Contemplative Prayer in the Modern World

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Contemplative Prayer in the Modern World

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This afternoon, before starting on the main subject, I'd like to go back to what we were talking about before, ways of prayer, and mention one other very simple way of prayer, which is a kind of way of extending prayer, allowing it to leak into all of the corners of our life, all the times during the day when perhaps we feel kind of closed into a smaller world. So, I found it in an article by Henri Nouwen some years ago in America, he's a writer you're probably familiar with, he's got a good number of books out, very kind of lively personality, very active mind, N-O-U-W-E-N, have some of you read his books? Reaching Out, The Wounded Healer, a number of those things are pretty well known. He had tried various things, he's a person who's always had a kind of pull towards the monastic life, he spent some time at, where is it, Genesee in New York with Abbott Bamberger there and he wrote a book about Thomas Merkel, and he had tried many of the monastic ways


of prayer, he's trying to find a way of continual prayer. He took that expression, pray constantly, that we find in the New Testament, he took it very seriously, as did the early monks. But he found he wasn't getting anywhere, he wasn't making any headway, he tried the Jesus prayer and it only seemed to make him more nervous, he was nervous enough already. So he was in quite a predicament, until he started reflecting that there was a constant conversation going on in his mind already, that is that there were thoughts moving in his mind all the time, and maybe the solution was not to push him out and substitute something else but to find a way of opening those thoughts to the presence of God. So his technique turned out to be this, simply to tune in, rather, in a more conscious way to that movement of thoughts in his mind already and then open them up to the Lord's presence. And what was a kind of monologue, a kind of, you know how it goes, a kind of compulsive self-centered monologue that goes on in our minds, worrying about this and that, thinking


about this and that, kind of, it's got a center of self-concern, but it keeps buzzing. John Cashion compares it to a mill which grinds wheat. The mill is turning all the time, but it's up to you what you're going to put into it. So you can put in good grain and out will come some fine flour, or you can put in garbage and out will come more garbage. And of course, the world of today presents us with a lot of garbage, so we can be grinding out a lot of it too. It's up to us what to put into it. But that's a digression from what I was saying about Nowen's method. His method is simply to open up that conversation to God and be more and more frequently aware of the presence of God right with your own thoughts. In other words, allow him, encourage him to come in. You'd be surprised what happens. We find that the tension, that the anxiety of those thoughts can very gradually give way to a gentleness, to a kind of security. We're probably not going to feel anything in particular, nothing dramatic, we're not going to hear anything in particular, and yet that conversation is going to start to


change. In a little while it may become a dialogue, it may become a conversation with him, at least part of the time it's certain to be. That's something we can do at any time. The method of just opening it all up to the presence of the Lord, the simplest thing in the world. They used to talk in the old monastic tradition about the memory of God. Well, this is the memory of God, but the memory of God not as something else in your life, but opening up anything and everything in your life and especially in your inner world to the Lord. So just boring a hole through that wall of noise that's there and allowing his presence to enter in again and again and again until it becomes a continual companionship. He had a little discipline for doing that, for keeping it working, and it had only three steps. First of all, set aside a special time for prayer each day. I think some of the things that we were saying this morning could make a person think that as long as you get to that center point that that's all you need, then you can go back and live as usual. That you don't need to set aside a particular time for prayer because prayer is implicit


in everything that you do. I wouldn't want to say that at all, because even when we become able to relate to the Lord at any moment and sort of in the middle of everything else, as if we're driving from place to place using the Jesus prayer, well that's fine, but we're never going to be able to keep that up unless we've got a time when we do nothing but pray during the day. It may not be a very long time, it may be only twenty minutes, it may be half an hour. But we've got to have some time when we do nothing but pray. Just like the Sabbath, just like Sunday, you know, the Lord's Day. We've got to have a time set aside for nothing but the Lord. That's the only way we'll be able to find him at other times and in between other activities. Second little step was to read the Gospel for the next day each evening before going to bed. Now this is his way, it's not a rule at all, it's just what he adopted, but I think it works for a lot of people. In other words, to take one text of scripture, especially a text of scripture from the New Testament where Jesus is present, and to read it just as if you were eating something.


Just get it into yourself and in a way so that you can recall it. Just absorb that text. You don't have to remember every word, not at all, but have a general sense of the scene or of what takes place. And then the next day, set aside a time for looking at Christ as he appears in that Gospel reading. This may seem to have nothing to do with what we were talking about, that opening of the thoughts to the Lord, but actually it does. Here you're working from the other side. It's like boring through a tunnel from two sides. On one side, opening up the mind from within to the presence of the Lord. On the other side, beginning to feed the mind with that presence through the word itself. And you'll find that the two borings will join, and that that opening will occur, and that you will be able to recover the presence of the Lord. And an image of the Lord is a good thing to carry around with you. Maybe only a little bit of light that's come from the Gospel. Just a vague sense of Jesus, that's enough. It's enough to recall the presence.


His conclusion is this, prayer is neither more nor less than the constant practice of attending to God's presence in all times and in all places. You may remember Brother Lawrence and his simple method of the presence of God. It's the same kind of thing, because in the end, that's it. The presence of God, beyond and aside from all methods, is something that will fit anywhere. Anywhere except in the things that we wouldn't want God to see. Except in the places where we wouldn't permit God to enter. Those are the only places his presence won't come. So I think especially when we're in trouble, especially when we're anxious, especially when tension or pressure or worry or sorrow seems to force out the presence of God, all we have to do is to take one little move and we discover the presence of God more deeply in those places where we need him. Now this afternoon, this afternoon I wanted to talk about something a little bit different.


