Lenten Preaching Series: A Framework for Freedom

SSJE Rule of Life, Chapter Forty-One: The Maturing of Our Minds in Christ

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.

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  1. Peter Rosenmeier on July 25, 2016 at 10:03

    I just spent the weekend at Emery House (wonderful, thank you!), and while there read Christopher Bryant’s (SSJE) 1972 book Depth Psychology and Religious Belief. Very much in line with this way of thinking, God calls me to wrestle with an understanding of psychology, neurology, and the science of human behavior as I apply Christ’s teaching in my life. What a wonderful journey, but challenging.

  2. Jose E. Latour, Esq. on July 23, 2016 at 10:56

    Br. Mark, I really enjoyed this when you posted it a few years ago and today’s “Cocoon” daily word email led me back here. As human scientific knowledge had so dramatically increased in the most recent decades and centuries, the mystical has been increasingly replaced with the measurable: a demonically possessed person then is a person who suffers from epilepsy or schizophrenia today. But I’ve never understood how so many Christians view humanity’s increasing understanding of the how the universe as some sort of threat to or conflict with their faith.

    To me, it’s quite simple: this extraordinary God created this unfathomable universe and everything in it. In doing so, God created innumerable miracles and wonders through rules he put in place for the universe, rules we, created in his image, began deciphering after our creation and continue deciphering today. The theory of relativity, gravity, the speed of light are notable examples of some of the rules we, with a faint glimmer of understanding via our likeness to God, have been able to come to understand. But the fact that we come to understand one of God’s infinite universal rules hardly reduces the quality, magic, and wonder of his miracles, be it a newborn kitten or the casual discovery of 1300 previously unknown galaxies (as happened last week.)

    I have never doubted how God delights in seeing us grow toward him and how he is cheering for us always. I believe that every single time we finally figure out the physical logic via which one of his miracles operates, God revels with delight at our increasing understanding of his creation. Scientific discovery does not diminish the wonder and miracle of God’s creations; to the contrary, it lets us look at these miracles a little more carefully, with a greater appreciation and love for the one who engineered all these wonders!

    • Lynne on July 30, 2016 at 15:34

      Yes! Yes! Surely my “aha!” in the moment that I grasped a mathematical point in my quantum chemistry class was as delightful for God as my “ahhh!” when I looked out at the sunrise this morning.

  3. Elizabeth Cook on July 23, 2016 at 07:26

    You are an amazing channel of God’s wisdom
    Thank you for your words
    When your name appears I get excited
    To read the Spirit coming thru your pen
    Of San Miguel encounter

  4. Fred Adams on January 2, 2016 at 14:24

    Bro. Mark,
    I teach cell biology and histology, and always remark about the miracle in each cell–why different?–how can all this be? etc. deeper and deeper in each cell. it is God in every minute detail of every cell. How pervasive is that? So all is a manifestation of God. How fantastic. so the study of hard science is an icon of the inexpressiblity of God’s incredible hand on everything.


  5. Gwendolyn Peters on December 30, 2015 at 20:31

    Brother ,

    Thank you for your insightful word. It has given me a lot to think about. Bless You! !!

  6. Margaret Dungan on December 30, 2015 at 13:22

    Thank you Br. Mark,

    This “Word ” means so much to me. It marks, leads and confirms me on the path that I am presently trying to follow. I am not sure how much time I will have to follow all the paths that you have opened up as I am now 81 years old but I am more grateful to you than I can say for this conformation and exploration of this path that you have given me.

  7. Marta E on December 30, 2015 at 08:12

    The expansive and all-encompassing nature of this concept is amazing.

    I “second” Margo’s comment and that of others regarding the opportunity for women to participate more fully (in depth and breadth) in a Rule of Life commensurate with that of SSJE (for men).

  8. Muriel Akam on September 28, 2015 at 12:37

    I read this after a lovely walk in the September sunshine where I experienced a brief moment of realisation of this wonderful world being created by God and us beings being created in God’s own image.

  9. MIchael on September 27, 2015 at 16:54

    ‘Fearful piety” is an interesting term and one that many religions have adopted at various times in their development. To run away from material, ideas and concepts that somehow challege or contradict our current thinking in not in anyone’s best interest. To listen, reflect, accept in part/all or reject various aspects makes us thinker not radicals unwilling to support the church’s current dogma. To use or human will and the grace that accompanys that will is doing God’s work. It’s what we have been designed to do

  10. Christopher Engle Barnhart on September 27, 2015 at 09:24

    Thank you for your insightful words. Each of us are on a path, a journey. SSJE Rules of Life provide “guide posts” to living a Christian life. “Seek and yea shall find.”

  11. Carol on January 8, 2015 at 11:19

    Read this this morning as the sun was rising, beautiful. Thank you.

  12. Jeff Lowry on January 7, 2015 at 09:36

    Bro. Mark,

    Thank you for this beautiful sermon/reflection!
    I have always valued friendships and sermons which challenge me to think and to act. Thank you to the SSJE brothers for creating “Brother Give us a Word”! It is a wonderful outreach ministry. To extend what you wrote about the Rule: SSJE is doing just that with this ministry. I am an Associate of Holy Cross. While I love them, have been socialized in their norms and mor’es and have felt fed spiritually by them – over the years – I have felt that they (as with other orders) have missed the boat and are missing the boat in terms of pursuing new avenues to feed their flock. I am really not trying to put them down I speak of them only because of my nearly 25 year association with them. My spiritual journey has taken me to The Anglican Church (APCK). I love individual parishoners’ devotion to our Lord and to church traditions. However the church has yet to nurish with the development of a publication similar to Forward Movement’s Day by Day.

  13. Cindy Curry on January 6, 2015 at 16:19

    ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ John 3:30 …. &, mysteriously, as He increases – so do our true selves….
    LAUS DEO!!!!

  14. anders on January 6, 2015 at 09:47

    “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.” Thank you.

  15. Margo on January 6, 2015 at 09:30

    Br, Mark, Thank you for this. I never doubted it but it helps to have your clout behind it.
    However I find your offered perspectives missing two areas the Spirit is leading in today.
    “No process whose goal is the limited or exclusive security of an individual , an interest group or even a national community alone can be regarded as unequivocally good in Christin terms because of the underlying aspiration to a state of security in isolation.” Rowan Williams retired archbishop of Canterbury. How about the study of economics or housekeeping especially at this time?
    How about the feminist critic of Christianity thus far practiced? 50-51% of world’s population are female and they don’t tell the same story as men. We are not always either Madonnas or wanton. For wholeness of life what about this contribution?. Margo

  16. The Rev. Juan Victor George on January 6, 2015 at 08:11

    Br. Mark

    I really, really LOVE your reflection on this Epiphany Day. Thanks/Gracias.


  17. Judy on March 16, 2014 at 11:01

    Having just been introduced to this SSJE a few months ago, I am so awed by the depth of knowledge and wisdom in the sermons. This is the second time I’ve listen to this particular sermon and I find so much in it that I could easily listen many more times to receive it all.

    I hope all of the brothers realize what a gift this website is. I wish many more people could be introduced to it. I’ll do my best to spread the word.

  18. Janet Kuyendall on September 22, 2013 at 16:11

    How I admire your love for expansiveness! We can not contain God and in our human efforts to be more like Him, we must not contain ourselves. Thank you, thank you, Brother Mark, for your constant reminder.

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