Gospel of John and the Christian Wisdom Tradition

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Retreat on the Gospel of John

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#set-gospel-of-john-and-christian-wisdom

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I'm very happy to be with you all. It's always very good to be here once again. And let's start with a prayer. Heavenly Father, send us your Spirit, open your Word so that we may find it in your Son, so that we may find in Him eternal life and all things. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen. I'm thinking about the retreat and I'm trying to find the different threads that might tie together or put before you. By the way, let me know through somebody if you're not catching me, if I'm talking too low, which I have a habit of doing, or if I'm talking too quickly. If it gets too complicated, there's nothing I can do. It's not that it's scholarly, it's only that it's complicated. One thing is that we're in Advent, so I'd like to focus on the Incarnation. And another thing is that I've been preoccupied for a long while, I've been interested for a long while in giving a retreat on John's Gospel, simply because it's so rich and I think that taking different episodes in John's Gospel

[01:02]

and trying to relate them to one another, trying to see deeply into them, we can really find our way into what John is saying to us, and the way that he's presenting Jesus to us. Because I think what John's Gospel is, is a kind of initiation into the reality of the Word, into the reality of Jesus. It's not so much like the Synoptic Gospels, in which you go along with the historical story, kind of on that level. There's something deeper that's continually impressing you, continually kind of shining through in John, so we can try to somehow let that grip us. The other thing is, I've been concerned for a long while with the notion of a monastic theology. There used to be such a thing as a monastic theology. I think the phrase is coined in our time by John Leclerc, who wrote that book, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God. And it surprised us at that moment to see him distinguish two kinds of theology perhaps so clearly, and to find that one had slipped out of our grasp, that one had apparently disappeared.

[02:06]

It was gone before we knew it, and that was the monastic theology. Not that it isn't around, but there isn't a continuous tradition of creative monastic theology. If we want to find it, we have a tendency to go back to the peak moments of the past, either in the 4th and 5th century, in East or in the 13th century, certainly with the Cistercian Fathers. This thing about monastic theology is very much in your own tradition. And why is it that we don't have one today? Should we have one? Well, I think we should. It's not because we need kind of a head trip to go along with our spiritual journey. It's not because we want to be able to think in a more sophisticated way about what we're doing. But because for monasticism, at least traditionally, in the deepest tradition of monasticism, if we regard it from on as a contemplative life, that word contemplation doesn't just mean an isolated experience to which there is no bridge. Not just pure contemplation, which is reached only by a very few people. But I think there's a kind of continuum. I wouldn't want to exaggerate that.

[03:08]

But I think the contemplative life, and that's the monastic life, is meant to be an initiation into the depths of something that is with you all the time. So there should be a progressive opening to the truth, so that we have a very deep, a very intimate relationship with that truth. To have that is, in some way, reliving a monastic theology, and would also express itself certainly in what we would call monastic theology, even if it comes out of books. That's the kind of fascinating problem to me. There was a time when theology and spirituality were not really two different things. But theology and spirituality were one thing, even though you certainly had different tracks. In the early centuries of the Church, in the 4th and 5th century, you had your monastic fathers, and then you had your church fathers. And the church fathers, by and large, the great Catholic fathers that St. Benedict talks about, remember he distinguishes the two. He distinguishes the great Catholic fathers, and then our monastic fathers.

[04:09]

Well, the church fathers were mostly bishops, and the monastic fathers were, of course, monks. And they were writing for two different, as it were, two different audiences. But they were basically writing the same kind of thing, how to live. How to live, and they were drawing that out of the Word. Occasionally forcing it upon the Word, but it was very close to the Word. And the living and the understanding were very close together. And the kind of joy of the understanding would continually come out of what they were saying, what they were writing. And then, in the Middle Ages, something else happened. The theology of the church tended to become much more and more technical, more and more professional, more and more Aristotelian at a certain point in the 13th century. And then you have two types of theology, and one begins to be eclipsed. And yet that monastic theology of the Middle Ages was the direct heir of the patristic theology of the earlier centuries. Even though the patristic theology of the bishops, that is, both of the East and of the West.

[05:12]

And that's what I would like to kind of come back to again and again and again. Not because we want to go back to it and kind of repeat what was thought, and what was written in those days exactly now. But we have to pick up the thread. And then we have to try to see how it relates to our own experience. So the third track that I'd like to bring in there is the track of a monastic theology. Or we might call it a sapiential theology, or a wisdom theology. As distinguished from a theology which you could say is more objective, or is more, what would you say, more scholastic in a sense. Because scholastic theology is sapiential on its own level. But the wisdom theology is really entering into the history. It's really an initiation. And I think this is very close to John's Gospel. I think there's a very fortunate convergence here. Monasticism actually is a wisdom tradition.

[06:15]

I'd like to quote a couple of exaggerated expressions of Louis Bollier. At the end of that book, The Meaning of the Monastic Life, which is kind of a very strong, perhaps one-sided book. And he says some things about monasticism at the end of it. In which he categorizes it as, not only as a wisdom tradition, but as the sole successor to the wisdom tradition of the West and of Christianity. Which I think is a big exaggeration. Because he's not taking into account all of the kind of underground wisdom that has lived on for all these centuries. The thing is that Sophia has kind of been an exile. The wisdom in its spontaneity, in its fluidity, in its kind of universality, has sometimes had to go underground. It's sometimes been outside the fence. But here's what he says anyway. This is in its conclusion. There is no need to say much more in order to understand monasticism as both the heir and the fulfillment of the old sapiential monastic tradition. Monastic tradition in the sense of the true gnosis, not monasticism.

