We continue this evening with “Framework for Freedom”, a series of sermons about rules of life.
I first became familiar with “The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist” about 16 years ago in the months before I arrived here as a postulant. Br. Curtis had sent me a pre-publication copy to read as I thought about coming here. I was struck immediately, as so many have been, by the depth and richness of the Rule.
As I have lived into this Rule—and the Rule is both how we live and how we would like to live—one of the chapters that has resonated powerfully for me has been Chapter Forty-One: “The Maturing of Our Minds in Christ”. I don’t think many other monastic rules have anything quite like it in its expansiveness. You can access the Rule on our website, or you can buy a copy. But I think I really need to read some of it aloud now; here are the first four paragraphs from Chapter Forty-One:
Our pursuit of knowledge is an expression of love for God’s world and the riches of revelation. As we bring our gifts of imagination and intellect to maturity we are able to glorify God more and more. Since our gifts and ministries vary, we need to encourage one another to value not only reading and study but many other ways of learning, every method that helps us become more responsive in heart and mind to the whole creation. As our faith matures we come to recognize Christ’s hidden presence everywhere: “All things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
We cannot fulfill our mission without a lifelong engagement with the riches of Scripture and the Christian tradition. We need therefore to encourage and train one another to explore this great tradition at first hand. It is important to absorb classics of Christian spirituality and theology, and valuable for each of us to develop a personal interest in certain schools, periods or figures to which we might be specially drawn. We need knowledge of other faiths, and a sound grasp of religious history to which good biographies have given richness and color.
The Spirit calls us to be alert and open to our own time. Some of us will be drawn to contemporary explorations of theology and spirituality and engage in studies that throw light on the changes now taking place in the world. Our aim is to maintain a lively, critical interest in the cultures in which we are situated, and seek to expand our perspectives globally so that we can empathize with other societies and religious traditions.
All our ministries, whether of preaching, teaching or personal encounter in the Spirit, call for a penetrating understanding of the mysteries of the heart and human relationships. For this we need many resources. Psychology and the human sciences are sources of insight, and some of us will find in literature, philosophy, drama, film, music, dance and the visual arts springs of vital truth if we approach them keenly in the Spirit.
That list, by the way, I think is far too short—but I’ll come back to that. First I’d like to reflect on scripture that undergirds the sheer expansiveness of this chapter. There is, to begin with, the verse from Colossians quoted in the chapter: “All things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together.” (We find similar language, incidentally, in the Prologue of John, in the first chapter of Hebrews and in 1 Corinthians 8.) But I’d like to focus rather on a well-known verse from 1 Corinthians: 13.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Paul says we will see God face to face—“then”. But for now, we see as if in a mirror. The old translation is very poetic: “now we see in a glass darkly”. But a literal translation I think is more helpful: now we see in a mirror ε͗ν αἰνίγματι. Now we see in a mirror in a puzzle, in a riddle, in an enigma, enigmatically. ε͗ν αἰνίγματι.
When we look into a mirror, we see ourselves—and more than ourselves. Paul is probably remembering that in Genesis it says that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. What I think he is trying to say, in his poetic way, is that our humanity is a kind of reflection of divinity. Our humanity is an icon of God. The perfect icon, the perfect image or reflection of the divine nature is Jesus, who we speak of as both completely human and completely divine.
Exploring our humanity, gazing upon our humanity, then, is one of the ways we approach the mystery of God. To shift the mirror metaphor a little: our humanity is the lens through which we come to see divinity; and, conversely, divinity is the lens through which we come to see our humanity. Chapter Forty-One of the Rule speaks of the “springs of vital truth” found in psychology, the human sciences, literature, philosophy, drama, film, music, dance and the visual arts. “…springs of vital truth if we approach them keenly in the Spirit.” All these explore our humanity and, therefore, are reflections of the divine life. But in a mirror–enigmatically.
But the list only scratches the surface. If music, which at one level is proportionalities of sound waves manipulated through time, why not the underlying mathematics? If dance, why not the underlying physics and anatomy? If visual arts, why not the study of optics? If psychology, why not neurology? If literature, why not linguistics? I think you can see my trajectory. I think all fields of inquiry can be “…springs of vital truth if we approach them keenly in the Spirit.” Including what we call the “hard sciences”. Granted: music is a very different thing from mathematics—they are different kinds of conversations, with different frameworks and ground rules. Physics is very different from dancing. Optics is very different from paintings.
But a Christian worldview would scoop it all up. Truth is truth, wherever and however we find it. “All things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things and in him all things hold together.” The Living Word, the Logos (as John’s Gospel calls him) is present in and through all human exploration that seeks truth. And, we might add, all human endeavor that seeks to embody grace. And, we might add further, not only grace of the theological kind, but grace wherever we find it, whether it be in dancing or singing or arranging flowers. Or mathematics. Scientists and mathematicians speak of “elegance”.
“The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, who has made him known.” [John 1: 17-18] It is Jesus, the Living Word, the Logos, who embodies grace and truth in this world. We human beings are agents of creative embodiment. In an ancient hymn we sing that “God is love, and where love is, God himself is there.” We could just as well sing, “God is grace and truth, and where grace and truth are, God himself is there.” And since all things came into being through him, both grace and truth can be thought of in the broadest possible way.
Christians in some times and places have sought to construct around themselves a kind of pious cocoon. Christians have, for example, shielded themselves from scientific conversation lest a too-limited worldview be threatened. But if God is to be “seen” in the reflection of our humanity, we need to engage the full scope of human endeavor—unshielded by cocoons of carefully (and fearfully) constructed pieties. A lively spirituality will expose us, open us up to God’s world, not shut us off from it. A rule of life should be a “Framework for Freedom”, not for captivity.
Cultivating a wide range of interests can be a spiritual practice. The “maturing of our minds in Christ” can be an exploration, not only of our humanity, but of the mind of Christ, the mind of Christ as revealed in the world Christ has spoken into existence. An exploration into the countless ways the grace and truth of Christ are revealed, and the countless ways we ourselves may incarnate the grace and truth of Christ.
In Christ, we welcome grace in all its guises and truth in all its manifestations. And in welcoming grace and truth and love in all their marvelous epiphanies, we welcome him. And in welcoming him, we welcome ourselves, our true selves.