When we want only answers, dear God, create in us the space for wonder. Amen
Jodi Picoult, in her work My Sister’s Keeper, writes: “Kids think with their brains cracked wide open; becoming an adult, I’ve decided, is only a slow sewing shut.”
But there is truth in this. Unfortunately I do think that as we age there is a tendency to get more narrow, less trusting, more set in our ways. We change from wonder to cynicism, from faith to fear: we lose our innocence.
Jesus recognized this and it was the reason, I think, that he was so keen on kids – aware of their intuitive grasp of the Kingdom of God: unless you become as a child, you will not enter the kingdom.
Jesus was not talking about where you go after you die. Rather, he wants you to be aware and active in the kingdom of the here and now! He was talking about the attitude you take into life – your life.
If you are going to be present to the presence of God in the present moment – well then; Openness to wonder, openness to your own truth; openness to the wisdom of others, openness to the truth of God; holding things loosely… these are the attributes of a child of God – of any age.
Now don’t get me wrong because I agree with the great Richard Dawkins who once said: “By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.” Certainly not – God needs all parts of our bodies – particularly our brains.
The good news of Jesus Christ grounds us in a narrative (our Bible) and ethic (how we treat one another) and world-view: life has meaning and is good; life is worth living; evil doesn’t get the final say; all things move towards reconciliation. This is the foundation of our faith – this is what we teach from cradle to grave.
The good news of Jesus Christ, I think, helps keep us open, cracked wide open and vulnerable, questioning, even doubting, open to experiences that stretch and cause us to wonder. The faith journey, I believe, is a) reclaiming, remembering, and re-learning this intuited knowledge that you are loved and worthy and b) letting go of all this false stuff that keeps you from the freedom of faith, hope and active love.
Now I know that is not how secular culture views Christianity, and religion in general, and often times I agree with the critique. I forget what book I was reading but it was about why people do not find Christianity attractive and my recollection of the reasons included these: “judgmental,” “closed minded,” and “anti-science,” among several others. Indeed we are sometimes.
But at our best, when we are a Learning Community (the third of our five core values) exploring and deepening our faith, we become like Jodi Picoult’s children: “cracked open,” and then we are actually pretty useful in this world – we actually bring something real to the table which is a worldview of wonder and awe, of interest and impetuosity, of curiosity and joy; seeking after truth. THIS is what Jesus taught and lived.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those who are merciful, and pure in hearts and peacemakers.” This is what we are to learn and how we are supposed to act.
It will take a lifetime to discover what that means; and it might take eternity for us to finally get it. But this is what we, as Christians, believe and offer the world. And so we need to learn our story and struggle with it and be re-shaped in the learning, just as Jacob wrestled with the angel at Peniel and had his name changed.
Faith is not clutching to old fashioned and misguided interpretations – but rather seeking for the truth behind all things.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” the author of Proverbs writes.
But “fear” does not mean being scared to death that you might get punished for the wrong answer.
“Awe” is what the writer means – that which draws you closer is what is being talked about. It is about inquisitiveness that there is “truth out there!” that needs to be discovered and interpreted for the living of these days; it is about moving from grace to grace, from knowledge to power, being stripped down to the basics and being set free.
“Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Fools, in this biblical view, don’t want to be engaged; they want to be told what do and think and how to behave. They want simple answers that close down questions and limit experiences; it is too scary otherwise. Much of what passes as Christian teaching is foolish as teachers split hairs about doctrine and dogma and what is necessary to get into heaven and who is going to hell.
And we live in a time when fools in the public arena peddle fear and celebrate ignorance and lift up foolishness like it is a virtue: fear of immigrant and foreigner, conspiracy theories about climate change and birth certificates, foolish chatter and demeaning talk; all puffed up; it is embarrassing and dangerous. And you and I know better.
I was reading about the psychologist David Kolb – perhaps you know of him, this was all new to me – but it was helpful in getting me to think about how a church becomes a learning community – how we each help each other grow in our faith and stay open to surprise and change.
Kolb talks about four stages of learning:
“Effective learning is seen when a person progresses through a cycle of four stages: of (1) having a concrete experience followed by (2) reflection on that experience which leads to (3) the formation of generalizations which are (4) then used to test your hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences.
Faith and science using the same method of discovery…who knew!
Maybe you have experienced God’s love in some real way; you have seen poverty up close; you have canvassed a neighborhood (which you can do this afternoon!) served at the pantry, ate with a Muslim, had your nephew “come out” to you; you engaged in a dynamic bible study; you read a book or a column in a newspaper from an author you don’t agree with – all of these are cracking you wide open.
Well, we need to reflect with each other about those experiences; what do they mean to us, how do we interpret them; we need to study together about root causes and consequences; we need to follow the money and see who has the power to change… we need to know our tradition, our scripture – how has the believing community thought, interpreted and acted rightly and wrongly through the centuries; we need to know what other communities and traditions have to say about these things – and then we put our knowledge to action in order to refine and learn more.
This is exciting to me and a model I think for on going faithful learning – life-long learning: Experience, reflection, testing and action.
When the rabbis got together to discuss scripture – they weren’t looking for the “right” answer – they were open to exploring the multiple ways that God’s word could be interpreted – they saw their learning as a fragrant offering and of course when you have three rabbis you get five interpretations!
Leave it to Pope Francis to speak truth: “Even today there is a dictatorship of a narrow line of thought” which kills “people’s freedom, their freedom of conscience,” “This is the drama of the closed heart, the drama of the closed mind, and when the heart is closed, this heart closes the mind, and when the heart and mind are closed there is no place for God.”
And not only is closed-mindedness detrimental to the personal connection to God, but it is dangerous for society. “There is no possibility of dialogue, there is no possibility to open up to new things which God brings with the prophets. They killed the prophets, these people; they close the door to the promise of God. When this phenomenon of narrow thinking enters human history, how many misfortunes. We all saw in the last century, the dictatorships of narrow thought, which ended up killing a lot of people, but when they believed they were the overlords, no other form of thought was allowed. This is the way they think.”
Pope Francis ends: “Be humble and pray that the Lord always gives us the freedom of an open heart, to receive his Word which is joy and promise and covenant! And with this covenant move forward!”
Yes, this is a word you and I need to hear today as we continue to become a learning community – exploring and deepening our faith; growing up.
Being cracked wide open to wonder, and engaged for action.
God bless you!