Jesus makes it clear that to enter God's Kingdom, it’s necessary to become infantile. Elsewhere, we are told that we must become like new borns if we want to see the Kingdom of God (Jn.3:3). Once again, Jesus reverses our thinking and expectations. Most of us think of childhood as something to leave behind. Jesus points to infant-like qualities as being essential to His Kingdom. Which qualities? Rather than turning to a dictionary or theology text, let’s learn from our own experience.
Our society is plump with slogans, witticisms, puns and mottos. Commercials, billboards, advertisements and social media look for “hooks” meant to entertain, inform and sell. Some work. Most don't last long. They’re forgotten the instant they’re read. Here’s one that has endured 700 years. It's been planted in my brain and bears food for my soul. It is from Johannes Tauler. I wouldn’t expect many to know this German mystic. I didn’t until I read this quote:
“As soon as one is conscious of the presence of the Master, one must in all passivity, abandon the work to Him.”
(While I wrote these paragraphs a few years ago - they still ring true for me!)
It had been one of those weeks. You know, the days when “Murphy’s Law” takes over. “If it can break, it will - all at the same time!” First the muffler decided that silence was not golden and called it quits. Then the transmission refused to shift from 2nd to 3rd unless we’d go 100 km/hr downhill with a good tail wind. I tried to decide which to fix first. Did I want to go nowhere quietly or smoothly glide with a thunderous bark? While I was picking my options, Miriam called to say that the clothes washer was on fire. I cut through the smoke to find the motor seized solid as a rock. It wouldn’t wash anymore but made excellent counter space. Imagine, after 15 years, two children, four moves and thousands of cycles, the machine quits! I wondered if the warranty was still good?
I use to live at the mouth of the Fraser River. The Fraser springs from Mt. Robson in the Rockies and makes a 1,375 km journey, pretty much to my doorstep. As far as rivers go, the Fraser is a major player. It has been crucial to BC's history and currently provides a liquid highway for commerce and leisure. It has the 5th largest flow in Canada and while you may not see it from the surface, it discharges 20 million tones of sediment into the Pacific. And that's a problem. Left alone, this sediment builds and blocks the river's flow. So dredging is a common sight at the river's mouth. The river is raked to remove the debris which is naturally deposited. If we allowed nature to take its own course, the river's flow is impeded and usefulness is diminished. I look at the river and see my soul's reflection.
“For My thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord…” Is.55:8
I prefer these paragraphs to focus on matters of heart; to offer direction for our soul’s connection with God. Not only is that a needed conversation sorely lacking, but it is the fount of all things that truly matter in life and eternity. None the less, interior issues need a framework, a context to offer insight and understanding. That means we will have to put our thinking caps on for the moment and engage in some theological reflection. So here is the question, “How do you know that your spiritual experience is genuine and not of your own making?”
My wife and I are dog people. We have always has 4 legged companionship that licks at one end and wags at the other. But even I wasn’t ready when Miriam suggested that we get a second dog. We already had Tucker - a coiled spring of excitement wrapped with 80 pounds of fur. Given that we were maxing our canine capacity, I was surprised when my wife said she wanted a puppy. I tried to make sense of it - but we are talking about puppies! Rationality is deflated by deep brown eyes, puppy breath and cuteness that could bring about world peace.
There are five paths to the brain. We learn by our capacity to touch, taste, see, hear, and smell.
Taste was a path of insight for Jeremiah. He found wisdom through his stomach. When God spoke to the prophet, he didn’t just listen. He ate what God said! “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16 ESV). The prophet devoured God’s truth and found His Word tasty. Jeremiah was not alone in this “wordy” diet. There were others. Both Ezekiel and John dined on what God had to say (Ezekiel 3:1, Revelation 10:9). Three meals. One principle. We feed on the Word of God. Three pictures. One word. Meditation—by which the truth becomes part of us.
Since we measure the start of our day from midnight, the odd truth is that most of us begin our day by doing nothing. When the day starts, we are asleep, (or should be!) Eugene Peterson phrases it this way, "In prep for my day... I go to sleep to get out of the way for a while." Recent studies have advocated the benefits of sleep. It's good for our body. It's good for our mind. It is good for our soul. That last part is not from scientific investigation but from the Scripture.
I have stood at death beds more times than I care to. In my ministry and in my family, I have witnessed the final whispers and gestures of this life. It's the type of privilege that one does not seek or applaud. But by it, I have found this commonality.
“All of us whom Christ has rescued have within us a marvelous mingling of health and wounds, wholeness and sorrow, for we contain in our beings both Jesus our Risen Protector and Adam, who fell into death. In Christ, we are kept steadfastly safe; the touch of His grace on our lives raises us into the certainty of our safety—but at the same time, we are terribly broken, our emotions and vision shattered by Adam’s fall, so that we experience pain, sin, and darkness….
We revolt against the darkness, our minds filled with groaning, enduring the pain and sadness, praying for the time when the Divine Presence will once again be revealed to us. This is the medley of human life: faith and sorrow, insight and darkness, joy and agony, singing in counterpart through our days. But God wants us to know that through it all the Divine Presence is the melody that never changes.”
All Shall be Well - A Modern Language Version of “Revelations of Divine Love” - Julian of Norwich
Every living thing moves. If it’s healthy, that motion will be towards growth. The Christian life is no different. Our maturity is marked by progress in God’s direction. To that degree, we all are Pilgrims.