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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Spiritual Resistance - Boulders in a Farmer's Field Analogy

By Carolyn Osterberg

I have an analogy that I like to use to describe resistance in my spiritual life. As a child I spent my summers with my grandparents who were farmers in northern Minnesota. I was always surprised that one job that occurred yearly was the picking of boulders from the fields; it never seemed to end. Over the years, the piles of stones grew larger and larger, but at a slower rate.

What I didn't understand at that time was that with the changing of the seasons and the accompanying freezing and thawing, expanding and contracting, of the water in the soil, the dirt loosened and the stones would eventually work their way to the surface. While tending the fields, my grandfather had two choices when he encountered boulders; he could leave the stones in place and continue to plow, plant, and weed and reap around them. This was the chosen course if time was limited or if the boulder was too large or too firmly embedded to move without extra assistance. However, expediency comes with a price; leaving the obstacles in place made the field pattern very chaotic, caused inefficiencies and complicated the harvest. My grandfather's second option when he discovered a boulder was to stop what he was doing and remove the boulder from the field. Initially, it was more time consuming than letting it remain in place, but subsequently, addressing the obstacle upon discovery allowed for easier plowing, planting, weeding and reaping, yielding a greater harvest.

I have found this to mirror my own spiritual life where the stones are various obstacles of resistance. At times I prefer to ignore what seem like overwhelming boulders. This usually results in chaotic avoidance patterns and is an enormous drain on my energy. Sometimes I just am not ready to let go of the boulder and face the hole that the removal would leave. Occasionally, I need the help of my spiritual companions to hold the tension with me as I unearth the source of my restlessness. At other times I am able to face and address the obstacles once I recognize the objects as resistance. Just naming and owning them has been a great help to tackling the stones. I am discovering that as my spiritual journey plays out, I uncover hidden obstacles less often and that I have developed more tools for easier removal.

I have also found that over the seasons of my life the types of spiritual resistance that I encounter have changed as well. I used to wrestle with God on doubt, trust and a fear of being loved. These normally showed up in the form of restlessness in prayer and an inability to sit with interior silence; when I am avoiding something I have a difficult time just sitting and being open and receptive to God's presence. It was in this anxious and restless state that I was most likely to pick up a spiritual book and read about another person's prayer experience, which always seemed more interesting than my own. Through my reading, I would end up getting a vicarious spiritual high and it would allow me to gloss over my own uncomfortable areas. These were precisely the times that I needed to put the books down and sit alone with God and face my own resistance.

Surprisingly, at this point in time, I struggle less with doubt and trust. My current resistance triggers deal with integrating my intuitive understanding of "the big picture" and my cultural background and training. This wrestling and avoidance appears in the form of a non--stop monologue with God during centering prayer and a desire to cut my prayer times short using a laundry list of mundane errands for excuses. Over all however, the boulders seem smaller and are less intimidating. I have grown into the confidence that even if I cannot dislodge them immediately, they will be removed when I am ready, and that it is OK to bring them along with me and sit with them in God's presence.

For more information, please visit Companions for the Silent Journey at http://www.silentjourney.org and see one of our blogs at http://carolynssilentjourney.blogspot.com

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