And there is such a thing as a wisdom theology, and it's very much connected with our prayer. But here we're talking once again about the mind and the way that the mind relates to prayer. It's a strange thing, if you look at the religious traditions of the world, look around at the eastern traditions, so on, Hinduism and Buddhism and even in Islam, look around and you'll find that most of the traditions of the world, the religious traditions, are wisdom traditions, okay? There's a kind of special consciousness of God, there's a special kind of mind that's cultivated. And strangely in Christianity we don't find it. And we begin to wonder what's happened. And whatever it was that happened, it's happened in the last 500 years. Because Christianity was a wisdom tradition up until that time. Up until the time roughly of the Renaissance and Reformation, the beginning of modern times. Now what do I mean by a wisdom tradition? Well, if you read contemporary theology, a lot of it can seem to be more like science


than like religion, certainly more like science than like poetry. Well, the old theology was poetic. It was not so much a matter of flat truth or plain truth or crisp dogmatic formulas or expressions. It was a matter of a truth which becomes part of you, a truth which somehow becomes one with your own being. It's a matter of a truth which immediately moves you. It's like a word that's never without the spirit. A truth that is immediately life, a truth that is immediately love, a truth that is immediately prayer. And somehow it was still all one thing. It hadn't split up into Christology and ecclesiology and fundamental theology and spirituality. Spirituality and theology were still one thing. So that if you had a spirituality, you had a theology. If you had a theology, you had a spirituality. If you were a theologian, as Evagrius says, you were a person of prayer. His definition of a theologian is one who prays, and therefore one who knows the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit by experience. That's where the theology came from.


Now things have got differentiated and split and dispersed in our modern world. But it is possible, once again, to find the trunk, to find the root where it all comes together. That's a big challenge for Christianity in our time. Now, on one side, we're talking about doing it in prayer, aren't we, by finding the center. Centering prayer by getting back to the heart, getting back to that point, somehow, where we're one within ourselves. We need to think of it also in terms of our mind, of getting our picture of reality back together so we can see it somehow all in one. And it's the same route that we follow. We follow the way into Christ, who is the one, who is the one word in whom all of the wisdom is contained. St. Paul says that all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are contained in him physically, bodily, because the word has become flesh. Now those are things that we can't understand in our ordinary way of thinking. Those are things that belong to a wisdom tradition. See, St. Paul is talking the language of wisdom there. It's not distinct ideas. Everything fuses and becomes one at this point.


We're talking about the center. The center is Christ. But Christ is not just a fact, or a being, or a person, a particular person. Christ is divine wisdom, which means that he is the root out of which everything comes. Now our mind needs to find that root in order to be fed. You know, when Jesus talks in chapter six about the bread of life, what's he talking about? Do you ever think about that? You know, it's a long chapter. It's about 60 or 70 verses in that chapter. Remember, after he multiplies the bread, and he's out in the desert there, and the Jewish people around him, and they've been impressed by the miracle, but then he starts to challenge them. He says, well, why did you come here? Was it because you saw a marble, a sign, or because you were filled with the bread? And then he begins to talk to them about the bread of life, and he says, well, don't go after the bread that only lasts for a little while. Don't labor for that. But work for the bread that lasts forever, the bread that my Heavenly Father will give.


Now, what is that bread? See, often when we hear Jesus talking about the bread of life, we interpret it immediately in terms of the Eucharist. Okay? That this bread, because we call the Eucharist the bread of life, and it is, isn't it? We say that this bread of life that Jesus is talking about is the Eucharist that we celebrate and that we take as Holy Communion, the body of the Lord. That's certainly true. But he's talking about something else, too. He begins that chapter without talking about giving his flesh and his blood, okay? He begins the chapter just talking about himself as the bread of life, and he means as wisdom. He means that he is the knowledge of God who comes to feed you. But he feeds you not through your mouth first, but through your mind first. Very simply through faith. Faith is like the mind as a mouth, which is taking in, which is nourishing itself with God, from which our being can be filled with the fullness of God. And Jesus is the divine wisdom. He's the tree of life, and the fruit, the bread, on the tree of life, who feeds us and fills us with that divine wisdom, in whom and in which all things are one.


Okay, that may sound too simple-minded, but this is a question of becoming simple-minded, of becoming children once again, but children of wisdom. Starting from the beginning, starting from the principle, and Jesus is the principle. The lines of our thinking may seem to become blurred. That's because we're discovering the root where all things are one. But we'll find that those lines become very sharp once again when we have to make a decision, when we have to decide what is of God and what is not. Just as they're very sharp for Jesus, he knows the difference. Everything doesn't just get confused, but we find the root of all reality. This theology is already very much in the New Testament. The New Testament is soaked with it, and especially John and Paul. And among John and Paul, between the two of them, especially John, see Paul is in love with wisdom, with Christ as wisdom. He says, I've considered everything to be dung, to be garbage, everything that I had, all my privileges, all my social status, all my learning, I consider it to be garbage in


comparison with the surpassing knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ. Christ for him is knowledge, and it's the simple knowledge before which, and in comparison with which, everything else is worthless in a sense, but inside which he finds everything else once again, but as it were turned inside out. This is what has turned Paul inside out, is this knowledge of Christ. He was a big wheel, he was an intellectual, a scholar, you know, kind of rabbi in the Pharisee school of his time, but he threw it all away. It was all turned inside out by Jesus, through the cross, the wisdom of the cross as he called it. The fathers of the church were writing this kind of Christian truth, this wisdom kind, and it lasted up through the monastic writers of the Middle Ages, St. Bernard in particular. Maybe John of the Cross is about the last of the tribe. And now something else has been substituted in the past four or five hundred years, something that we need very much. And I don't, in this way, mean to kind of denigrate or condemn the Christian thought


