Last weekend I had the privilege to attend a prayer retreat led by Bruce Hindmarsh, one of the professors at Regent College (hence the lack of a post last weekend). I want to share one particular image that stood out to me as particularly poignant as we consider the basis upon which we construct our lives.
The image of the spiritual life as a building or a house is a common one in church history. Augustine referred to his life as a house, asking the Lord to expand it. Teresa of Avila is well-known for writing The Interior Castle, an entire work built around the spiritual life as a house. Relatively more recently, Hans Urs von Balthasar has written about the chamber that is prepared at the center of our being for the divine guest. This metaphor threads its way throughout the great spiritual writers of the Church.
However, every building has a beginning; it must be built. It’s an obvious statement, but too often we get things wrong at the very beginning. Peter describes this process in his letter:
“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men, but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.'” (1 Peter 2:4-6)
Christ is the cornerstone. While we ourselves are being built up into a spiritual house (a corporate image here), Christ forms the basis for our spiritual development. He provides the foundation. He is the first stone laid, the one upon which all the angles of the building are based.
Oftentimes when we consider our spiritual lives, we set out to build them on our own. We take our own measurements and use our own levels. Maybe we use consistent devotional times as our foundation, or powerful emotional worship experiences. Inevitably, the walls end up crooked. So we might try remeasuring, taking stock of the situation and, feeling better educated, more “self-aware” take another crack at it. Crooked, every time.
Until we realize that Christ is the only stone upon which we can base the building of our lives, our walls will be crooked. Of course, it’s never an overnight change. Getting our walls aligned means looking at many individual stones in the walls and making sure they align with the cornerstone. Often this is painful, as we have to look at stones that require some demolishing to fix.
So, we do the hard work now, with the Spirit’s help remembering we are promised that one day our walls will be straight and the buildings of our lives will be perfect. Until then, may we continually come to the Father, as living stones – ready to be shaped – and base ourselves on the chosen and precious cornerstone, Jesus Christ.