Vast sums of money and a great deal of attention is given to the care of our body to keep it healthy, beautify it, and clothe it; providing employment for the healthcare specialist, beautician, designer and manufacturer. Comparable attention is given to the development of our mind through the education process, taking us from kindergarten to university, or as far as our mental ability and credit card capacity will allow. However, for the full development of our humanity and balanced personality there is another area that requires our close and constant attention. We are tri-partite beings – body, mind and spirit. Only when proper attention is given to all three aspects do we develop our full potential as a person in relationship with others. Wherever this balance is not maintained we soon see the disastrous effect in society and experience within ourselves a sense of unrest, dissatisfaction, incompleteness and hunger for something more than we have.
Every one of us possesses what I would like to call ‘our inner world’ which governs, or conversely, may be affected by, the health of body and mind. In our attempt to obtain recognition and retain our place in society we focus our attention on the development of body and mind, but often neglect the inner world. A different name may be used for this third area – soul, spirit, interior life, or inner landscape. The name we use is not important, but its existence is.
Our inner world is referred to in a variety of ways in the bible. Jesus is referring to it when he says ‘The kingdom of God is within you’, or when he says ‘enter your room when praying to God’; it is the place ‘where our treasure is’, or ‘where we can be born again’. It is the area outside of which he waits saying, ‘I stand at the door and knock’. For Jeremiah it is the place where ‘God can write his law’. It is the area the psalmist is referring to when he says ‘You created my inmost being’, and which Paul is mindful of when he says ’Christ lives in me’. Teresa of Avilla describes it as our ‘Interior castle’. John Wesley is referring to it when he speaks of a ‘warmed heart’.
It is that area of our life marked “Strictly private”, no one can enter without our permission. No one can hack into it. Only we know its password. We can keep its contents hidden from others. It is deeper than thinking, or emotion. To us it is as real as the landscape around us. While outside and around us the situation may be threatening, inside may be bright with faith, hope and joy. On the other hand this inner world may be roamed by fears, images, desires, dreams, or it may be overcast with feelings of despair, alienation, loneliness, failure which we share with no one. At other moments it may be serene with elation, confidence, certainty, or a calm assurance that as Etty Hillesum puts it ‘God is what is deepest and best in me’. An earlier mystic, Julian of Norwich, called this inner assurance ‘a sense of ‘Oneness’.
It was this inner world which enabled Etty Hillesum to live with joy amid the horrors of Auschwitz without a shred of hate toward the cruel, sadistic S. S. Guards. It kept Julian in equanimity and peace throughout the ravages of the Black Plague. It fortified Dietrich Bonhoeffer with resolute faith and resilient good cheer during his imprisonment and on the morning of his execution.
Our inner world is the place where our authentic self exercises control overcoming fear and despair, or where the attitude of suspicion or resentment is harboured, where love or hate toward the other person is nurtured, where our motives, desires and intentions are formed, where how we see the world and undertake our daily duties is determined. This inner world determines how we see and relate to one another. All racism would disappear; all misuse of the earth and everything in it, all crime and corruption would cease if our inner world was saturated with God’s love.
There are only two occupants of this inner world – our self (true or false) and God. The language of this area is prayer, silent or spoken. According to Pope Francis ‘Prayer is the breath of faith’ – and we cannot live without breathing! Daily prayer was the way Jesus kept his inner world intact, rejecting the threats and insults from his critics, saying ‘I and the Father are one’. That unity could not be shaken or destroyed. By learning to pray through regular practice our inner world can have the same resilience and motivation as Jesus had if we allow God to take charge of our control room. To do that is to ‘Seek first the kingdom of God’.