Introductory Note:

My friend and fellow Renovaré Institute alum, Russell Tillman, shares his reflections on the themes we’ve been exploring this month—the tangibility of God’s love, how to feel “God’s embrace,” and how we respond to it. The Incarnational Stream (also called the Sacramental Life) is the branch of Christian tradition that helps us understand how our embodied, sensory personalities can connect with an invisible, immaterial Holy Spirit. Russell’s essay wrestles with these ideas. I appreciate his willingness to share how he is learning to recognize the beauty and goodness God extends to us in “all things,” and how we can learn to embrace rather than escape each moment and each situation as a meeting place with God, pregnant with His beauty, goodness, and truth.

Grace Pouch
Content Manager
February 2023

Over the past few weeks I have spent time in prayer and meditation with an icon depicting the toddler Jesus with Joseph and Mary. It shows Jesus learning to walk with Mary awaiting him with arms wide open. (Icon can be viewed here).

One morning, while half asleep and not particularly focused on the image, the words embrace all things’ came to me. After noticing these words, my eyes glanced downward and fixed upon Mary’s open arms waiting to embrace her child. For several days my mind returned to the question of how I could learn to embrace all things and, quite pragmatically, how to employ various spiritual disciplines to help me achieve this end. 

As I continued to wrestle with all of this, an epiphany began to illuminate my mind — not a new epiphany but the same, eternal one: I am eternally and joyfully embraced by God in all things. 

Thomas Merton wrote:

Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and will of men. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because men are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds as these cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity, and love.” —New Seeds of Contemplation

We all carry a seed of God within, which is indestructible and also latent. Perhaps the way to nourish this seed and to allow it to blossom and grow is to learn to embrace all things as from God. He is always at work in the details of our lives.

It is not that simple to embrace all things. For to embrace all things, one must know and trust that our heavenly Father is good. But how do we truly know He is good? One can read, study, and theorize, but in order to intimately and truly know that God is good and that He wholly and unreservedly loves us, we must allow ourselves to be embraced.

Sometimes we resist God’s embrace. We reject His gifts because we know we are unworthy of them (“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Luke 5:8). Or we may even assume God’s arms are not open to us. As we turn our attention to God, our pride, apathy, and cowardice come to light. This awareness can create an inner atmosphere of shame. Tragically, we sometimes disqualify ourselves from what God longs to give when we think we are not lovable. Henri Nouwen ponders the possibility that the greatest temptation is self-rejection.” The truth is that Christ loves and enfolds us warts and all.” 

We overcomplicate things when we put too much trust in ourselves and our techniques as ways to manipulate or achieve God’s embrace. When we let our attention slip away from God, or something disrupts our planned or preferred way to draw near to God, we must not assume we are separated from Him. Thomas Kelly gently reminds us, Begin again, just where you are.” God is ready to connect to us in a million ways. We do not have to jump through hoops to reach God. He is not far off from each one of us” (Acts 17:27). Again, we can learn from Thomas Kelly: Relax. Take hands off. Submit yourselves to God. Learn to live in the passive voice and let life be willed through you.” 

Mary’s famous response to the Annunciation was Let it be done unto me!” As we learn to abide and to rest, we come to discover and rediscover the goodness of God and His steadfast love for us. No matter how dire the circumstances, God’s beauty can break through to draw me into His embrace. No matter how intensely and assiduously I resist God’s embrace, thinking I must first earn or achieve it, He welcomes me as I am — with all the joyful anticipation and longing captured in the gestures of Mary and toddler Jesus.

Photo by nine koepfer on Unsplash

Text First Published February 2023 · Last Featured on February 2023