that's happened since then, especially contemporary theology, a lot of it's precious, but it needs to find its root once again, especially biblical scholarship needs to find its root once again, because it can become terribly fragmenting. You know how biblical scholars sometimes, as they seem to study the Bible, they seem to tear it apart until you've got nothing but a pile of sand, until you're not sure of anything. All you've got is maybes, all you've got is uncertainties. Maybe Jesus said it, maybe he didn't, maybe the community put it in, maybe it was the second century that it got put in there. And if you're not careful, everything will get shaken, everything will seem to get decomposed, so you have not one word, which is the revelation of God, but a pile of atoms, a pile of fragments. So the question is complementing that analysis by a very simple knowledge of God in Christ, which brings it all together again. The key to that is realizing that the word ultimately is one word, and that word is Christ. Christ is the heart and the totality of the revelation of God. Now that phase is enough to pull it all together again. We need the criticism, especially, for instance, so that we can be responsible Christians and


not just dreamers, not just kind of ivory tower, self-indulgent people who are content to remain in a kind of holy bliss while the world goes to ruin. It's the critical reason that makes us conscious of what the gospel really means, what the gospel really asks for, in terms of social response especially. There are glimmers of a new wisdom today, alongside this immense scientific culture that we have in the West. It's really science that determines our ways of thinking today, which is not bad, but it needs wisdom, because science without wisdom takes us right over the edge, as we see so clearly in the nuclear threat today. Our contact with the Eastern religions brings us back in touch with wisdom again. Also people like Jung, see Jung is a kind of a new school of wisdom in the West, growing out of the movement of psychology, growing out of the attempt to recover the psyche, to rediscover the soul of the human person, and in that way trying to get back to the unity. So, for instance, the cultivation of Jungian psychology at PECOS is an attempt to complement


the charismatic experience with a wisdom. The charismatic experience brings us once again into the, what do you call it, the initial experience of Christianity, the initial experience of the Holy Spirit, the baptismal experience, but then it needs something else if it's going to become a continuing journey. If people stop there, then they don't grow. They've got to find a way along the road, they've got to find some kind of guidance along the road, and that means a wisdom, they need a wisdom of growth. Now, here we run into two, there's a fork in the road at that point, and one road we would call a wisdom theology, the other road we call fundamentalism. See, there's a whole spectrum that stretches out, and on one side you have the fundamentalist answer, which is to hang on to what you've got, to interpret the word literally, and to grab on to it with as much muscle as possible, grab on to Christ in the same way and not let anything move, not let anything change. But what you do is grab on to the surface very often, and not realize the unity of the


word, and not begin to enter on that interior journey which the word is really asking of us. We have to follow Jesus into ourselves, through ourselves, into the darkness, and the road that we walk is a road of change, in other words, to follow Jesus means to be changed, means to be transformed. It's not just a path, a linear path, like the roads that we usually walk with our feet. Every step is a step of transformation, every step is a step of growth. So as we follow, we change. Now we also have the option of standing still, and very often the fundamentalist answer is the answer of standing still, in other words, to grab on to Jesus as it were the greatest thing I ever received in my life, now I'm saved and I'm going to stay right here, and anyone that moves beyond this point somehow is not in Christ. So to be faithful means to hang on. The option is to stand still or to grow, to hang on to the surface of the word, the letter as Saint Paul puts it, and sometimes even to use Christ as a weapon, to use Christ as


a hammer. It's an aggressive kind of Christianity. Or to begin to walk that way of wisdom, which means being willing to enter into my own darkness and to find the darkness in myself instead of in the other fellow. The one way is to identify myself as being different from the other person and superior because I have Christ and he doesn't have Christ, that's one way. The other option is to see Christ in the other person increasingly and to increasingly be willing to see the darkness in myself. Now that's a more difficult way, isn't it, but it's the only way to move. As long as I think I've got it and he hasn't got it, I'm deaf and dumb, I'm blind, I haven't got anywhere to go, I've got it all together. Now you hear a lot of that, you hear a lot of it on the radio, there are a lot of evangelists who talk that way, but Christianity, and particularly the Catholic tradition, which grows out of a deep wisdom tradition, has another way to lead us, and that's what I'm talking about, the way of growth. Now the use, for instance, of Jungian psychology is an attempt to walk that road.


So you'll see the Jungians talking about the shadow, okay, the discovery of your own shadow, the dark side of yourself, meeting that on the road, that dark person, that dark double of yourself on the road and being willing to accept him as part of yourself and to move beyond that point, discovering the anima or the animus, if you're a woman, the masculine part of yourself, if you're a man, the feminine part of yourself, and that means beginning to relate to your unconscious, beginning to relate to the whole of your being and not just talking from the top of your head, not just being confined to that kind of bright, lighted conscious rational room where our ego dwells, but beginning to know something about the whole house, the whole building, beginning to move in relation to our whole self. Now when we do that, it's not only confined to within ourselves, but we begin to move also with relation to the whole of mankind, with the whole of creation. So we begin to discover nature in a different way, we begin to discover other human beings in a different way, we begin to know them on another level and know them truly.


So either we stay locked up in that little room of the ego, or we begin to allow that wall to be broken through, which means to walk on this way of transformation, which is largely a descent, there's an awful lot of darkness along that way, but see, we're accepting the darkness because we know that the light that is in us is strong enough to bring us through that darkness, in fact to transform the very darkness into light. You know, I've always been impressed by an essay that I read by Thomas Merton one time called Light Out of Darkness, I forget which book it's in, but it's Seasons of Celebration, it's a book about the liturgy. Very simple thing, but he talks about the Easter Vigil, you know how the light comes out of darkness? The Easter Vigil is extremely, that's the center of our liturgical year, that's a very deep moment when we go out and we stand in the dark, I don't know if you do that in the parachute, and stand in the dark and light a fire, and then light this Paschal candle from the fire. Now, the idea is that Jesus has died, okay, that somehow the world has gone into an eclipse because the light of the world has gone out.


