“What is best in our life grows out of a simple trust in God.”

To commemorate Brother Roger’s birthday, Brother Emile wrote the following meditation.

In a time of trial, we can sometimes latch onto a verse from a psalm or from the gospel as to a life preserver. And perhaps the more the words we are using are simple and direct, the more helpful they are. One person may say : “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear ?” Another will remember the words Jesus spoke during the storm on the lake : “It is I. - Do not be afraid.” Each one of us perhaps can think of a text that provided support in a time of need or distress.

Over the past few months, a phrase from Brother Roger has often been with me: “ What is best in our life grows out of a simple trust in God.” It’s no secret that Brother Roger was gifted with a matchless ability to avoid sentences containing the words: “You must”. He knew that the “you musts” we use too easily can be toxic. So let’s not transform this into “You must trust!” Rather, in this time of hardship for so many, let’s try to understand that he is drawing our attention to a gift, pointing to a path that is open and on which we can walk, a way of being that enhances what is possible.

“What is best in our life grows out of a simple trust in God.” It’s one of the most demanding and at the same time the most liberating phrases of Brother Roger. We can wonder : how is it possible to express one’s faith with such striking simplicity? No doubt his words have come from the experience of an entire lifetime, a life that did not contain only success. Brother Roger was not averse to speaking about some of the failures he had experienced. Yes, life can at times cast you down, and discouragement can take over. But Brother Roger knew as well that we can get up again.

“What is best in our life grows out of a simple trust in God.” It seems to me that these words contain several deep truths. In order to understand the power of what he is saying and what is at stake, I have tried to find synonyms for that “best” he mentions. I came up with: “the most valuable”, “what is of utter importance”, “priceless”, “quintessential”, “containing the richest meaning”, “what is most desirable”, “that which does not disappoint”, that which precisely “builds up”.

It may also help to consider the opposite of what he is talking about: what happens when what you build on is fear, for example fear of failure. The consequences are glaring blatant not only in the life of individuals, but in society and in the life of the Church as well. Saint Francis of Sales once wrote in a letter that fear inflicts more harm than evil (“est un plus grand mal que le mal ”; in French the same word is used for harm and for evil). Fear is nefarious because it stifles initiative, a sense of purpose and risk-taking. It stifles life.

Among the deep truths contained in Brother Roger’s phrase, I find these two. Firstly, the “best” Brother Roger refers to is not attained by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. The second: when I surrender myself something happens that I cannot control and will never control. And that is precisely why it’s important.

When faced with adversity other reactions are possible. We can can tense up and become rigid. We can unleash our aggressiveness because aggressiveness is precisely a force that arises when we are faced with an obstacle we wish to overcome at all costs, or even annihilate.

What does trust teach? It is well-known that in Brother Roger’s life trust is linked to consent. Consent is a word that was vital and freeing in his youth. He would not have accepted that we confuse it with giving up.

With some surprise, I discovered that the same was true for a friend of Brother Roger’s, the philosopher Paul Ricoeur. Ricoeur wrote: “To consent does not in the least mean to give up if, in spite of appearances, the world is a possible stage for freedom. When I say, this is my place, I adopt it, I do not yield, I acquiesce. That is really so; ‘for all things work for the good for those who love God, those who are called according to his plan’.” For Ricoeur, it was a matter of accepting the contingency of one’s birth. “Yes to my life, which I have not chosen but which is the condition which makes all choice possible.”

Paul Ricoeur and Brother Roger both discerned a call to create starting from what is real. And we all know how much energy can be wasted when there is a denial of reality. In a book that has a very significant title: And Your Deserts Shall Flower, Br Roger wrote: “There is a way in the Gospel where we meet the gaze of Christ. It has a name: the way of consenting. Consenting to one’s own limitations, of intelligence, faith and ability. Consenting also to one’s own talents. That is how strong creations come to birth.”

For Brother Roger, trust was so much part and parcel of the Kingdom of God that toward the end of his life he modified a quote inspired by the gospel of Mark that is part of the Rule of Taizé. The passage is read as an “exhortation” when a new brother is about to take make a life commitment: “Whether you wake or sleep, night and day, the seed springs up and grows, you know not how.” My intention is not to defend the change made by Brother Roger, but what he was suggesting is rich in meaning and can be helpful. This is the modified text: “Whether you wake or sleep, night and day, the desire for trust in God and in your brothers grows and widens, you know not how.” Without it being explicit, we are led to understand that for Brother Roger the Kingdom is not so much a place where we go after our death or a promise that will be fulfilled at the end of time (though it is of course both of those things as well), but the Kingdom is present when God reigns, when it is no longer fear or mistrust that govern life, but trust, or, if you will, the life of the Holy Spirit in us. Some of the Church Fathers knew of a variant to the Our Father in Luke’s Gospel that led them to see things in this way as well. They did not read “Your Kingdom come”, but “May your Holy Spirit come upon us”(Maximus Confessor and, earlier, Gregory of Nyssa). Our Taizé song, “The Kingdom of God”, along the same line, takes up a verse from Romans: “The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit “(14: 18) and adds to it words taken from Brother Roger: “Open in us the gates of your kingdom.”

By our trust, not perfect, idealized and inaccessible trust, but the humble trust of which we are capable, that is offered and that is only begging to grow in us, the Kingdom of God comes near.

Last updated: 15 May 2020