Swimming Upstream

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.           John 7:38

In his book, The Transforming Friendship, Dr. James Houston offers a helpful definition of the spiritual life when he says that we are “in the discipline of exercising the heart of desire for God.”  This simple statement wonderfully expresses the motivation, the direction, as well as the ultimate destination of the spiritual life—that we are in a relationship of mutual desire with God.  Like two lovers running to embrace each other, God draws near to us as we draw near to God (James 4:8).

To bring into focus the many longings of our heart so that they find expression in the foundational desire that underlies all our seeking is our spiritual direction.  And the more intentional we are in participating with this underlying desire the more we will discover the living waters of God’s highest vision for our humanity.   In the merging of our desires with God’s desire we will find our lives abundantly expressed.

As we are weaned from the many alternatives that misdirect our yearnings for God we discover a greater sense of unity in our lives.  In the consolidation of our heart’s longings we become more directly engaged with their true object.  We also find, as our desires align with those of God, that our longings become fewer, but stronger.  It is a slow process, but one that ultimately leads us from dissipation to an undivided heart.

A sustained desire for prayer is evidence of the extent to which our lives are given over to God.  If we are self-oriented, our longing for God and our motivation to prayer will be quenched.  But the more we abandon ourselves to God’s desires, the more sustained we will be in our zeal.  As Houston puts it,

Self-confidence robs us of the incentive to pray as we should.  But when all our significance, security, identity and future are in the hands of God, then prayer is bound to follow.

The spiritual life invites us to return to our Father’s house.  And the countless choices we make each day are what determine our direction, either towards or away from God.  They reveal the truth of Jesus’ teaching that  “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34).

Like the Pacific salmon which swim upstream, returning to their place of origin, we too are on a return journey to the fount of our lives.  When, with the Psalmist, we too can say, “all my fountains are in you” (Ps. 87:7) we will find the “living waters” that Jesus promised flowing abundantly from our lives.

Unless your soul is continually lifted up to God, your flesh will drag it down.  Therefore, you must renew your determination for the spiritual life each day.
St. Frances de Sales