan describes the challenges facing everyone in our decisions to love one another as Jesus loved us. In this case, by being with people who have suffered calamity or have somehow become disjointed from a world that struggles to take care of itself.
There are pitfalls for the giver in a world of separation, as ours certainly is: the enormity of it all, feeling ones on privilege, racial differences, self-centeredness, wondering if we are truly answering God’s call, and more. I would like in this review to propose we look differently about our spiritual work, the power of our own holiness in this world, and how our intentions in truth affect our lives and the lives of others’ lives.
Annan says, “We long to know God, to love God and to be loved by God. Jesus gave the beautiful vision of finishing our life and then hearing from our loving Creator, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’ (Mt 25:21 NIV0. We don’t hear these words because we earned them, but, we hope, because we accepted the infatuation of grace to participate with God in the kingdom coming. And we can commit to practices that ensure our efforts help others well and also transform our own lives.”
And goes on to say, “Who we are determines how we act, how we act determines who we are as do justice, love, mercy and walk humbly in the world.”
What Annan does not make so clear is that the problem in this world is a seeming separation from our Source. What follows is the madness that we think we have separated. Doing anything here that involves attempts at compassion and goodness will always be problematic until we heal the madness and guilt that follow our separation based decisions, which like separation are illusions.
Alas, the world we live in is a sad place. In fact its a blood bath. It is understandable we must do better. And so far, we see only through the lenses of our daily choices to separate, unable to see the world of forgiveness Jesus taught us to see and love. We haven’t dropped our desire to make something that cannot be: an earth unlike heaven. And those who help others can be prone to selfishness and fear, just as we plod along in the rest of living here, practicing ego ways, not God’s way.
There’s a wonderful saying in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson’s description of the alcoholic: “We can’t keep it unless we give it away.”
The alcoholic suffers terribly from self-will, “self will run riot”, Wilson calls it. Also, because of this condition, Wilson goes on to explain, he/she is totally unable to form true partnerships with other human beings. In a separated state of illusion (like most everyone in the world) the alcoholic has chosen to medicate the pain of such a state with excessive amounts of booze.) The underlying factor in this narcissistic illness is he/she is completely incapable of Self-identity, finding one’s true Self, a power greater than ego-self, where help lies and salvation is possible.
However, in Alcoholics anonymous, the still sick alcoholic can very successfully save others who are just as sick. To heal, they have learned to bypass and overlook such great odds stacked against them to get sober by letting go of all they think they know about themselves, how flawed they are, how sinful they were taught they are, and, by focusing on the other person’s plea and call for love by giving away their own healing, and in the process remembering what and who they really are, children of God. “They can’t keep their gift of sobriety, unless they give it away,” as the saying goes.
Thus, we can keep and grow in our mission of love simply by giving it away. Our own recognition (re-knowing) of who we are comes from the process of giving away God’s own gift of Creation. We are co-creators with God. In our own recognition of our true nature we grow by giving our true nature away. The alcoholic, a broken and sick person forgets his/her brokenness by giving away the healing of it, a healing that is fully and freely given him/her by others who have experienced the same process and know they must give it away to keep it and continue growing. No other notion about giving and helping is required but this. One is likely to say, I am only helping you for one reason, to save myself.
True, there is a program of 12 Steps to see that this occurs, if practiced. But for the most part this process of giving to receive, and receiving to give plays out miraculously in the the sober alcoholic’s new life, right from the beginning. This is certainly Jesus’ way. It is the way of all true giving. We don’t have to fret about what we think about our motivation. Our thoughts aren’t real anyway, regrettable but not real. We can give and give and give this way without feeling any pangs of concern, because we are simply doing it for the gift we already have. The only way to give is not through what we hope God will think of us, and what we should not think about ourselves, but by receiving the great gifts of giving through its very nature of receiving.
