Meister Eckhart was a priest, mystic, and theologian in the late Thirteenth and Early Fourteenth Century. He was, as many preachers of his time, not always accepted by his peers and found himself the subject of the Church’s inquisition process. Today, many centuries later, his work is seen for the far-reaching insights which are perhaps even more relevant today.
One of his many famous sermons focuses on the issue of “inward and outer work.” Here, he talks of the struggle we all can relate to, how do we resolve the conflict between the inner life and closeness to God, and our outer life and its relation to the world.
In his own words:
“Suppose a man should withdraw into himself with all his powers,
outward and inward, then when he is in that condition there is in him
no image or motive, and he is without any activity within or without.
Then he should well observe whether there is any inclination toward
anything. But if a man is not drawn to any work and does not want to
undertake anything, then he should force himself into some activity,
whether inward or outward (for a man should not be satisfied with
anything, however good it may seem or be) so that, when he finds
himself oppressed or constrained, it may appear rather that that man
is worked rather than that he works; thus he may learn to co-operate with
So much of us have a segmented prayer life, times we allocate for dedicated prayer, and then the time when everything else fills the “prayer void.” What Meister Eckhart invites us to here is to remove “our agenda or our will” from the top of our activities. It is where our need for a result dominates the conversation, the work, the task, whatever that may be. This does not mean we remove our gifts and skills from the process, but instead we gradually erase a firm and thickly drawn line between our will and that of God. When Eckhart says “that man is worked, rather than he works”, we are gradually blending the two worlds of our outer and inner; then our soul becomes permeated with the will of God, as God “works us” rather than us trying to work Him.
He also notes later in that sermon,
“But if the outward work tends to destroy the inward, one should follow
the inward. But if both can be as one, that is best, then one is cooperating
Following the inward also, funnily enough, is totally in line with scripture. Following the inward will always be basked in the warmth of love, and therefore leads us into the peace of Christ we all seek. Those who have it, or have felt it, know what a gift it is.
And while Eckhart encourages us towards the inner, it is the world where our outer is most visible; at work, at home, in community, in leisure, while helping others or just being creative, we will feel the results.
For Eckhart wants us to explore the God which we know is present in all. Eckhart invites us to ditch our ego and selfish agendas to ensure we stay in the room with Him forever.
The Inward and the Outward
Here I go again,
The agenda is on the billboard of my mind,
Some added in giant type, readable to all,
Others less so, needing eyeglasses to perceive.
The dual nature of what dominates creates my to-do list for each moment,
Cluttering and countering the peace which fills the background,
Wanting to obscure and wash away my agenda.
Leaving no room for anything.
Save the work and peace which resides within.
 From the Complete Works of Meister Eckhart #23