Excerpt from Learning to Be

I have often heard people in recovery talk about hitting rock bottom. Hitting my own bottom of depression has enabled me to come to an amazing awareness: I had been sourcing my life from an illusion. I had been running on empty for a long time. Not until I hit rock bottom did I realize that the gas gauge within me was damaged. I needed a deeper reality. I was beginning to know the meaning of Acts 17:28: In him we live and move and have our being.”

The Source of My Being

My being is the me that manifested in divine love at my conception. In Christ there is fullness of life, not the coma that I had lived through rote activity and damning rules. I had lived as though my activities sourced my life — as though they gave me life — only to find that while they may have seemed like good activities, in time they literally drained the life out of me. I needed to be recharged, but I didn’t know this until I was on empty; hitting the bottom helped me to know what my empty was like.

Some folks have a longer battery life than others. Perhaps their lives are not so demanding. Perhaps some of us are poorly charged for the tasks of life awaiting us. Or we start out of the gate at such a pace that by our mid-thirties we find ourselves depleted. For all my life to this point I had presumed that my effort sustained me, crazy as it sounds. But through the depression, I was being freed from those notions of self-sustainability. 

Thank God for this awakening. In the depth of the darkness I found my being in the presence of God. I knew intuitively that all I was had been in God alone. It was clear that in the same way the lotus flower blooms in muddy waters, God brought me to life amid the muddiness of my rules, perfectionism, and striving. There was nothing in that awareness but pure gratitude, relief really. Now I knew where my sustenance was coming from, and I was being fueled and filled.

I had been parched by life, sucked dry. I was humbled, grateful beyond words, thrilled speechless in the presence of God who was quenching in me a thirst that only God could satisfy. I was being energized and charged to live and move and to know what it meant to be fully alive. God met me at the level of my thirst. There was no effort on my part, no scheduling, no doing, no talking, just being, and being fully aware that that was all I needed. My aliveness was God’s doing, and being was my response.

God’s Crash School

As I gained consciousness after the initial months of the crash,” I became increasingly aware that I was in a school of sorts; I was being homeschooled by God. God was instructing me on how to live out of my ground of being, and God was that ground. I was learning to be still, to be calm, to be cared for, and to know God’s love. I was being taught that to live my life in the presence of God was to know total sufficiency. I was learning how to be present to God’s unconditional and limitless love, and I was growing to see that love wasn’t outside of me but rather in my own heart. I was experiencing it as power flowing through me, and it was giving me life. God was instructing me to stop doing and just be. I was being invited to surrender.

Discovering New Spiritual Practices

A year or so before the crash, I had been introduced to Richard Foster, author of Celebration of Discipline. His book was on my bookshelf, but I had only glanced at it occasionally. Meeting Richard and learning of his ministry Renovaré exposed me to spiritual practices that I wasn’t aware of and introduced me to scholars and authors like Dallas Willard, Emilie Griffin, James Bryan Smith, Glandion Carney, and, later, Chris Hall and other spiritual icons of our century. 

I was invited to serve on Richard’s ministry team and found myself frequently sitting with people I had grown to admire and revere. I often asked myself, How did I get here? How did I get to sit with these incredible spiritual gurus and mystics? In their presence I felt like a kid getting to have lunch at school with my heroes and sheroes. They were so humble, and they made it so easy to be present, but that didn’t stop me from wondering just how the gods had seen fit to invite me into this orbit.

One spiritual practice I became acquainted with was lectio divina — praying with the Scriptures. I was first introduced to this practice in a small group with Marie Noack when I attended her weekly centering prayer gathering a few months before the crash. Later, months into my recovery, I experienced lectio divina at the Cenacle Retreat House in Houston, where I qualified as a certified spiritual director, trained to companion others on their spiritual journey under Sister Mary Dennison, the program’s founder. I had been interested in the Cenacle’s training, but the timing never seemed right. Now, as I was rebuilding my life, I had plenty of time. So, I applied and was accepted into the program about two years after the crash. Lectio was a common practice in the training program, and I grew to love it and share it whenever I had the opportunity, especially with my children.

Lectio divina invites slow, meditative reading of a few verses at a time. Though I studied about twenty hours a week to prepare for Bible study or to preach, I lacked the discipline of reading my Bible so it could read me. Through lectio divina then and now I learn more about myself, God, God’s love for me, and who I am in God. God’s presence in the text gives me life. Sometimes it offers clarity to my thinking or invites me to reflect on what I had imposed on the text, often to find new meaning and insight.

Let me explain what I mean. I enjoy when Mommie cooks her Thanksgiving meal. I always ask for extra dressing since hers is the best. I love the savory spices she uses and the way her cornbread dressing awakens good memories in me while it bakes in the oven — memories of being loved by her. The smell of Thanksgiving dinner fills the house. I don’t know her recipe— I’ve never asked; I simply receive it as a gift, a token of her affection and care toward me. Now, my father’s eggnog isn’t made from scratch, but I can sense the love with which he offers it. Growing up, Daddy would have Nat King Cole singing The Christmas Song” on the stereo. He would pull out the special occasion glasses with the silver band around the top. Nothing says the holidays like the ambiance Daddy creates when offering his flavorful and fragrant eggnog.

That’s what lectio divina is like. It’s not just a meal, but a meal with love and memories. We walk away awakened to something deeper and more life-giving than just knowing about the text— we come to know the Beloved of our soul and the care that went into providing this gift of soul food.

As I enter into a lectio divina reading, I am aware that something in me will have the opportunity to be more gently grounded in God’s love and presence. Something will be offered that will robustly invigorate me or will offer a new awareness or hope concerning circumstances that are not life-giving for me.

Will You Let Me Take Care of You?

I love Psalm 23. Madear, my maternal grandmother, taught it to me before I could read, and in lectio divina I came to see for the first time how the Shepherd cares for me and has invited me to allow that care in my life. 

After meditating on the text during one of my frequent visits to the Cenacle for my classes in spiritual direction, I created a simple, childlike piece of art that sits on my desk and reminds me of the experience. It was then the Spirit asked, Will you let me care for you?”

Tears stirred behind my eyelids, and I exhaled deeply. God had been longing to care for me, but I had been too busy to receive it. For so long I hadn’t wanted to bother God, I hadn’t wanted to seem, well, needy. God watched me do my thing while waiting patiently for me to slow down enough to desire God’s guidance, healing, love, and companionship.

Lectio divina invites us to come home to God in a childlike way — full of trust — that encourages us to lay aside everything else. We are invited to lay aside masks, projections, fears, hurts. Here in God’s presence, in this place of being, there is spaciousness, luminosity, and an awareness of being deeply loved.

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Adapted from Learning to Be by Juanita Campbell Rasmus. Copyright © 2020 by Juanita Campbell Rasmus. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com.

Photo by Joshua Brown on Unsplash

Text First Published September 2020