From the quote above in Annan’s words, “Who we are determines how we act,…” makes no sense at all. Would God create such a being? If so, it would mean God does not know what He does or wants. It is we who know not what we are, or what we do. God knows very well. He is perfect and He creates perfectly. No mistakes. God does not make junk. Nor, people who are bent on suffering. Nor, does he make sin we must atone for through some sacrifice of our own holiness. That’s impossible and it is what Jesus meant in his message.
Jesus came here to take away the sins of the world. Not because sins are real, but because sin, and its accompanying guilt, are unreal. We continue to long for, to know and to love God’s peace because, we think strangely, it is not what we want. Yet, no one can stop loving God. No one can fail to know God. The Kingdom is here, is now and always will be, the moment we accept it. We just look the other way of course. But that is not God’s weakness coming through. It is purely our decision, which, made without God, is meaningless. We are as God created us. This has never not been, nor will it ever be. We are eternal beings. Jesus brought us this message, through an extreme example, the cross, which he does not ask us to do. On the other hand he does suggest there’s a better way. Sin is not real. I am. Hell is not real, heaven is. Nothing is real, outside of God. We are all in this together. He is truly, “Our Father…”. Unfortunately, we live our lives desperately trying to prove otherwise. The world is made on this basis, not as God created it. This is the message we can carry to those we help as it grows in us and them.
It is lovely to say, as Annan says, “….we accepted the infatuation of grace to participate with God in the kingdom coming.” We can’t ensure our efforts will do anything we think we might see. Our lives will always be transformed by giving (for-giving.) That is all you can do with love, for that is what we are. It is its reflection which allows us to experience God’s love here. What we are doing does transform us, when we let go of the results because “…the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in my, He doth the works.” John 14:10. Even when we appear to make mistakes in our thoughts about our motivation. Or, things seem to go wrong. Nothing happens in God’s world by chance. It is all what it is, love and fear. Love is real. Fear is not. So we do not have to prove anything to God. He does not have to prove anything to His children. All we need do is accept His love. It needs nothing from us but to give it away.
Later in the book, p. 72, Annan delivers a quote by N. T. Wright, regarding a recalibration Paul may have had, “The God of Israel called me, like Elijah, to step back from this zeal and to listen to him afresh. When I listened, I heard a voice telling me that the messianic victory over evil had already been won…saved by grace and marked out by faith, apart from ethnic identity and works of Torah….”
I believe this says a great deal regarding our relationship with God. What a wonderful transformation of Paul. It is in melding our partnership with God and with each other that we are able to begin seeing true partnership. I cannot hate my next door neighbor and think I love the person with whom I live. There is only One relationship. It is open to love only in its transformation from what we think we made and the Kingdom itself. And this transformation cannot take place outside the mind that exists in God’s mind. It is important, however, to recognize we haven’t done anything, because God was out of our minds — it seemed that we were out of our minds, and His. The Holy Spirit deals with all our seeming and mistakes by dismissing them. The battle is already over. Be grateful it is the only thing God asks of us. To remember this. He will take care of the rest and already has. This, I believe is true, humility.
“You can’t keep it, unless you give it away.” Keep what? Of course the alcoholic thinks first of sobriety, not drinking and leading a committed life of practicing spiritual principles. That’s true. It is actually the committed life of practicing spiritual principles that helps him/her hold on to sobriety that must be given away. For all of us, it is the works God does through us.
As I read this book, I felt a bit frustrated the author spends so much time, examining, analyzing, searching for ways to somehow do better in the eyes of God — as he is already doing the only thing one can do with love, what we are, extend it. We needn’t be concerned about confessions, “messianic victory over evil” for that is God’s territory and He has already won the battle that never could take place. Don’t let guilt detract us from our work. I am inspired by Annan’s words to work harder to fulfill Jesus’ commandment. I don’t want my seeming faults to get in the way. God has given us a Corrector, who knows us, we what we think and what God thinks.
Thank you, Kent Annan, for sharing with us your wonderful journey into giving it away.
I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.