Last week, as part of the spiritual disciplines class I am taking this term, I practiced a meditation exercise called “palms-down, palms-up.” Richard Foster describes this exercise in his book Celebration of Discipline. It is as an opportunity to release our concerns and sins to God in order to receive more of His nature and desire for us instead.
I sat cross-legged on my couch and draped my palms, face-down, over the edge of my knees. Quietly, I began to voice to God all the things that had holed themselves up in my heart that needed to be released. I quickly realized this was a form of confession with statements like, “I release to You my concern for my reputation. I release to You my stubbornness of heart. I release to You the way I withhold myself, my time, and my affection from people in my life. I release to You my plans and hopes for my future.” It felt like a deep cleansing as I sat there, letting all of this go out into the open between me and Him.
Then, when I came to the end of voicing all that I consciously knew was standing between me and God, I turned my palms upward and began to voice my desire to receive. I had expected that I would ask God to replace all the specific sinful habits I’d just voiced with what He had to offer instead, but I got stuck on one resounding request: “I receive from You the spirit of Jesus.”
I couldn’t stop thinking about Philippians 2 during that part of the meditation, the passage that talks about Christ being poured out as a drink offering on behalf of all of us. I kept thinking about Him humbling Himself to the point of death. It seemed this posture of love, humility, service, and sacrifice was exactly what God would have for me to receive in place of all that selfishness and striving I’d just confessed. All I could do was repeat slowly my desire: “I receive from You the spirit of Jesus.”
To close out the meditation, Foster instructs us to sit quietly, not talking but listening to hear God’s word to us. He may or may not speak, and either way is okay. The purpose is to simply be open to hear if God chooses to speak, to simply wait, to merely attend.
I sat in the quiet for a few moments, aware of what I had confessed and what I needed. I was tempted to feel shame for my sinfulness and my callous heart. I was tempted to grovel at God’s feet, simpering at my unworthiness of Christ. But I couldn’t do either of those things. All I could do was sit with the truth of my heart: the wayward parts and its need for more of Christ. I knew God was not shaming me. I knew it was in the truth that He could work more readily in me. I knew He was glad I had met Him here.
Slowly, at the tail end of the silence, I gradually became aware that He was whispering to me. I heard Him speaking.
I am with you.
I paused, almost as if craning my neck to look up at him with a question in my eyes, asking, “Did I just hear You say that to me?”
I am with you.
He is with me. In the ugliness and muck of what I just confessed, He is with me. In the more of Christ I just realized I needed and desired, He is with me. In the daily rote of life, He is with me. In the future situations I may handle, He is with me.
In a cognitive sense, I’ve long known He is always present. In flashes of devotion and hours of prayer and study, I’ve known His presence there. But here, this voice, so grounded and sure and personal, got beyond the cognition and the intentional moments and made it real for every hour of every day.