[07:18]

But the gnosis of the Fathers. Some of the Fathers are continually talking about gnosis. Which is an understanding in faith. An understanding inside of faith. It's the opening of faith. It's the kind of opening of faith so that it becomes luminous. So that what you read, what you know, what you see and hear in the Word begins to become a reality inside of yourself to which you become increasingly transparent. So the Word opens up and you open up. And you find out somehow that the Word, there's one Word inside of you. The Word's not on the outside, but it's inside. Anyway, we'll be following this later. Here's another one of these somewhat exaggerated phrases. But which we have to consider. Lest the monk is the sole genuine inheritor of the old movement which has borne our Western humanity along since the awakening of its consciousness. I can only exaggerate and claim for monasticism. Nevertheless, the grain of truth there is that monasticism is supposed to be a wisdom tradition. And not just the wisdom of how to live, but also a certain illumination of the heart.

[08:21]

A certain illumination of the mind, of the intellect, of the nous, as we used to say. Which is the mind on the deep contemplative level. Not on the level of logic, not on the level of argument. Not on the discursive level, as they say. Even though it issues on that level, too. What is this wisdom? The secret which the insatiable curiosity of his mind seeks to decipher is not the secret of the dead universe. Here he doesn't make any change to polemic. He's taking smack, as it were, at science because the universe is not all that dead. It is the secret of a word, of the word, which the Father utters to us in all things. You know where that comes from, that notion of the word. The word being Christ, the word being the Son of God. There being one word. That's from the poem of St. John. And in his very first words, St. John sets the whole scene for this Christian wisdom that we want to talk about. The whole thing is there, right in the poem.

[09:22]

The whole of his gospel, somehow, is already set out there. And we're given the key with which to read the gospel. It's recently been proposed also that the Rule of St. Benedict is a wisdom document. There was an article by Valerian Oderman, OSB, in the American Benedictine Review, this year, as a matter of fact. Considering the Rule, not just as a straight legislative document, but as a document of the wisdom genre, which means related to the wisdom books of the Old Testament. Related to all of that Eastern monastic or spiritual literature, which is so attractive to many people today, especially the young. Especially in the prologue and in the epilogue, in chapter 73, the conclusion of the Rule. That's what sends you beyond itself. There are 72 lessons. Here's a short quote.

[10:31]

This is a footnote of it. Just as the biblical wisdom literature flourished in Israel during the Antichrist, the Rule of St. Benedict springs up in an Italy which has collapsed. There's something about the wisdom tradition which tends to crystallize, it tends to appear when another tradition is beginning to falter. When another tradition is no longer giving people the support that they need. When they have to confront life, as it were, more directly, more simply, without the structures, without the whole edifice that supported them before. And here we can't help but hear a certain overtone there, of today. Today, when we're in such a time of transition, that a new way of relating to the truth comes to be. And I think, once again, we're in shape, as it were, we're in line for a wisdom tradition reappearing, we should say. In which people somehow, through their immediate experience,

[11:33]

begin to grasp the truth. And no longer through, as it were, an inherited form, or a structure of inherited forms. Which have their truth, which have their dignity, but which no longer give people the support that they need. As Rahner likes to say so often, nowadays it's not the time for, as it were, what does he call it, folkloristic Christianity, or sociological Christianity, or Catholicism, which is learned, which is inherited, which is not experienced. It's a time for grasping one's faith by a personal, individual, interior decision, but also for experiencing one's faith, and the interior realities of one's faith, in a personal way, not only at second hand. And this is what we mean by a wisdom tradition. Listen, my son, says St. Benedict right in the beginning, and that's the key that he's talking about, wisdom sharing. I want to emphasize, this is important for the Cistercian tradition.

[12:35]

If you look at St. Bernard, I don't know if you've ever read that encyclical, why it's the twelfth of St. Bernard, the word wisdom is in every paragraph. Because that's what he's about. Sometimes that wisdom is kind of categorized narrowly as being mystical, contemplative wisdom. Well, not always. It's not always that. It's a very broad term. But it's a kind of knowledge which overlaps with life, which penetrates life, and which is kind of the luminosity of life itself. It's relation to being. It's relation to life. It's relation to experience. It's relation to love. They're all very close and kind of mutually interpenetrating relationships, which is impossible to occur boundarily. For us, as for them, the basic wisdom is Jesus Christ. The wisdom of God, the word of God, made incarnate. And you can reflect endlessly upon that matter of the word of God,

[13:38]

when the word of God is the person of Christ, and the word of God has become a man among us. Everything somehow is summed up in that. Do we realize the way of God? Of course we don't. Because we haven't, again, in this life, I think, to enter into it. I'd like to remind you of three passages right now, where that comes out. One, of course, is the prologue. And that's the one we'll be paying the most attention to. In the beginning was the word. And there, of course, it's going back to the first words of Genesis. The very name of the book of Genesis comes from that. In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. It was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. All things were made through the word. Nothing else. We are so computed. It didn't come from the word. In him was life, and the life was the light of man. We all come from the word, and somehow the word becomes the light that is the key to our existence.