This Jesus who was walking around on the earth and who seemed to carry the secret of heaven and earth within himself, and to whom we'd become attached, we'd become his disciples, now he's disappeared. Because this is one of the fundamentalist ways to grab onto him, so he can't disappear, you don't let him go, because you've got him, he's yours. In this way, he disappears, he dies, the light goes out, you're completely in the darkness, and then out of that darkness shines this spark, and the spark becomes a candle flame, and then the candle flame is many candle flames, and then the church is filled with light, and you come in and you begin to sing Hallelujah. Out of darkness everything is born, out of darkness the light shines, okay, light out of darkness, it's very simple, but it's a key image in Christianity, now this is birth, this is new creation. Do you remember where St. Paul talks in 2nd Corinthians, he says, the God who said let light shine out of darkness, when did he do that? Remember the first day of creation, St. Genesis 1, and God says let there be light, and light shone out of the darkness, the God who said let light shine out of darkness has shone


in our hearts to give a knowledge of the glory of God on the face of Christ Jesus, remember? So the Paschal event, that Easter fire event in the midnight, dark, is reproduced in our own heart, but it is also the beginning of the recreation of the whole world. See the resurrection of Jesus symbolized by that spark of light in the darkness is also the beginning of the recreation, the new creation of the whole world. That's not just a figure of speech, that's a reality, but that involves a way of transformation, and the way of transformation has been a way of going into darkness, and in the darkness discovering the light, and that's what faith is, to have the courage to discover the light in the darkness, when you don't see it, but to know that even the darkness will be transformed into light, because God is more powerful in the darkness, because ultimately the light is the fact. Just go back and ask yourself, am I alive or not? And if I am alive, well, why am I alive? And does anything exist or doesn't it? And if it does, why does it? And there you are, with the one question, why does it all exist?


Why am I alive? And if I am alive, then light is more powerful than darkness, and the light will triumph. We're back at that moment in the darkness. We need the courage, again and again we have to find it, to start again in the darkness. That's what it's about. If we choose the light and grab onto the light so we can never let it go, then we'll stay right where we are. It's a well-lighted place, but we're not going anywhere. It's like sitting in a bus with the lights on, but staying there all night in the station. We've got to allow the light to go in order to move anywhere. So we're back to that kind of axis, that slender thread of faith, again and again and again. It's as if that's the deepest thing in us. The ability to say, yes, on that level, to say, yes, Lord, I will continue, I will go on. I don't know what you're doing, I seem to be falling apart. There doesn't seem to be anything left to hang on to, and then we're free, because it's all inside of us. We can't see it. The reason why we can't see it is because it's inside of us, because it's become one with us. The light has become one with us. So, I would say that fundamentalism and wisdom are the two opposite poles on the spectrum.


And this is not an abstraction today, I'm not just talking about history, this is very much with us. And it has all kinds of repercussions, whether you're talking about economics or politics or foreign policy or psychology or whatever. It determines the kinds of choices we make, the kinds of choices we make in our life, in the different worlds that we live in, the economic world, the political world, the world of relationship particularly, but also the way that we look at ourselves. Fundamentalism tends to ask, are you saved, have you professed Jesus Christ as Lord, have you given yourself over to Jesus, have you answered the call? Now, that's a good question to ask once or twice, but not for your whole life long, okay? Because you can't do that once and then just stop there. It's not as if it's yes or no, it's a continual walk, it's a continual journey. Jesus says, follow me. He doesn't say climb into the boat and you're saved, he says, follow me. And so we have to follow again and again through some very dark places, where maybe we can hear the voice and we don't see him, or maybe we don't even hear the voice anymore.


Wisdom will ask, have you begun to walk along the road? Are you following him? Is your heart beginning to be changed? Are you finding courage in the daily struggle of faith? Is your love broadening to embrace everyone, everyone including your enemies? That's a hard one, that love your enemies business. That's total darkness. Where do we get the light there? How do we start? But that's where we have to go in a sense, it's right through the eye of the darkness. That's what the tradition tells us. The old monks used to say, the most precious thing you can do, the thing that will change you the fastest, is to pray for your enemy. Now the enemy may be a very small deal, it may be somebody who stepped on our toe, but nevertheless that's our enemy at that moment, that's where there's that black cloud between me and the other person, and that's where the change is going to happen, if we can have the faith just to sit there with it until the light pours through it. That's why I think in the charismatic movement forgiveness is of such key importance for healing. It's the same thing we're talking about. In order to break through the wall between God and us, we've got to allow him to break


through the wall between us and one another. We're one flesh somehow in him, and the life can't move in that body unless we allow those walls to be broken down. We can't do it, but he can. Our part is just faith and persistence, a kind of dogged faith. The rule of Saint Benedict from the 6th century belongs to this wisdom tradition that I'm talking about, and there's a beautiful passage in it towards the end, it's based on Saint Paul, but it's got its own originality too. This is how it goes, as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness, and sometimes you'll hear that kind of thing, even on the radio, no doubt in all good faith and sincerity, as there's a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God, God who is love, God who is not this or that party, and leads to hell, so there's a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and to everlasting life. There's so much religion which is bitter, there's so much religion which is judgmental, there's so much religion which is condemnatory, and which wouldn't even exist in a way unless


it had somebody to shake the finger at, or to shake the fist at. There's so much religion which somehow gets most of its energy from anti-communism. I'm sure anti-communism is a great thing, but it becomes a religion in our country, and that's dangerous, okay? If the deepest thing in our life is fear, if the deepest motivation, the thing that really moves us is panic, is fear of communism, or fear of the Russians, or fear of heaven knows who, then there's something deeply, deeply wrong with it. There's something deeper than that. What Jesus gives us is confidence in human beings, is confidence in humankind, is a belief that he's made everybody good at the bottom. There's nothing that bad and not evil that love won't conquer it. I'm not making any comment on nuclear submarines, or whether we need them, or how big they should be, or whatever, but somehow this has got to be the deepest thing in our life, and the deepest determining thing in our judgments, which can be pretty risky sometimes. This then is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love. They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other.


