That We May Be Wholly Yours
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to you, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly yours, utterly dedicated to you; and then use us, we pray, as you will, and always to your glory and the welfare of your people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. AMEN. (BCP 832-33)
Conversion, metanoia, amendment of life. When Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 7:21-23)” he set the bar is high. There have been times in my life, I suspect in most of our lives, when some crisis or perfect storm of crises, finally got to us, and our faith died. If we were well trained, we continued to trot off to church on the odd Sunday, or if it got really bad we divorced ourselves, or thought we had, from our Holy One, turning our back in pain and emptiness. It happens. I had a bad time, but I came back, forced by an inner call, an uneasiness of my heart and soul, by an insistence I could not ignore. And I ran headlong into the Good Shepherd, and that prayer above. We have a life sized icon of the Good Shepherd mounted on the wooden cross which hangs over our main altar. He is always there, watching over us, except during the seasons of fasting and repentance, and the bare wooden cross is a frightening reminder of a world without him. But right then and there, he was staring at me, and I hated it, hated him, but could not draw myself away from the altar of his Bread and Wine, his presence among us, and within us. I was not happy.
I had been betrayed, abandoned, and gone feral too long to look at myself as a sheep. Sheep are dumb. And as for willing away my free will, that wild child within that might have gotten me into all kinds of trouble, but had the courage and indomitable hubris to get me back out. No way was I giving up that best part of myself. And I struggled with it, long and hard. That kind of humility isn’t easy in coming when it is the shield that stands between you and perceived or real danger. But God is patient, and God is firm.
Not once, but over and over, the Spirit showed me how to see things a new way, usually in a rush of repentance, gratitude, joy. And a fair bit of shame. As it says in Proverbs, a good father corrects the child he loves. Finally, in one those moments of regret, confession, absolution the Good Shepherd came to me, not to punish, but as relief, salvation, abiding love. Please, drive me into your fold. Care for me. Protect me. I was in love again, even more than before, because such pain, such withdrawal, only comes from feeling loss of so great a love. The collect took a little longer.
That collect was written by Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple (1881-1944). Temple supported the Labour Party in the UK, a champion of justice for the poor and downtrodden, an egalitarian. Yet he was powerful archbishop, among the elite. He fought for worker’s rights not only for fair pay and decent hours, but to protest, strike, stand up to power. But he wrote a collect of absolute submission, covering every human aspect of our lives. And he wasn’t so keen on the separation of church and state, on the theological grounds that there was really only one truth,
All this comes under the rubric of Hegelian dialectic (bear with me). You start with a thesis, a statement about something you wish to discuss or prove. You then develop the anti-thesis, the opposite argument. For example, God changes vs. God doesn’t change. But in that tension something emerges which is at a higher level than either the proposition or its opposite. A synthesis, a new insight into truth. Temple believed in an absolute truth. So did Jesus. Jesus says in the Priestly Prayer to his Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth (Jn 17:17), and of himself as the Way, the Truth, the Light (Jn 14:6). We moderns probably have more trouble with absolutism than we do with obedience. We have seen it misused in a thousand different ways, from justification for oppression to genocide, from legalism to war. But we have to accept at some point that our God is absolute. New theologies, such as process theology, have described God, and Christ, especially, as changeable, growing, as we have a capacity to grow. We see our growth in ending slavery, oppression of women and strangers, in social justice. But even for the most process embracing theologian, the Timeless God, the Trinity, is unknowable, but knows all. There is a Truth. It is God. Submission to the mystery of God is the synthesis.
If this sounds tangled, it is, and it isn’t. It is pure Gospel. Jesus says that if you love him you will obey his commandments, and to love him is to know him, and in that love you know the Father. The chain of redemption comes through faith in and love of Jesus. At the heart of the Gospels is Jesus’ obedience to his Father, even to unto the Cross. Notwithstanding, we hear moments of testing. Take this cup. Why have you forsaken me? But it is by submission to his Father’s will that salvation is brought about.
The wording of Temple’s collect is terrifying in its bluntness. We not only pray that God draw us closer, guide and inspire us, but “control our wills.” I have to interpret this to mean that we freely offer to do God’s will. Our God is not a puppet master. The Holy Spirit cherishes us. The Shepherd knows our names. Christianity isn’t an easy road, even though we are promised mercy for all our human slips and pouting. Embracing Jesus in love, obeying his commandments, living listening to the Spirit, is that higher level, the one of synthesis. That is the Truth that makes us free (Jn 8:32). When I realized that I owned nothing and everything was God’s gift, and life’s hits were going to keep coming no matter what I did, I submitted, and offered my will to God, as an act of love, not fear, not oppression. Or at least I try to.
Jesus prays not that the Father take us from the world before our time, but acknowledges that we don’t completely fit in the world once we have known him, and have touched Love and Immortality. We see the world differently. We become part of the story. Jesus went to the Cross. Temple kept fighting for the poor. And we, too, trusting in God’s will, can live out our lives transforming the world in Love.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.