[14:40]

It is the key to moving somehow back to that fullness that is in the word. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness is not overcome. The true light that enlightens every man is coming into the world. There are different ways of interpreting that phrase. I think somehow there's a key also in John to the universality of Christianity. It is the kind of universal reach of our own revelation. It has two, as it were, phases. One is the word incarnate, and the preaching of the word incarnate. It's the gospel. It's the church. It's the Christian faith. It's our own tradition. The other is the word that somehow is light to everyone. The light that is in the world, and it shines through the things that are made. St. Paul says that all men should know God, should know, as you see, his divinity and his power through the things that he's made, because they're beautiful. But somehow the light of God shines through those things. But also the light of God shines from within the human being.

[15:42]

It shines from within the heart of the individual. This is where our Christian revelation connects, as it were, the universal revelation. Right in the heart of John. Where the word is a word, yes, that is spoken, that becomes incarnate, that is preached, that is believed. And that becomes, as it were, the structure of the tradition. A particular inheritance, which is in Christianity. Then there's the word which is the light that is in all that is made. The light that shines through what's outside of you. The light that shines up from within you. The light that is the very light of your consciousness. Somehow the light of the word is in that. Eckhart is the great preacher on this, and I'd like to go back to that. He has some just marvellous statements of that truth. Somehow that's where our own revelation comes together with the universal revelation, and where Christianity can find its opening to all of the other religious traditions. Abhishek Tenali on the list.

[16:43]

He wrote a number of books. He wrote one called The Inter-Christian Meeting Point. And in there he's got an introduction to the Upanishads, and he has a chapter called the Yoanai Upanishad. He finds the connection precisely there. In the Gospel, in the control of the child, who is the wisdom of Hinduism, the deepest mystical statements of Hinduism. Another place where the word comes out very clearly in the New Testament is in the beginning of the first letter of John, where the prologue to the first letter of John. And it's evident that the relationship, the similarity of the prologue to the Gospel is deliberate. It's not just an accident. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, once again, from the beginning, same as in the Gospel,

[17:45]

which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands. What does he mean from the beginning? I think he wants it deliberately to be ambiguous. I think he means from the beginning in the same way as he meant it in the Gospel. I'm not saying that the author is the same, but the intention and the tradition is the same. That it's from the very beginning, because the word is from the beginning, but also, as Jesus said, because you have been with me from the beginning. So from the beginning of their acquaintance. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. That's Jesus. That's Christ. But it's also the word. The word of life, which was made manifest, and we saw it and testified to it. Strange how close it is. I proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us. I'm not going to keep talking about something as if we're in the neuter. Because of its cosmic significance. Because somehow it contains everything. Because somehow we can't put it within our notion of person.

[18:47]

And yet he's talking about a person. The eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us. That which we have seen and heard, we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. It's as if the word breaks open and out of it pours what? Pours itself, but pours itself in a form in which it can be, as it were, drunk. In which it can penetrate. Pours itself out in a form in which it can indwell. And in which it can not only indwell, but encompass and close. So that it lives within us and it brings us together. It's both inside us, in our most interior depths. And it is also that in which we are united. Also in our most interior depths. Even though they are invisible on the outside. There's enormous depth in that little paragraph, the first letter of John. And the one other place, of course, is the letter to the Hebrews, but there's a similar prologue. I don't know why. But it also begins with a kind of hymn to the Word.

[19:53]

In many and various ways, God spoke of all to our fathers by the prophets. But in these last days, he has spoken to us by a Son. Spoken to us by a Son. It's the same identical idea of the Word. He didn't say Word. Spoken to us by a Son. The Word is a Son. God speaks, God begets, God generates. For Eckhart, that's the one great thing that's happening. The one thing which somehow includes all history within it is that birth of the Word. And for Eckhart also, the one great discovery for a human being is the discovery of that birth of the Word within ourselves. In which we are born. In which we are born, somehow, into God. God is born into us. God is born into the world. Christ is born in us. We'll get back to that. Spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature. Upholding the universe by his word of power.

[20:55]

I don't know if you know where that comes from. Some of you don't doubt a doof. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature. It comes from one of the wisdom books of the Old Testament. This Word that John is talking about, that we have here, kind of crashing through at the beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews, is somehow identified with the wisdom of the Old Testament. That that wisdom becomes personified in the Old Testament. And strangely, paradoxically, personified as a woman, as a feminine figure. And it's here that I want to turn to one of the kind of key connections. If you have read Raymond Brown's commentary on the Gospel of John, a part of it. It's an enormous thing to read. A couple of hundred pages. But if you've read any of the key interpreted parts of it, he identifies Jesus, the Word, in the Gospel of John with the wisdom of the Old Testament. He says that the window, the optic,

[21:57]

through which John looks at Jesus is that wisdom, optic of the Old Testament. So that Jesus essentially is wisdom. Now what does that mean? Well, it means, first of all, we have to go back somehow to that wisdom literature in order to find out who Jesus is, in order to find out John's intention to read Jesus, to read the Word in the way John has spoken, has written about the Word. But also, it begins to tell us about our relationship to Jesus as it's intended in John's Gospel. Which I believe is this kind of relationship. That Jesus is presented as the one who is visible, the Word of his made flesh, who becomes incarnate, who is seen, who is touched, who is heard. And then he disappears, and he reappears, as it were, inwardly. He reappears as dwelling within us. He reappears as the paraclete. John contends that in John's Gospel, the paraclete actually is simply the presence of Jesus within the believer.

