Giving Up the Effort

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog (which continues below) to bring you an actual emergency broadcast, not merely a system test. New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur has been clobbered by winter storms this year, as have all the inhabitants of Big Sur. The monks are currently cut off from any deliveries or travel, with Highway 1 closed north and south of them. The road has been closed much of this year, making it impossible for them to host retreats and visitors, their main source of income.big-creek-768x447

They’ve set up a gofundme page, and if you feel so inclined, I encourage you to contribute to their relief fund. Due to the closures, a friend and I missed our annual retreat there, which reminded me what a rare gift of silence and contemplative solitude New Camaldoli offers. As my friend said, it is a place where we can more easily access the holiness that suffuses all of creation, and we all need those spots.

That concludes our emergency broadcast. We now return you to your originally scheduled programming.


Lent has arrived. Giving things up, ashes, penance, alms, the whole nine yards—ready or not, here it is. As this essay by Mags Blackie reminded me, it helps during all this to remember that the end game is resurrection—a rebirth in love.

In A Homing Spirit John Dunne writes, “My pilgrimage of heart was not a fathoming of hearts so much as a being fathomed in my own heart….It is being known that leads to knowing, being loved that leads to loving. I had to give up the effort to know, the effort to love, and instead let myself be known and loved, be given the gift of knowledge and love.”

Fathom means not only to understand but also to measure the depths of. As long as we come to love through our own efforts, the depths to which we can go will be limited. God’s depths, on the other hand, are infinite. Allowing God to explore our hearts and reveal the mystery that we are—that life is—will uncover and expand our capacity to love.

So for Lent I’m giving up the effort to know and the effort to love—once I figure out how to do that.

Dunne says, “I had to go from striving to prayer.” I do a lot of striving through inner admonishment—I will go to bed earlier, I will do an evening meditation, I will respond kindly instead of with irritation. The effectiveness of this method is either zero or it is short-lived. It does not lead to resurrection.

A prayer is a request for God to act, not a reproach to ourselves to act better. In prayer, God gets to do everything and take all the credit. It’s terribly unfair to our egos, but there’s no getting around it.

To start recognizing God’s action in my life—to practice seeing that I am known and loved already—I’m going to start with radical gratitude, paying more attention to the thousand things I take for granted every moment. I’ll let you know where it takes me—hopefully to resurrection.

2 thoughts on “Giving Up the Effort

  1. Excellent post this week, Rachel–both the emergency alert and the regularly scheduled column. Yes, we are holding Camaldoli in our hearts and deep prayers, as they attempt to safeguard our sacred space.

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