Beyond Knowledge – Br. Luke Ditewig
Podcast: Play in new window | Download
Much anxiety stems from what we don’t know and can’t know, especially what will happen. Fearing uncertainty, we often focus on what knowledge we have as something to grasp.
Nicodemus, a religious leader, comes to Jesus sounding confident. “We know who you are. We know what is possible and impossible. No one can do the signs you are doing apart from God, so we know that you are a teacher from God.”
Jesus replies, “No one can see the kingdom without being born from above.”
“How is that possible?” Nicodemus asks. “Can one enter the womb again?”
Jesus says, “One must be born of water and spirit, must be born from above.”
“How is that possible?” Nicodemus asks. Now he clearly doesn’t understand.
Jesus is neither direct nor clear. There are still many ideas for what “of water and spirit” means. Perhaps the language confuses Nicodemus. Perhaps it’s the radical reversal. Nicodemus was born in the established, assumed way, from a Jewish mother. Part of his trouble may be from being an insider. That others can enter God’s family from outside is bewildering.[i]
Nicodemus comes confident in his knowledge, thinks he knows who Jesus is, what is possible, what makes sense, therefore what must be true. Nicodemus comes at night, a sign that he’s in the dark, that he cannot see, that he does not know.
Such certainty traps. Holding so tight to tradition and reason restricts hearing God. The Spirit moves like wind, blowing where it will. We cannot predict nor contain. When we think we’ve grasped God, we are overly confident in our knowledge. God is always more. As religious people we can be too certain about our religious knowledge and not hear the news, good and often disturbing news of Jesus.
What do we not see or know because of containers we’ve constructed? It’s may not be new yet we have forgotten. As descendants of Abraham, we are blessed so that allpeople may be blessed. Reading the Gospel of John, we hear from chapter one Jesus comes expanding God’s family to all people: “To all who received him, who called on his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”[ii]No matter lineage or background, all can be born of the Spirit. Everyone is invited to be children of God.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” We also heard it in the Letter to the Romans: “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
To those already inside, this may be disturbing that others will join. To those on the margins, this is especially good news of welcome and belonging. Insiders may not realize their own position, their own need. Everyone is welcome, at home, belonging as God’s children.
As adults, we may be uncomfortable hearing ourselves called children. We still have much to learn. Perhaps “born from above” is Jesus’ invitation to “not knowing,” to taking a childlike perspective.[iii]Countering serious adults who strive for certainty, Jesus invites a childlike playfulness, a way of becoming. Grownups get trapped in reasoning, in quests for certainty, right and wrong, and social acceptance. Like Nicodemus, we think we know. If we’re not sure, we may ask in secret to not be seen by others.
A childlike perspective is playful. Open to questions. Exploring possibilities widely. To play is to gaze in wonder. To do something simply because it delights. Act with freedom and inhibition, unconcerned about what others may think. Get down low and get up close to look. Try it out. Take risks. Be vulnerable.
A playful perspective faces the unknown with courage to discover, with risk to behold. In play, we let down our guard. We need play in our relationships to show up as we are. There is more to relating than behaviors in which we feel familiar and confident. Risking the new takes us further. A childlike playfulness ushers in becoming more.
A childlike prayerfulness opens us to more. Pray as you can, as you already do. And take a risk, try something new. There are endless ways to pray. In the face of anxiety and uncertainty, play with your prayer, going beyond seeming proficiency. Try a medium with which you’re not familiar and discover what unfolds.
I find it helpful returning to crayons or trying pastels or paints or clay—something hands on. Coloring in a way we long haven’t, even doing so down on the floor, helps prompt a childlike perspective. Put color on the page and play. Be simple and gentle with yourself. Rather than seeking to know, just be. Surprisingly, it’s then that we see.
Playfulness goes beyond knowledge, beyond definitions or grasping. A playful perspective is open to mystery. Today we celebrate the Trinity, one God in three persons. The divine nature as a community of persons is not logical, not to be grasped. Rather than knowing, join our brothers and sisters, all the children of the world, playfully praying with God who is mystery.
[i]Frances Taylor Gench (2007) Encounters with Jesus: Studies in the Gospel of John. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, p21.
[iii]Jean Vanier (2004) Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John. New York: Paulist Press, p75.
Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.
Wonderful sermon, Br. Luke! I needed to hear it. I am the person you described in your opening sentence.I am also the person who needs to leeds Dolly Parton’s advice in her song, ” I Hope You Dance”. While I believe
in God’s grace and love; listening for that is most difficult during trying times
Thank you. I recognize that I am a child of God and he is my father. I like to play, explore and have fun. I have two masters degrees so I am not always childish but when I walk I stop and admire nature as I go and I know people think I am crazy talking to the birds and squirrels and my resident skunk who shows up at midnight for a late supper. Thank you for confirming it is OK!
What fun! You remind us that faith is multifaceted. I’m sure our Lord laughed and played. I love imagining Him this way…so approachable while awesome. Thank you for this perspective. Mary
Hearing these words from a serious monk makes them more real to me. Thank you.
I live in a children’s camp. You should hear what they say in Chapel on Sunday mornings.
It would make you cry. They are wonderful. You must become as a child to enter THE
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN !
A beautiful invitation. I have been reading much about icons lately and how they are written, expertise beyond my abilities–but how much I appreciate them. I have a box of crayons and a new sketch book…O the possibilities of prayer and freedom I can enter as a child. Thank you for your lovely words.
I needed to hear this today, and am so thankful I did. Thank you, Brother Luke. 🙂
Well that was a breath of fresh air! Thank you Br. Luke. Elizabeth Hardy+
Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of dancing with a group of ladies and we too have found prayerful experience in dance and in pastel drawing. It has been a great source of healing and hope for us all!
This message is truly a blessing! God gives a gift of creativity to each one of us. We need to be free to enjoy it. It’s wonder if you to remind us!
God teaches us through the ambiguity of discovery what it means to learn who He is and to trust His perfect will.
In the childlike depth of play, we open our hearts to joy, to the realization of God’s presence in our lives, and to ways He speaks to us, listens to us, and answers prayer. We see in spirit what it means to stand in wonder at His glory, His provision in all things, and His protection.
Thank you for encouraging us who learn through play and others to rediscover ifs path.
Saying “I don’t know” can at first be challenging but ultimately liberating. A false certainty can feel deadening.
Thank you Br. Luke. This is a great message for we who were raised to be “adult children”. I must have been absent the day that this was covered in “Growing Up 101” :)!