Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thoughts on Receptivity

I've been thinking a lot about the difference between being passive and being receptive lately. 

I'm all about feminism - True feminism, that is. None of this "let's turn women into men" stuff. But I love JPII and theology of the body and religious sisters and women like Helen Alvare who all inspire me to fully embrace my feminine genius.

One of the more basic teachings of femininity, from a TOB standpoint, is that the man is giver and the woman is receiver. It's expressed in our sexuality, it is expressed in Adam's call to shamar, and woman's desire to be pursued. 

Yet the bold, assertive part of me shutters a little bit at this teaching. I don't want to be receptive...the connotation I hear equates receptivity with being passive. I get this image of a helpless woman sitting around for a man to come find her and rescue her on his perfect white horse. And oh gosh, that just makes me want to gag a little bit. I think this shutter and gag reflex is a reflection that this idea of passivity is not what it means to be receptive. 

I looked up the definition of passive because, well it can be confusing when we throw around abstract concepts. So, according to my friend dictionary.com, here we go:

Passive:  [pas-iv] adjective
1. Not participating readily or actively; 
2. Influenced, acted upon, or affected by some external force, cause, or agency

The definition of being passive hits my thoughts right on the head - this implies that we simply sit and do not respond or react to God or others acting upon us in this life. And God does not want this for us at all! He wants us to actively participate in our lives. That is why he gave us free will. If we sit and react (or worse, don't react), we are not growing or becoming who God wants us to be. 

Receptivity, on the other hand, is so opposite of this. There are similarities between the two, sure. But the difference is that receptivity is all about action. Sometimes this action is more subtle and interior, other times this action is big and bold. 

When I think of subtle and interior receptivity, I think of Mary pondering things in her heart. She did not passively allow things to happen to her. She received each moment and thing that her son said to her with grace, and she spent time thinking about it from there. 

About two months ago I went on a retreat with the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. One of the mornings, we ate breakfast with some of the elderly sisters. One of the old nuns sitting by me kept asking me the same questions and telling me the same story over and over again. The receptive response to this sister was to stay engaged with her, actively listen to what she was saying, and to respond with equal enthusiasm. This type of receptivity shows a deep love for the other, as we put ourselves second and respond graciously to their needs and desire to be known. 

When I think of being actively receptive, I think of the Sisters of Life in New York City, receiving pregnant women into their homes and providing for their needs. I think of my teammate from UNL, Martha, and how she cares for and loves on people with her popcorn and good questions about their lives. 

St. Therese of Lisieux received a call from The Lord to be a religious sister at a very young age. She was deeply convicted of this and knew she wanted to give her whole life to Jesus. Yet, she was too young to enter the convent. So instead of sitting around and waiting (which would have been acceptable in this situation), she took what she had received from God and asked her bishop to make an exception so she could enter Carmel in her young age. Mother Teresa of Calcutta did the same when starting the Missionaries of Charity. She had to push and actively work to get permission to get her new religious order started. Without this perseverance and active response to God, these two holy women might not have had the effect on the spirituality of so many people.

The more I ponder the idea of being receptive, the more I realize that that is the kind of woman I want to be. I want to be present to the lives of others. I want to actively listen and show that I care. I want to sit with Jesus each day and take in what He wants me to know. I want to make my decisions and movements based on what he reveals to my heart. I want to humble myself to allow space for others to grow. 

Being receptive means acting and making decisions to follow God. So let's be bold. Let's listen to the Lord and ponder what He says to us in our hearts. Let's respond with grace to the people He has put in our lives. Let's love loudly and actively. Let's be receptive to Christ and to the world around us. 

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