See, what St. Benedict is, is he's boiled the world down to a little family, he's boiled the world down, and all its problems, down to a little monastic community. Maybe thirty people, maybe half a dozen people, maybe only two, but this is the work they have to do. And if they do this work, then somehow they're solving the problems of the world in their own way, because they're allowing God to come into the world, God who is love. This then is the good zeal. They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, instead of... This is another kind of competition. Our American competition tends to go in another direction. Supporting with greatest patience one another's weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. This is another kind of competition. The opposite of our ordinary competition. That means that obedience is not supposed to be just vertical to some superior, some authority figure. But basically, the deepest obedience, besides obedience to God, is the obedience of submission to one another, of doing the other person's will. Of course, there are times when we shouldn't do that, when the other person's will is obviously


manipulative, unjust, and so on. There are times when we have to stand up, even stand up and fight. But by and large, this is what goes against the grain, and this is what works. This is where we move. This is where we take a step on the journey, and learn how to do this. Because the real enemy is inside, the real enemy is that own ego of ours. Or, as Thomas Merton likes to call it, the false self. The false self. The self that exists in contrast to others. The false that... The self that identifies itself by the way other people think of it. The self that identifies itself by its social status, by its merit badges, by all of the praise and approval that comes back from other people. Now, when Saint Paul says, what I had before I threw away and considered as dung for the surpassing knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ, that's what he's talking about. He's talking about all of that stuff. See, he's talking about a whole self that he had that he threw away, which was based on what? The works of the law.


Based on doing it better than the other guy. Based on my superior performance. You remember the parable that Jesus tells of the Pharisee and the Publican? Now, the poor Publican, he's a sinner and he knows it. He's in a lousy profession, which would be considered outside the pale, you know, almost incompatible with religion. He's an extortionist and some kind of a, what do you call it, collaborator. And he goes into the temple and just doesn't even venture to look up at the altar, he just says, Lord have mercy on me. And the Pharisee who's behind there, or I guess up ahead, he says, Lord, I thank you that I'm not like other men. For instance, like this poor slob here. Because I fast twice a week and I pay my tithes and I do all these good things and aren't you proud of me, Lord? And Jesus says, no, the Lord wasn't interested in him at all, he wasn't interested in that kind of talk. But rather, the Publican went down justified because his heart was broken. A Pharisee's heart's not going to be broken.


Do you see those two roads once again? The one road where the heart begins to open, where we begin to allow ourselves to be broken, that means to be changed. Allow the shell to be broken. Allow God to reach in and grab us and change us and make us be born again. I mean, really born again. And the other way, where we're always getting the better of somebody else, where we're always somehow getting larger in our own sight. The words that John the Baptist said really have sense for us too. He must become greater and I must become smaller. But you realize that as we become smaller and he becomes greater, the he that becomes greater is one with us. The he that becomes greater, the child that's being born, is ourselves, ourselves in Christ. So it's as if we've got one self on the outside there which is continually preening itself in a mirror and looking for good feedback, you know. And then there's another self inside which is very vulnerable and which does not construct its own well-being. It does not manipulate the world in order to get the right kind of music back from the


world. It doesn't know how, because it's in God's hands. But it comes from God and it's in God and it is the Son of God. It's Christ, that other self. It's the Christ self. It's the new man that St. Paul talks about being born within us. I'd like to, I don't want to go too long, I'd like to do an example of this kind of reading of the scripture using a passage or two of St. John's Gospel. As I mentioned, in this wisdom tradition, the scripture is basic and you try to read the scripture in such a way as to see the word as one word and to allow the different senses of scripture to speak to you, the different levels of scripture to speak to you. Instead of taking it just literally, you'll read it literally and then you'll go a little deeper and listen to it and see if it has something else to say on another level. Now, in the New Testament, the Gospels are very rich.


You take any of the parables of Jesus and you can read them on about four levels, except when you get to the fourth level, you can't really call it one level because it seems to go everywhere, it seems to bring in everything. Even the acts that Jesus does, when Jesus curses the fig tree for instance, we had that in our reading yesterday I guess, what does it mean? You can read that on deeper and deeper levels of meaning. But especially in St. Paul and St. John, you find this to be true. And I'd say to the greatest extent in John's Gospel, John's Gospel is like the poem of Christ. It's like the Gospels which have been digested by a very meditative, contemplative art that was favored by Jesus and then finally which have been put together into this poem, this artistic creation actually, which is the creation of the human heart and the Holy Spirit together and which contains the whole mystery in some way, but in these marvelous symbols. And among the symbols you'll find that the women are particularly rich in St. John.


Read about the interaction of Jesus with the various women in the Gospel of John and you'll get closer to the heart of the mystery that's in John's Gospel. Among these episodes in John's Gospel, I'd like to take the wedding feast of Cana, because I think it's particularly precious. So let's just look at that, and this is an example of a kind of approach to scripture which leads to prayer and in which we see it's in John Chapter 2, which we seem to get closer to the heart of the Word. You'll find that if you go deeper into this wedding feast of Cana in John's Gospel, it begins to pull towards itself all of the other parts of the Gospel. It's been said that this is the key to the reading of John's Gospel, that you can interpret the whole of John through this, what happens at Cana. Remember, this is the place where John says that this was the first of Jesus' signs and he manifested his glory and his disciples believed in him. Now as the first of the signs, it sort of orients the rest of the signs, and in a sense it contains the rest of the signs and has a certain fullness of symbolism which includes everything else


Jesus is going to do. Okay here we are, John Chapter 2, beginning with the first verse, On the third day there was a marriage at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the marriage with his disciples. When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, They have no wine. And Jesus said to her, O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come. His mother said to the servants, Do whatever he tells you. Now six stone jars were standing there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, Fill the jars with water, and they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, Now draw some out and take it to the steward of the feast.