[22:58]

Perhaps he's another paraclete, but he's the same paraclete. It's like when St. Paul says, the Lord is the Spirit. The Spirit is the Spirit. That somehow that wisdom is Jesus Christ within us. Wisdom is the Word within us. And for John, this means life with an intimacy with God, which no longer allows hardly a boundary line. An intimacy to which we have to be initiated. The reason being because God is too close to us. Because the Word, because Christ is too close to us. Within us in that way. Not just in a place, as in a shrine, as in a tabernacle, as Heaven is. But somehow mingling in our life. Somehow inviting us to allow Him to penetrate our life. To co-live our life. To co-inhabit our body. I think that's what it's about. So we'll try to follow the Gospel of John in that way. I think that's where the great chapters of the discourse at the last supper of the Easter Sermon. So we'll treat that last.

[24:01]

So during the retreat, I'd like in the sessions that we have just to treat a few episodes from the Gospel of John in that way. Chapter 7. So tonight I want to say something about the prologue. And then tomorrow about the rest of the first chapter of John and chapter 2. The first encounter of Jesus with his first disciples who are led to him as a former John the Baptist. And then Mary, Priestess of Canaan, which is so deeply significant. It's been said that that's the place from which to read the whole Gospel of John. You can consider that. I think it's short. I think there's a lot of argument for it. But that Mary, Priestess of Canaan is somewhat symbolic of the whole mystery of John's writing. More deeply, perhaps, than any other episode in the Gospel. Then we'll take the episode of the Samaritan woman. Then let's see the Bread of Life discourse. That's John 6. And then chapter 12, where Jesus begins to turn his word in another direction. He begins to talk about the seed falling into the ground. After his anointing, Mary...

[25:05]

And then the episode at the cross. Jesus on the cross. The beloved disciple. The woman at the cross. And then finally, the resurrection manifestation in chapter 20. Together with part of the separate discourse. Another angle to this is... There's, as it were, an interior aspect to this and an exterior aspect. The interior aspect is this indwelling wisdom, which I'd like to try, along with you, to get a feeling, get a notion of. Because really, it's a way of relating to the presence of God, the presence of Christ. The exterior aspect is this one. That if what we say is true, then history itself is governed by this word. History itself is somehow all within this wisdom of God. History itself somehow is leading to a birth of some kind of child, some kind of humanity,

[26:06]

some kind of being, some Christ, within us, within the womb of God. That's the kind of birth of this wisdom, that's Christ in the world. Here we kind of intersect with someone like Tate Archibald, or somebody like Christ as the imminent drive, as it were, in history. I don't want to oversimplify it. I think that's where we end up. That's the word. That's where the word is. The word is what's within us, personally, individually, internally. And the word is that which somehow is moving the whole world. Even though it may seem quite the contrary on the surface. It's a great virtue, I'm considering all the troubles, and the violence, and the horrors of the world as being the pains of childbirth. And it does not give us grounds for joy. Irenaeus is one who helps us. I think there's a long gap between Irenaeus and Theotokos. Somehow there's an arc between the two. If you read the two, you'll find that they almost join hands. The way that they talk about Christ and the word,

[27:11]

with a cosmic comprehensiveness that includes everything. Enormously powerful notion. Irenaeus' notion of the word and his notion of recapitulation of all things in the world. I'll be quoting him later on, but here's just a sample. This is from his demonstration of the preaching of the gospel of St. Schwerderberg, which is an ancient Christian writer. The second article he's giving concrete is as follows. It is the word of God, the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord, who appeared to the prophets in the form described in their oracles, etc. The word by whom all things were made, and who in the fullness of time, to recapitulate and contain all things, became man, in order to destroy death, to manifest life, and to restore union between God and man. So the word which in the beginning contains everything, out of which everything comes, out of which everything is born, is created, and which comes somehow in the middle of time, in a sense at the end of time, but in the middle of time, to recapitulate all things. What does that mean?

[28:12]

It means to give ahead to all things, but it also means to contain all things and bring all things together, to, as it were, sum up all things. It has many dimensions of meaning, that word recapitulate, which is actually from St. Paul. To recapitulate and contain all things, both the cosmos, creation, and history itself. That's that big external picture. But we'll be following more the interior picture, because I think that's the one towards which John points us in his gospel. Okay, I guess we'd better quit. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. Blessed are those who are in me, and those who are out of me. And we shall live forever and ever. Amen. And to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

[29:22]

Amen. Come, O Spirit, and open our hearts and minds to the Holy Wisdom, the Word of God, which comes within us, through Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen. I'd like to continue with this approach to the gospel of John, which I must say is not the only approach. John doesn't say everything. There are some things in Christianity that are essential that he hardly mentions. Or only mentions them, as it were, kind of elliptically or indirectly. For instance, the whole moral life. John doesn't pay very much attention to moral questions directly, nor to directly and specifically and concretely, nor to social questions, really. It's all implicit in his gospel, and more explicit, I think, in the first letter of John.

