“Beloved, do not trust every spirit but
test the spirits to see whether they belong to God,
because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
(1 Jn 4: 1)
Spiritual discernment is challenging for a reason. Due to Original Sin, we have lost our capacity to readily distinguish truth from falsehood. To enter the path of discernment, we need to understand God and the universe God created. It is a universe that is both physical and spiritual. To help you enter the “school of discernment,” Sacred Story prayer proposes a relational model (or paradigm) for God, human persons, and the created universe. Let us take a few moments to explore this relational paradigm.
First, we affirm a simple Truth: God is Love. The essence of God as Love is God as Perfect Relationship. God is a Trinity of perfect, loving relationship. The Trinity—Father, Son and Spirit—are three totally distinct, unique persons with no boundaries to their giving and receiving love. God is Love. It is a Love without beginning or end. God is Perfect Relationship. Love is always about relationship. The loss of love is always about the breaking of relationship. So everything not of God is anti-relationship, what Scripture calls the spirit of anti-Christ, “which is to come, but is already in the world” (1 Jn 4: 3).
Second, God “created mankind in his image; in the image of God He created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). God willed human nature’s form, freely creating persons as a perfect relationship of body and spirit.1 The human nature God willed is the person as an embodied spirit. Human nature as embodied spirit is fashioned in God’s own image. Consequently, persons are made to share in the Love that the Trinity enjoys—unique beings created to freely give and receive love with no boundaries.
For the human person, perfect love is the experience of being a completely unique individual. And in that uniqueness, being completely transparent to one’s beloved, who is also completely unique. Perfectly transparent in the giving and receiving of love: perfectly giving; perfectly accepted; perfectly loved; perfectly loving; and eternally cherished! This giving and receiving of love, with no boundaries, was intended in God’s plan to be realized between the persons and their Creator, and between the persons themselves. The relational paradigm of the Trinity is enriched immeasurably by God’s free act of creation.
Third, the story of Paradise in the Book of Genesis reveals the state of perfect relationship between our first parents and God. This state of intimacy with God enabled a state of perfect justice and righteousness—a paradise! As long as our first parents remained in this state of spiritual intimacy with the Divine—as long as the state of perfect justice held—they were free from sickness and death.2 This state of immortality was possible as long as they allowed God to be the very center of their lives—as long as they stayed in perfect, intimate relationship with God. In this state of perfect intimacy—their hearts undivided—they knew themselves. They had perfect interior harmony between their body and spirit.
Because they were innocent and radically transparent to their Creator, they cherished each other as sacred in God’s eyes. As incarnate spirits they shared intimate knowledge, respect, trust, complementarity, uniqueness, separateness and transcendent love. And they understood the creation. They had perfect relationship with creation because they understood it as God’s gift. God gifts the human persons with the power to name the plants and animals. We understand that this gift of “naming” includes the knowledge of creation’s rhythms. They would understand how creation works to their benefit and their delight and for their enjoyment. The gift of Love freely given to our first parents by God was to expand in cosmic harmony.
The tragedy of Original Sin severs the perfect relationship between the incarnate spirits and the Creator:
“When they heard the sound of the Lord God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”
The perfect relationship they had enjoyed now becomes filled with blame and grief. They will fight each other and their offspring will fight them. Their perfect relationship with creation is now also cursed (Gen 3:17-19) and they lose immortality. They are vulnerable to sickness and disease. Free will, essential for love, also allows persons to sever their relationship with Love, with God. Relationship violated and severed is the true face of sin.
This is why abandonment and loneliness are the heart’s deepest fears. As the most profound misery caused by sin, it is what Christ suffered on the cross, for all of humanity for all time, to a degree unimaginable: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? (Ps 22: 1; Mt 27: 45-46). Love itself, suffered love’s complete absence.
But God’s work in creation cannot be undone by sin. The original unity is lost forever, but out of this tragedy God creates an even more astonishing good. God would not create such beauty without a way to rectify even this tragedy with something more glorious. We are now invited to accept the mission of participating with Christ in His grand work of Reconciliation. We do this by opening to life as Sacred Story. We allow God to work His miracle of healing and forgiveness for the hope that we, as brothers and sisters of Christ and children of God, are destined to share:
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God; for creation was made subject to futility, not of its own accord but because of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself would be set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance. In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.”