So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water, now become wine, and did not know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew, the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, Every man serves the good wine first, and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine, but you have kept the good wine until now. This the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory, and his disciples believed in him. Now remember the Old Testament symbolism of marriage, especially in the Song of Songs, but also elsewhere. Marriage is the symbol by which God's union, God's relationship with his people is most deeply expressed. So the genuine marriage is the marriage of Yahweh, of God, with Israel. Now what does that become in the New Testament? It becomes the marriage of the people, of the church, with Jesus, with the word of God. So the word of God in our tradition is the bridegroom. Now the bride is not just the church as a whole, but each of us. Mary, for instance, first, the mother of Jesus, but then each of us.


Each soul, each person is the bride of the word. Now the bride and groom here at Cana are invisible, we don't hear anything about them, do we? Strangely it's a wedding and we don't hear anything about the principles. Instead we find Jesus and his mother. So it's as if there's more than one wedding, there's more than one relationship between man and woman here in this wedding feast of Cana. Now the wine has failed, and that too has more than a surface meaning. It refers in some way to the history of Israel, to the history of the church, and to the history of each of us. How often does the wine fail? How often does the joy of the original gift fade away, leaving us with nothing but memories and emptiness? Okay? The wine in a sense, in that sense, is the Holy Spirit, is the grace of God, is the original gift, is the fullness of the original gift which now has dried up. Mary intervenes, but she only states the facts. She doesn't say, please do this, or what are you going to do? She doesn't nag. She only states the facts. But notice how she seems to have this kind of double-mediatory role, as we'll see later


on. She is between God and the world, as it were, between Jesus and the people in need, and she subtly, very delicately influences both of them. She brings them together, as it were. She's like an intermediate zone there, a mediator who draws them both towards herself. And we can see the Mother of God, or Lady Wisdom, doing that with her beauty, bringing both together. That's the old tradition of Lady Wisdom, of Sophia in the Old Testament, who is the bride, the beloved both of God and of man, and brings them both together somehow in herself, just like Jesus does. The woman in the wine, often in the Old Testament, you know, you find a woman at a well. Don't you remember Rebecca? And there are two or three other times in the Old Testament. The woman is the one who draws from the well and pours the water. Remember John, Chapter 4, the Samaritan woman at the well? Jesus meets her there and asks her for a drink. It's as if woman and water and the well have something in common symbolically, as if they're


one symbol somehow. But this woman is to bring forth wine instead of water. In other words, with this woman, the wine drawn by all the others, the water drawn by all the others somehow, is to become wine. This is a singular drawing that's to happen, a very special well. Remember where Jesus talks about the well somewhere else. He says the Holy Spirit is going to become a spring of living water within you. A woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come. It's a strange expression. We've heard it explained many ways by the commentators. Usually they're fighting off the impression that Jesus is sort of putting his mother at arm's length. But there's an obvious kind of rebuff here on the surface, which we also find in other places in the Gospel. But there were words with a depth resonance. What is she to have to do with him when his hour does come? And when will the hour of Jesus come? It comes, remember, at the cross. The hour of Jesus is to come at his death and at the resurrection, which is to happen as glorification, which is to happen immediately afterwards.


And who is this woman? Is it just Mary, just his mother that he's talking about? It seems to go further than that. Is there more than one wedding in question here? Then the six stone jars, which were filled with water according to John, according to the rites of purification of the Jews. St. Bernard has a marvelous homily or two on this. They recall first of all the six days of creation, the six days of God's work. But then, the six days of purification, the work week, the days of the week, before the day of rest, before the Sabbath, before the day of the genuine wedding, of the feast. On the sixth day, God creates man and woman in his image, and on the seventh he rests. Just beyond the image he rests, it's as if there's an image of three persons just beyond the image. God created man and woman in his image, that's what it says in the first creation account. Not just man in his image, but the image of God is man and woman, the two together. And after that there's the rest, there's the seventh day, the Sabbath.


Fill the jars with water. St. Bernard says the water is the works of purification according to the law. See, the purification of the Jews, that's the works of the law. So that's the works of penance, that's the good works, it's all of those things. But they're just preparatory somehow to the wedding itself and to the wine. He enumerates them in a typically monastic way, you know, poverty and chastity and solitude and so on, which is kind of funny because that's putting things into the scripture instead of taking them out. But that's the kind of freedom the father's had with the scriptures. And then Mary says to the servants, do whatever he tells you. Remember when the angel came to her in St. Luke's Gospel, she said, let it be done unto me according to your word? Do you see the parallel that runs with it? It's as if we've got the personality, the character of Mary caught between those two expressions. Do you see how they perfectly coincide? Let it be done unto me according to your will and do whatever he tells you. This perfect pliability, this perfect receptiveness to the word of God. She who knew the word of God more intimately than anybody else because she carried him


in her womb, because she'd given birth to the word of God in the flesh. She knows him so well that she's able completely to adapt herself to him, to flow with him, to accommodate herself as it were to his shape, and to lead others to do the same thing. That's Lady Wisdom talking, telling us how to incarnate the divine wisdom in ourselves. That's the feminine wisdom of God, as it were, speaking to us. Recall Lady Wisdom of the Old Testament. She enters into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets, for God loves no one so much as the one who dwells with wisdom, we're told in the Old Testament. The jars are filled to the brim. Must not that which is written be fulfilled? Was it not right that the Christ should suffer these things to come into his glory, to come into his Sabbath? And the water becomes wine. And according to Saint Bernard and the Fathers, the law, the water, becomes wine, the wisdom of Christ, the indwelling spirit, the divinity which is no longer outside and above, commanding