[30:24]

But he's really focusing on something else. There can be objections to this kind of approach to the scriptures. A person can ask, well, it's all in the head, isn't it? Well, the fact is that the head is a little bit important in the sense that there we decide how we're going to relate to our life, how we're going to relate to what happens to us, how we're going to relate to our experience and where we're going. So even the act of faith is an act, in a sense, of the intellect. After we get to a certain level, I think we have to talk about the intellect being the heart, and that it's the center of the person. And forget about the word intellect. That's too Greek for our use. But there's a knowing faculty somehow that's central to us, and by which we determine all of our life. It's where we make up our minds, the mind and the will of one thing. What's it got to do with my experience? That's the other question. And I think we'll have to come back to that one continually,

[31:27]

because that's the problem, that's the major problem today. I think not only for monastic life, we who live on a tradition and who therefore have to bring together centuries, really, in order to make ends meet, in order to be able to relate ourselves to our tradition, or to put it another way, coming from the other angle, in order to be monks today, we have to bring together somehow the beginning with our experience today, which is by no means an easy problem. In the time of Vatican II, when the Church has taken a kind of quantum leap, and everything seems to be changing, all kinds of structures seem to be giving way, it stares us right in the face. And most of the theological books, the good ones written since Vatican II, have more or less directly tried to affront that problem. Bringing together the two sides, the before and the after. The scripture, the tradition, and on the other hand, our experience. One answer to this, which I'll give now,

[32:28]

and then come back to the question later on, is that John and the sapiential approach gives us a way of looking at our experience, a way of viewing our experience, such that our experience itself tends to change after a while. In other words, it gives us a unified way of looking at our lives, and especially in terms of our relationship with God. In this word, this word which is Christ, and which is the unifying notion in John, and which we've called wisdom, a word which is not only given to us objectively, but which dwells in us subjectively, is not only outside of us as the center of all reality, gathering everything into one, but is also inside us as the point beyond our reach, as it were, in our center. That's what Merton liked to talk about so much, that point here is that center, that place of emptiness, as it were, that's beyond our reach inside of us, and yet from which all of our life comes, especially all of our supernatural life, let me use that language. So this gives us a way somehow of finding the central point

[33:33]

from which to relate to whatever we do experience. And after all, when you talk about experience in terms of faith, I think today perhaps we're a little too hung up on experience, partly because we've been starved of experience by our kind of intellectualism, our rationalism, our long additives in the West, our very conceptual, abstract way of talking about things, and the domination of the scientific additive. So we tend to swing over on the side of experience, but we have to remember that there's something beyond, at least where we're at, there's something beyond both experience and reason, and that is faith. Faith is the master of experience in such a way that the true experience evolves from faith and within faith, and is itself a kind of knowledge which is superior to that of reason, although in continuity with it. So it sounds pretty complicated, actually, but we're moving towards the simplicity. Let me read you a text from a rabbi.

[34:34]

This is Rabbi Cook. He who feels, after many trials, that the soul within him can find repose only when it is occupied with mysteries of the Torah, which for the Jew is not just the law, as we think of law, but it's the word of God. Should know that for this he has been destined, he has been called somehow to immerse himself in the Torah, in the word of God, to lose himself in the word, or find himself in the word, almost to be married to the word. The Jews often talk in that language too. May no obstacle in the world, fleshly or even spiritually, confuse or turn him from the pursuit of the fountain of his life, his true fulfillment. Now all of this is the study of the Torah every time he says this. And it is well for him to know that not only his own self-fulfillment and salvation wait upon the satisfaction of this tendency within him, this joy, this desire to get deeper into the word. The saving of society and the protecting of the world

[35:36]

also depend upon it, for a soul fulfilled helps to fulfill the world. True thoughts, when they flow without hindrance into any one of the corners of life, bless all of life. As if the word, as if God's wisdom, if it's able to dwell in the world somewhere, changes all of the world. But should he abandon his search and wander about seeking water from wells which are not merely his, then until he draw water as much as the ocean and take from streams in every part of the earth, yet will he not find peace. For like a bird who has wandered from his nest, so is the man who wanders from his place. And his place is in the word. So this kind of, what do you call it, invincible vocation to be united to the word. Now this is not just for a professional scribe or something. I think it has a lot to do with our vocation. This is our business too. If you look at the history of Western monasticism and the degree to which at least its literature, its writing, and also its legislation,