Your discernment is made easier if you can see everything in light of the paradigm of perfect relationship—given, lost, and being restored in Christ:
1) Perfect relationship of incarnate spirits in our unity of body and spirit.
2) Perfect relationship of created, incarnate spirits with our Creator God.
3) Perfect relationship of incarnate spirits with each other as unique individuals.
4) Perfect relationship between incarnate spirits as male and female called to fruitful, respectful, loving and joyful reverence.
5) Perfect relationship between created, incarnate spirits with the earth given for our delight, refreshment and sustenance.
6) Perfect relationship with the Church, the Body of Christ, as the community formed by Him for the work of Reconciliation, leading to a new heavens and a new earth.
Every thought, word and deed that seeks to affirm the meaning of perfect relationship and the human nature willed by God, everything that is working to heal damaged relationships, is a work of the Divine-Inspirer; God the Creator.
Every thought, word and deed that moves to alter the meaning of perfect relationship and the human nature willed by God, everything that is further undermining damaged relationships, is a work of the counter-inspirer; “the enemy of human nature,” who from the beginning, is a murderer and a liar—the father of lies (Jn 8: 43-45).
As you enter the school of spiritual discernment, keep your heart and mind focused on the relational paradigm. You are seeking the knowledge of your identity as a child of God, but informed by the truth of perfect relationship. Your authentic identity is a human nature, willed by God, as unity of body and spirit. You seek also the knowledge of your authentic God-given human nature as it has been violated and broken by Original Sin. And you seek this knowledge in light of what Christ is offering: by His life, death and resurrection, you are offered the beginning of the full healing that will be completed in the world and the life to come.
In short, you are seeking the knowledge of perfect relationship and how in your own life and the world, that perfection has been broken but can also be restored, healed and redeemed by the Divine Physician. You are also seeking knowledge of the thief and the robber—the enemy of human nature—who seeks to distort what authentic relationship is, and to hide from you the Truth of God and your authentic human nature. You are seeking to discern the two plot-lines in your story: the one that leads to curse and death and the one that leads to life and blessings. Ultimately, you are seeking to know truth from falsehood in all of your thoughts, words and deeds.
(Jn 10: 7-11)
GOD WILLED HUMAN NATURE .
The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual. The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that “then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” [Gen 2:7.] Man, whole and entire, is therefore willed by God (emphasis supplied). In Sacred Scripture the term “soul” often refers to human life or the entire human person. But “soul” also refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: “soul” signifies the spiritual principle in man.
The human body shares in the dignity of “the image of God”: it is a human body precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul, and it is the whole human person that is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit:
Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day.
The unity of soul and body is so profound that one has to consider the soul to be the “form” of the body: i.e., it is because of its spiritual soul that the body made of matter becomes a living, human body; spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.
The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God – it is not “produced” by the parents – and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.
Sometimes the soul is distinguished from the spirit: St. Paul for instance prays that God may sanctify his people “wholly”, with “spirit and soul and body” kept sound and blameless at the Lord’s coming. [1 Thess 5:23.] The Church teaches that this distinction does not introduce a duality into the soul. “Spirit” signifies that from creation man is ordered to a supernatural end and that his soul can gratuitously be raised beyond all it deserves to communion with God.
The spiritual tradition of the Church also emphasizes the heart, in the biblical sense of the depths of one’s being, where the person decides for or against God.
MAN IN PARADISE
The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself and with the creation around him, in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ.
The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original “state of holiness and justice”. This grace of original holiness was “to share in divine life”.
By the radiance of this grace all dimensions of man’s life were confirmed. As long as he remained in the divine intimacy, man would not have to suffer or die. The inner harmony of the human person, the harmony between man and woman, and finally the harmony between the first couple and all creation, comprised the state called “original justice.”
The “mastery” over the world that God offered man from the beginning was realized above all within man himself: mastery of self. The first man was unimpaired and ordered in his whole being because he was free from the triple concupiscence that subjugates him to the pleasures of the senses, covetousness for earthly goods, and self-assertion, contrary to the dictates of reason.
The sign of man’s familiarity with God is that God places him in the garden. There he lives “to till it and keep it.” Work is not yet a burden [Gen 2:15; cf. 3:17-19] but rather the collaboration of man and woman with God in perfecting the visible creation. This entire harmony of original justice, foreseen for man in God’s plan, will be lost by the sin of our first parents.