and judging, but inside, giving peace and joy and strength, which has become one with our own being. The wine and the marriage somehow are the same thing. The wine which rejoices our hearts is the freedom of God's movement having become one with the movement of our own hearts. The same is the wedding, which symbolizes that same union. The wine is an astonishing image when you think about it, when you compare the way religion is so frequently. But this is in the Jewish and Christian tradition. This bursts the skins of conventional religion. Wine which carries a person out of himself, breaks down the walls, renders his reason and memory weak. The Fathers like to talk about a sober drunkenness of the spirit. This wine penetrates the boundary between God and man, between one human person and another. Remember the first letter of John where he talks about that koinonia, that communion, which has been poured out. What we have seen and heard and touched with our hands, now it's been poured out and it's


become our fellowship. It had to happen somehow through the breaking of the vessel, the breaking of the body of Jesus. It's symbolized by that other episode with the woman in St. John where Mary breaks the vessel and the ointment, remember the perfume, flows out on Jesus, just before his death. See, the women in St. John's Gospel understand what he's doing better than the men do. So somehow they come to him and with what they do, with what they bring, with what they pour out, they symbolize what Jesus is doing. And so it is with Mary who breaks that vessel, she doesn't have to say a word, she just breaks that vessel of precious perfume and pours it out on Jesus. And in the other Gospel Jesus says, don't bother her, don't try to stop her, wherever the Gospel is preached in the world, this will be recalled of her, remember? He says, wherever my word, my Gospel goes throughout the world, as it were, this perfume, this fragrance which she has poured out on me is going to go with it. As if she knew how perfectly to express the perfume of that wisdom, which is Jesus, which


is somehow also the Holy Spirit, the Divine Femininity, and which has been poured out here and is being poured out in the death of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit. So the women understand, they don't speak it in words, they do it somehow by gestures or just by being there, like the women at the cross. That glory which is manifested for the first time here becomes a major theme in the prayer of Jesus, remember in John 17, I ask that that glory which you have given me that you give it to them. Now that glory is the same gift, it's the same Holy Spirit, it's the same Divine Wisdom, it's the same wine, which now is within us and in the next life will be revealed, will flash out, as it does in the resurrection of Jesus. There are five key episodes in John's Gospel involving Jesus and women, and this is the first of them. The second is Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, remember the living water which Jesus promises. The third one is when Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus with myrrh, just before the Last Supper


and just before his death. She anoints the feet of Jesus and when Jesus washes the feet of his disciples at the supper the next night it's as if he was imitating the woman who has done this for him. It's as if his gesture is the feminine gesture now, somehow, it's as if that's the transformation that's happening in him, as if he has to move through that space. I was listening to a tape by Rosemary Horton in which she speaks of the women as having a particular gift for staying with the darkness. So they're the ones who stay with Jesus when he has to go through the darkness. They understand birth and death somehow, because they surround it, they embrace birth and death with their own being, with their own body, with their own love, and so they're able to embrace the going of Jesus as he goes into the darkness, the death of Jesus, to stay with him and to be the first ones to be there when he emerges from it. Who's the first one to see Jesus after the resurrection in John's Gospel? It's Mary Magdalene, right? And there are three women at the cross and they're all named Mary. So all of the women in the Gospel seem to become one woman, and that woman's name is Mary.


The Gospel of John is like one pearl where everything fuses together in order to let the mystery glow from its center. In John 19, Jesus is on the cross and we have these three women and then the beloved disciple, and it's at that point that Jesus says, remember, to the disciple, behold your mother, and to Mary, his mother, behold your son. So something is joined there at that point. It's as if Jesus is passing on his mother to the beloved disciple, who has this particular fullness of wisdom, as symbolizing the fullness of the gift of lady wisdom, of Sophia, which is being passed on to the church and in particular to that disciple, who is to express it more fully than anybody else in his Gospel. At this hour, his hour has come on the cross, and now, what am I to do with you? My hour hasn't yet come. Now he has something to do with women. This is the hour at which the marriage is consummated.


Now the images seem to become a bit confused here, maybe to jostle one another, but don't let it bother you. If you keep them with you long enough, a kind of simple assurance of the deep meaning of all of this will emerge. Blood and water pour out from his side. This time it's not wine, it's not myrrh or perfume, it's not just water, it's blood and water. Something pours out, and this time it's not the woman who pours it, it's Jesus. The fathers like to see from the side of Jesus opened upon the cross the church being born, the church who is seen as a woman. Just as from Adam's side, remember, in the Garden of Eden, a heave was taken out by God. And finally, Jesus and Mary Magdalene in the garden after his resurrection. In each of these scenes, except the last one, something is poured out, and usually the woman is associated with that which is poured out. Not so on the cross, there it's Jesus. Maybe, well, I'll go a little longer with this, into John 20, so as not to break the


sequence. I want to look a little bit at the encounter of Jesus with Mary Magdalene in the garden here. So be patient for just a little longer. I won't read it, perhaps you remember the episode, it's John 20. The first thing that's happened is the two disciples run to the tomb, Peter and John, and then they go away, and Mary Magdalene hangs around, weeping. And then somebody appears, but she thinks it's the gardener. Now this gardener, why the gardener? Well, this takes us back to the Garden of Eden. It takes us back to Genesis chapter 2, where man was put in the Garden of Eden in order to tend it, in order to be the gardener there. So Jesus somehow is Adam once again, and Mary Magdalene somehow is Eve once again. So here we're carried back to the sixth day of creation in which you have man and woman in the garden, although more likely we're in the second creation account in Genesis