[36:39]

the rule of Benedict, has been dominated by lexio, by immersion in the word. For Saint Benedict, the word is a whole of truths and a whole of life comes out of the word. He begins with this and what's done and he ends by directing you to other parts of the word. And our mystical tradition, perhaps the highest speaker of mystical tradition in our Western Church, is that spiritual tradition of the strange expression of the marriage of the word. From Origen to Gregory of Mystery to Saint Bernard to John, of course. It's especially prevalent in the Cistercian fathers. So somehow, that's what we're about too. But our culture today and some gaps in our history have made it very hard for us to make contact with that again. The mystics found that they couldn't find a better language in which to express their experience. And that's surprising for us. Because we tend to think that this sort of thing,

[37:41]

we're talking about that kind of union with Christ as the word, that spiritual marriage is the furthest thing from our experience. But perhaps it depends a little bit on how we look at it. I think in order to look at it in a way in which we can grasp it, or rather be grasped by it, we really have to go back to the scriptures. Because some of the writings of the saints don't have that depth. They don't have that directness. They can fascinate us and attract us and lead us along, but somehow they don't grant us the substance of what they're talking about. But the word does. That's what they're writing about. The word which is one word, ultimately, which contains all of the scriptures within it, and which somehow is identical with Jesus Christ, and which comes to dwell within us. This indwelling word. The indwelling word that we haven't very often called wisdom, but I think we should. Because that somehow breaks down the hard boundaries of the word and allows us to think of it flowing within us. Maybe it's just a greater sensitivity and a redirection of our faith that we need to find that same thing happening in us

[38:42]

that they write about. But Rahner has been very helpful in explaining the kind of differences that have happened in the experience of God in our time. If you read the mystical literature that has been prevalent up to a few years ago, that was in the West, it was a Carmelite tradition in the 16th century. That's St. Teresa of Avalon, St. John of the Cross. And if we read that nowadays, they seem to be talking about another world of experience. As soon as you get beyond a certain point, as soon as you get beyond the third or fourth mansion, anyway. The kind of experience they're writing about seems to be very rare today. And so we find ourselves extremely frustrated if we've been kind of brought up on that literature. And then, after a certain number of years, we find that it simply doesn't happen. Whereas, what's it have to do with my life, with my experience? There are several approaches to that. I don't say that any one of them is completely satisfactory. But one of them, suggested by Rahner, is that what happens to the saints, actually, what we read about in their mystical experience,

[39:43]

which is so kind of lush in St. Teresa and also in John of the Cross. Not only that, but they tell us that that's the way it was in those days, in those convents, in those monasteries. What happens to the saints is not different from what happens inside us. Only they have experienced a psychological manifestation of what exists within all of us in faith. Is that true? I find it true and perhaps a little suspect at the same time. Because I think that they were drawn into a particular kind of relationship with the Lord and had its own particular kind of experience. But nevertheless, I think that principle is valid in our time. They are, in a way, prophets for us. They make visible what is invisible within us. So what we read as happening in their interior lives, we then believe is also happening in our lives. And we find it, but in a different way, usually with a lower profile. In other words, the profile of spiritual experience,

[40:45]

of mystical experience, is not that kind of alpine profile of the 16th century. It's much lower, it's much more calm. God does not kind of produce those extraordinary experiences nearly so often, I don't think. And it's simply a challenge to further faith. How you can explain that, I don't know, but it has something to do with history. And the fact is that what they experienced subjectively, today we're experiencing more and more historically. If John of the Cross writes about the dark night of the soul as an interior experience of the individual person, we may find a little difficulty with that. Not only we may not find that we have that experience, but also, is it really sufficient, is it really adequate to treat the spiritual life as an isolated thing like that? Don't we somehow have to integrate it with what's happening around us? And I think that what is happening around us today is a kind of dark night, as far as the experience of God is concerned.

[41:45]

If they were able to talk about the death of God in the 60s, it sounds absurd, it is absurd, but they were talking about what they were experiencing. They may have seen it normally. And it wasn't only they that were experiencing that. A lot of the human race does, I think. A lot of the Christian world does in our time. So I think that part of the way of relating the experience of the mystics and their kind of structure, architecture of the spiritual life to our own experience, is through correlating it with history, finding it around us and outside of ourselves. We'll get to this in a couple of talks down the line, when we talk about exile and dark night and that kind of thing. Another thing is that Ghana says that the experience of God today is found most significantly not in the extraordinary experiences, but in the hidden, what would you call it, the hidden decision of the person who lives a life of faith

[42:48]

and who is unseen, who is unknown, who is apparently unheroic, who is unnoticed. The very hiddenness of the thing. You find John of the Cross talking about hiddenness all the time. But it's a strange hiddenness that he talks about because what he's writing about seems to be just a garden of delights as far as spiritual experience is concerned. There's that strange paradox in St. John of the Cross. But it's not that way nowadays. And maybe if we are really collectively, commonly, historically experiencing that hiddenness today, I think we are, that the same thing is inside us. Because God is inside us. Because the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is inside us. Because we're called to be completely united with that Word of God. Married with that Word, if we can accept that language. And continuing with John, chapters 1 and 2, we find a new dimension coming in. We talked about the prologue yesterday and that sounds kind of, well, what'll I say? But as soon as we get a little further on, we find that Jesus appears and a certain magnetic field appears around him.

