I finished a 4-mile run this morning and as I took off my shoes I heard the birds singing beautifully. I realized I was catching this mid-song. Why didn’t I hear the first part of their sweet song when I walked under their tree and up the sidewalk to my house? They were singing beautifully then too, why didn’t I notice?
I was thinking about my run I just finished and my work for the day ahead. I wasn’t tuned into God’s beautiful creation and loving presence.
The prophet says, “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (Zephaniah 3:17, NLT) It was the Lord singing a love song over me through the birds! He sings over you too!
We hear this love song when we abandon our self to God in the moment.
Ancient Letters of Spiritual Direction
The 18th Century letters of the French, Jesuit priest Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675 – 1751) teach us to submit ourselves continually to the sovereign Lord’s will and enjoy his loving presence. In Abandonment to Divine Providence, which is a book of his spiritual letters, we learn that abandoning outcomes to God is the true path of peace. It’s a spiritual trail that remains hidden to us until we really want it.
Even after we’ve dedicated our lives to follow Christ and serve God we probably find ourselves often diverted from continually submitting to the divine will. Waiting, taking orders, being humble, staying vulnerable, and yielding to God and others are not appealing ideas for most people! “I’ll do it my way!” we like to sing with Frank Sinatra. The ways of our world are to strive, push, hurry, market, manipulate, or please — whatever it takes to get ahead.
But de Caussade’s spiritual letters woo us to discover that when we abandon ourselves entirely to the God who loves us entirely.
The History of Jean-Pierre de Caussade
Little is known about Jean-Pierre de Caussade. Readers of his classic wish we had a full biography on his life! He was born in 1675 in the southern part of France in the village of Cahors. At the age of eighteen he became a Jesuit novitiate (in the Society of Jesus started by Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th Century).
As a priest he taught in a Jesuit college, focusing on the classic works of literature, including the Christian Devotional Classics. (So many of the writers of classic spiritual books that draw us to Jesus were steeped in the devout Christian writers who went before them.) After that he served as an itinerant preacher and missionary, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. Then for seven years he was the leader of Nuns of the Visitation, a Christian order of nuns, where he gave seminars and spiritual direction. For years after this he continued to be a sought after spiritual director.
In past eras it was common for spiritual direction to be offered through an exchange of letters and this was the case with de Caussade. Hundreds of people sought his spiritual care and counsel by letter.
At the end of his life Jean-Pierre de Caussade became blind. A friend said, “He bore his blindness with courageous fortitude and in the spirit of his own great principle of self-abandonment to the divine will of God.” He showed us the truth of his message, “You are the sequel to the New Testament that’s being written by the Holy Spirit today.”
His letters of spiritual direction were so precious that people saved them. They even passed them down to their children and grandchildren! Then one hundred years after his death these letters were published in 1851 in a book called Abandonment to Divine Providence. (Also The Sacrament of the Present Moment.)
Sadly, some recent literary critics on Wikipedia claim that Abandonment to Divine Providence wasn’t written by Jean-Pierre de Caussade. They say we don’t know who wrote it.
Abandonment to Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade (An Excerpt)
Here’s a short excerpt from de Caussade that shows how sweet submission to God really is. After all, the King is kind! As you read I invite you to rest in God now… Take a deep breath…
Lord Jesus, I relax in your easy yoke… Teach me how wonderful it is to join you in abandonment to God…
The divine will is eternally present in the shadows of the most ordinary toil and suffering; and it is in these shadows that God hides the hand which upholds and supports us. His loving hand is all we need to know in order to achieve that sublime surrendering of ourselves which will free us from contentious arguments and feeling we need to defend our actions…
The way opens up before us as we walk and follow it with unfaltering step, grasping God’s hand who is close beside us at each step and each moment in all the various situations that arise…
The only condition necessary for us is self-surrender to God in the present moment and then our soul becomes light as a feather, fluid as water, innocent as a child, and responds to every movement of grace like a floating balloon. We are like molten metal filling whatever vessel God chooses to pour us into…
God and his divine order must be cherished in all things, just as it is, without asking for anything more; whatever he may offer us is not our business but God’s, and what he ordains is best. How simple is this perfect and total surrender of self to the word of God! And there, in continual self-forgetfulness we can be forever occupied in loving and obeying him…
Come forward my friends! Hold your head held high above everything in and around us. Let’s rejoice in God and in all that he does and enables us to do.
Lord God, we relax and rejoice in your providence in this moment… I submit to your divine will and ask you to master my soul and order my life with your hidden hand. Lift me above my trials, O Spirit of God, and make my soul light as a feather, fluid as water, innocent as a child, and responding to every movement of your grace like a floating balloon. In Jesus’ name. Amen.