2. Woman, why are you weeping? Mary doesn't have anything else to pour out, wine or water, she's just got her tears to pour out. Once again, there's something being offered here, and there's an echo of the Song of Songs also in this episode. Adam names Eve Woman, you remember, in that second chapter of Genesis. Because she's bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, that's what he says. And after Mary is there weeping in the garden, and she hears somebody saying, Woman, why are you weeping? She doesn't know what it is, she thinks it's the gardener. And she turns around and she sees that it's Jesus. And he says to her, Mary, remember how he had addressed his mother as woman at the wedding at Cana, his hour had not yet come. Now this woman, who had been inhabited somehow by seven devils, we don't know if she was a great sinner or just possessed by the devil, but the one who had been most defiled is addressed


as Mary. It's as if at that moment it's Adam naming woman once again, naming woman as a new creation. It's as if she now is the immaculate vessel for the rebirth, for the new creation, for this wine that is to be poured out, now that Jesus' hour has come. And this wine is the glory, which somehow is Jesus himself, somehow is the Spirit, somehow is this Lady Wisdom that I've been talking about, but is the fullness of the gift, the soul of the church. Mary, the first apostle of the resurrection, it's she who makes the first direct contact with the risen Jesus, she who has stayed with him even through death somehow. In John 16, Jesus has said, now you have sorrow, so you are like a woman in childbirth. Now you have sorrow as a woman whose hour has come, that hour that was also Jesus' hour foretold at the wedding feast of Cana. The union of Jesus and woman, Mary, at that hour of Jesus' crucifixion and her sorrow,


unless the seed fall into the ground or remains alone, unless the seed fall into the ground or remains alone, Jesus has said this in chapter 12 of John, does it recall some other words to you? Way back in Genesis where God said, it's not good for man to be alone, let's make him a helpmate, and so he made woman. It's as if woman here is the unitive, woman here is that involved in Jesus' glorification, his union with woman when his hour has come, it's the hour of his wedding in some way, with woman the unitive which allows somehow the seed to fill the whole earth, allows somehow the birth to take place which is the rebirth of creation, which is the rebirth of all of humanity and all of the world, through this union somehow with the feminine. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice and no one will take your joy from you. When a woman has been delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish for joy


that a child is born into the world, and that's what's happening here. He says then to Mary Magdalene, do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father, but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God. Remember Adam, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. Now God has joined with humanity with the bride in this fashion. Now there's one more scene, in fact there are two in John 20, but in the next one Jesus comes to the closed room, remember, and the disciples are there, and he says, peace be with you, and he shows them his hands and his feet, and they see his wounds, and they verify that it's really Jesus, the one who was crucified, who has appeared to them. This time we picture only the men disciples because the women are not mentioned. It's as if we had one woman there, Mary Magdalene, who encounters Jesus in the garden, and then we have a room full of men, we've got 12 men, 12 individuals, 12 apostles, and there was one woman who symbolizes the whole thing, the whole church, the interior of the church,


and the one vessel into which the wine is to be poured, into which the glory is to come. And he shows them his hands and his side, peace be with you. Then the disciples were glad, John says, when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, even so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, receive the Holy Spirit. Now where does that put us? Once again it takes us back to Genesis 2, to the account of the creation. Do you remember how God had molded man out of the dust of the earth and then breathed his spirit into him? It's exactly what Jesus is doing here. So Jesus has taken us back into the garden with man and woman, and as it were, recreated the woman, recreated the woman as the vessel, the interior vessel, and then he's taken us back one more step to the creation of man himself, and re-breathed the spirit of God within him to make a new creation, a new creation in which, as Saint Paul says, we're not


just living beings, that is, beings with a soul, but we're beings with the spirit of God in us because Christ has become a vivifying spirit for us, the Christ within us. When you keep that with you and you reflect on it year after year, you'll see how deep that goes into the mystery of salvation, into the mystery of Christ, this re-creation, and how John somehow spans the whole thing, taking us back to the moment of creation and then bringing it right into our own experience. Because he has gotten permanently in touch with the center of the mystery, that center of the mystery which is Christ, Christ, the depth of Christ, the heart of Christ. Here Jesus breathes, as it were, not into the dust but into the stones of his new temple. Remember back in John 2, the other episode in John 2, is where Jesus purifies the temple and they say, well, what are you doing? And he says, well, tear this temple down and in three days I'll build it up again.


But John says, well, he was talking about his body, talking about his body, so his body is the new temple and the apostles are the first stones of that temple, but he has to breathe the spirit into it. All of the scenes of the encounter of Jesus with the women, and I'm sorry to have had to give this to you so quickly and therefore all kind of squeezed together, it's better if you can go through it slowly, stretched out, but all of those scenes are leading up to this moment of the new in-breathing of the spirit, this new creation of humanity. And I think that the feminine figures here tell us something which is not said in words in the Gospel, something which is very difficult to put into words, about what this gift is, about of what manner is the indwelling of God in us. Let me conclude this time by reading just a prayer of Solomon in the Book of Wisdom. It's Solomon's prayer for wisdom, actually. Send her forth from the holy heavens and from the throne of your glory send her that she may be with me and toil, Solomon has to build the temple, he doesn't know how, and that


I may learn what is pleasing to you for she knows and understands all things and she will guide me wisely in my actions and guard me with her glory. Glory once again, glory and wisdom have something inherently to do with one another. Sometimes they seem to be the same thing. She who has learned your counsel, unless you have given wisdom and sent your Holy Spirit from on high, here wisdom and the Holy Spirit are identified in one thing, they're both the wine, they have no wine, thus the paths of those on earth were set right and men were taught what pleases you and were saved by wisdom. Now that wisdom is all in Christ, but it's a wisdom which has to be opened and allowed to pour out and allowed to transform us, it's not just something we hang on to. It's not just something we hang on to. Allow it to transform us, allow it to pour out and allow it to transform us. Nordic