[43:52]

In other words, we find a dimension of love coming in. I have to say, it's a dimension of perils. The dimension of desire starts coming in. As John the Baptist is standing there by the river, a picture in there, and Jesus comes along. John points out Jesus, and these disciples of John are drawn to Jesus and they follow him. And this dialogue goes on. Which is so kind of moving. The next day again, John was standing with two of his disciples and he looked at Jesus as he walked and said, Call the Lamb of God. The two disciples follow Jesus. One of them is Andrew, and the other one is, unmentioned and we presume that it's John, who's the other disciple. Jesus turned to them and saw them following and said to them, What do you seek? And they said to him, Rabbi, which means teacher, where are you staying? Strange answer to this question. Where are you staying? And every word here has weight for John. Every word has a kind of symbolic depth to it.

[44:52]

This question of place is very important. That where are you staying? Where do you dwell? Poumenes, I think it is in the Greek. Where do you remain? Abide. It's the same word John uses very often. That's wisdom language, not from the tradition of the Old Testament wisdom books. Where is wisdom? Where is wisdom to be found? Who has found the place of wisdom? You'll find that scattered throughout the book of Job, chapter 28, in the wisdom of Proverbs and so on. Where are you staying? And he says to them, Come and see. Come and see. That's the language of that personified wisdom too. Come, little ones. Come, children. Come and see. They came and they saw where he was staying and they stayed with him that day. A little earlier on, John has told us where Jesus stays. I don't expect that they knew the places being such, but there's this theme of place that runs throughout these chapters. No one has ever seen God.

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The only son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. This is where that wisdom is. And this is the place that is drawing whether or not they realize it. We have the drawing of the first disciples and they're kind of falling in love with this wisdom. You can also consider it the anointing, as it were, of the Holy Spirit that they see in Jesus. On Paul's first Corinthians, the God that said, Let light shine out of darkness, has made shine in our hearts the light of the glory of God shining in the face of Christ Jesus. It's that same magnetism, that same power. It captivates the center even of our humanity and draws it towards him. That's the thing about this wisdom. It's not just in the head, it's in the heart. It's in the place where all of our desires somehow orbit. And it's somehow able to magnetize around of itself, all of that desire and thus draws into one, integrates us in some way. And then they go on until they find Nathaniel.

[46:56]

Often you have a last kind of holdout in these series of disciples or apostles. Here it's Nathaniel and after the resurrection it's Thomas, of course. And Nathaniel argues back, Anything good come out of Nazareth? Philip said to him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him and said to him, Behold an Israelite indeed in whom there is no God. Now, Nathaniel's astonished because somehow Jesus knows something about him that he shouldn't know. Maybe some significant experience of Nathaniel when he was under that fig tree. Nathaniel said to him, How do you know me? Jesus answered him, Before Philip called you when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. Nathaniel answered him, Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel. He's envious now that he's rolled over. That recalls the words of Thomas, at the resurrection, my Lord and my God. It also recalls something else in the Old Testament. You may recall Jacob in chapter 28 of the book of Genesis

[48:00]

at Bethel. Remember, he went and he found a place and he lay down there. And he had a dream. He had a dream of the ladder of God set up between heaven and earth, standing on the earth and reaching up to heaven. There were angels going up and down on it. The end of this chapter is this. Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. Jesus is the place where the angels of heaven ascend and descend. Jesus is the place where that ladder of God is. Remember what Jacob said when he woke up after that dream. He woke up and then he took the stone where he put his head. He took the stone and anointed it. He said, this is the house of God, this is the gate of heaven. I didn't know. The house of God, the gate of heaven. This place, which now is Jesus, is somehow the very body of Jesus. The cry of Nathanael,

[49:01]

Rabbi, you're the Son of God, you're the King of Israel, matches that. This relates to what happens at the end of what I think is this kind of complex in John, the cleansing of the temple. After Jesus cleanses the temple, he was challenged. He said, what right have you got to do this? He said, destroy this temple and in three days I'll raise it up. They said, what do you mean? It took 46 years to build this temple. But he spoke of the temple of his body. He spoke of the temple of his body. That's the place. That's the place of God, the place of the dwelling of God. That's the place where this wisdom dwells. This wisdom which has come to be incarnate, the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, dwells in the body of Christ. The body of Christ, the risen body of Christ, where is that? Where is that? We don't find St. John saying literally that we are his body or that we are the temple of God. I think it's only implicit. He says, I am the vine,

[50:03]

and you are the branches. It's very helpful in reading these chapters 1 and 2 of John's Gospel to read chapters 14 through 17. There are a series of images there that complement these and fill them up. And it's as if John in his whole gospel is saying only one thing. He's only talking about one thing. The whole gospel is not just a history but it's more like more like a poem which is designed to initiate us into an experience, into a knowledge. We don't know whether to call it knowledge or experience or faith because they're all one somehow. You can say an encounter. And that is of this wisdom which is Jesus Christ dwelling within us and drawing us all somehow. Drawing all things into one. There are three images in John 14 through 16. The first one is the dweller. Remember? If any man love me, he will keep my word and I will love him. My father and I will come to him and dwell with him.

