Suffering the Spirit

Why did Jesus tell parables to describe the Kingdom of God? Why couldn’t he just have explained how to live the spiritual life that God wants us to live?

I think it’s because it’s all but impossible to explain a spiritual principle. A definition of surrender or humility or forgiveness can be given, but it doesn’t really do a good job of articulating how that principle functions in real life. It doesn’t help me understand how to live it. Only incarnation can do that.

That’s why Jesus told parables. He had to use a story, because a story can embody the inexplicable depth of the spirit in a way that an explanation simply cannot.

I realized all of this as I started trying to explain the spiritual principles of the 12-steps of recovery for this blog; I couldn’t find the words.

Jesus said the Spirit is like the wind. You can’t see it or grab it, but you can feel it. You can understand the wind by being surrounded by it, by experiencing it first hand. I can’t explain to you wind, but I can explain how wind effects things. I can tell you all about how things seem after wind has blown around a bit. So it is with the Spirit.

I can tell you about the softness and the strength of wind, or of the destruction of a tornado and delight of a breeze. Likewise, I can tell you of the quiet gentleness of the Spirit when I am resting in the stillness of prayer, or of the heavy intuition of the Spirit to lean into the pain of surrender.

I can tell you about what it’s like to live by the Spirit—to embody Spiritual principles like honesty, forgiveness, or service—but I can’t explain it to you so that you’ll understand. You must take the risk of stepping outside of yourself into the path of the storm, and let the Spirit blow you wherever it wills.

This willingness to experience is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural for us Westerners, because it assumes a giving up of control. We are so used to gathering information, of being taught the ins-and-outs of a subject so that we might be able to manage how we will respond to the world with our newly acquired knowledge. We are so self-assured, convinced that upon mastering the details of any principle, we will be one step closer to having control of all aspects of our life. The more I learn—the more books I read, the more podcasts I listen to, the more TED talks I watch—the closer I will get to perfect control of my mind, body, and surroundings.

But the Spirit can’t be explained, it can’t be mastered, it can’t be controlled; it can only be suffered. The Spirit can only be experienced, and to fully experience something outside of myself is to surrender control of the experience. The Spirit blows where it will, and I simply open myself to be carried by the awesome mystery of it all.

To surrender my expectation of control, to give up the illusion that given enough time I can be self-sufficient, is perhaps the greatest challenge of our time. To be content with my limitation, even to rejoice in and embrace my failures, opens me up to experience the freedom of the Spirit. It’s only when I relax and cease striving against the wind of the Spirit that I am able to realize that the direction it is blowing me is actually way more compelling than the direction I was going.


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