[51:05]

I will manifest myself to him. And they talk about the dwelling in the house of God, the rooms, the mansions of the house of God. And then God's dwelling in us, the Trinity dwelling in us. There's the image of the vine and the branches. I am the vine, you are the branches. And finally there's a mysterious image of the woman who is about to give birth and who is in pain. And he says, you have sorrow now because your hour has come. You're like a woman who's about to give birth. But once the child is born, she has no more sorrow for man has been born into the world. Now where's the mother? He says the disciples are like the mother. And where's the child? The disciples are like the one mother. And who's the child? Is it Jesus? Well, yes. It must be Jesus, of course, because he's about to rise from the dead. Is it the disciples? I think it is. The one who gives birth and the one who is born are somehow the same. And in the one who is born

[52:05]

somehow is God and is the human person, the believer. Born in one. Born into this one man who is the world incarnate. The central piece in what we're talking about today is the marriage at Cana. But I'd like to go back and say something else, even though I'm pulling in so many things here it may be very confusing. Where's the transfiguration in John's gospel? It doesn't appear. Which seems astonishing because John takes this transcendent, luminous view of Jesus, and how come he doesn't show us the transfiguration? Well, one answer is that he doesn't need it because the Jesus that walks through the gospel of John seems transfigured all the time. Another answer might be that he's really inserted the transfiguration into these chapters in some way. There are exegetes who say, and they argue about this, whether what's said in John 1.14 in the prologue affects the transfiguration or not. And the word

[53:05]

became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. I'm inclined to think that that does reflect the transfiguration. Just as Peter said, we saw him and we saw his glory. Remember when they saw Jesus transfigured and now the uncreated light, as the Greeks say, shone through him. And the Father's voice was heard saying, This is my beloved Son. This is my beloved Son. Glory as of the only Son from the Father. And from his fullness have we all received. The whole thing, especially the line, and the word became flesh and dwelt among us, means pitched his tent, his tabernacle. And you remember the question of the tabernacles about the transfiguration. And then a bunch of other things. Moses and Elijah were there. We don't find Elijah here. We find Moses and John the Baptist.

[54:06]

And when they were coming down the mountain, the disciples asked, Well, isn't Elijah to come? Nothing about Elijah here. Just after the prologue, it goes on about John the Baptist. Are you Elijah? No, I'm not. I mean, John somehow has replaced Elijah here. But the transfiguration has been injected in here. And why does John replace the transfiguration with something else? Or why does he seemingly transform it into something else? I think he's reversing it. In the other Gospels, Jesus walks around as a man. And you have this question of who is he? Until the time when the light shines through him. Father's voice is heard. This is my beloved son. And John, he's divine from the start. He's the word that comes down from heaven. And his glory is revealed in another way. The glory is revealed in his humanity. In the gift that is given to man. Remember when Jesus prays for his own glory near the end of the Gospel in John 17. He prays for his glory and in the same breath

[55:08]

he prays that something will happen to those disciples. That something will be given to them. That they will be one as the Father and He are one. That He may dwell in them. That the love that the Father has for Him may dwell in them. And so on. That's where the glory of Jesus is in this Gospel. And after the miracle at Cana, John says this. This the first of his signs. And it's very significant that this miracle of the marriage of Cana, the converting of the water into wine, is the first of his signs. It's also, I think, a key sign through which you can look at the whole Gospel. This the first of his signs Jesus did at Cana in Galilee and manifested His glory. So the glory of Jesus is manifested not by His being illuminated, made transparent to that light which is God on top of the mountain, but by His coming to this humble human wedding feast and creating the wine which is a sign of His whole gift. Everything that John says is symbolic

[56:11]

practically speaking and so this is. What does the wine symbolize? The wine symbolizes that which is poured out into us. First there was water, now there's wine. First there was the teaching of John the Baptist, the law of Moses before that. Now there's grace and truth. First there was doctrine and law, now there's wisdom. And what's the difference? The doctrine and law was outside of you, just like those tablets of stone. It was hard tablets of stone. There was no appeal from above. The wisdom is inside of you, just like that new heart that Jeremiah and Ezekiel talk about. The water of John, the baptism, is outside of you. John says he will come baptized with the Holy Spirit. That's what's inside of you. That's the wine. We usually consider the wine to be the Holy Spirit. This is like we usually consider the water, the living water that Jesus talks about later to the Samaritan and in the temple to be the Holy Spirit. But according to Brown, I believe in,

[57:11]

it's also wisdom. It's the Spirit which brings us the word which is Jesus and dwells inside of us, so that that which is in Jesus is then in us. That which is His and that which is Him is then ours and us. John says near the end of the prologue, from His fullness have we all received. From His fullness. Remember how Paul talks to the Colossians about in Him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In Him is the fullness of the divinity, physically. And that physically extends right to us, right to our bodies in which it is dwelt. They say that two mysteries are particularly fascinating for the monastic tradition, for contemplative communities especially. The Transfiguration and Cana. And I think that we find

[58:12]

in John, his first chapters of John, I think we find them both there actually. Not just Cana but also the Transfiguration. The two of them are rather intimately connected. In the Transfiguration we see as it were Christology from below suddenly being illuminated by as it were the Holy Spirit, the light of God. In the marriage feast of Cana we see the opposite. We see the light of God itself coming down, as it were concealing itself in the human marriage and in this symbolic gift which is just a humble act of charity.

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