Source of StrengthPosted: February 8, 2015
Source of Strength
SLIDE 3: SOUGHT OUT A CAVE
Extraordinary and miraculous things happened, when Jesus preached and taught. People reached out to him for healing and acceptance. He gathered together people, unlikely dinner guests, to eat together crossing social boundaries and religious taboos. In our scripture after an exciting morning at the Synagogue Jesus walked to Peter’s House, where he healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and at sundown the close of the Sabbath the town’s people gathered at the door of Peter’s House bringing their sick friends and loved ones with them. So after an evening, and perhaps some of the night, healing the sick ones brought to him, Jesus walked into the dark up the slope of what today we call the Mount of Beatitudes and sought out a cavern, a cave, where he could be alone, rest and pray.
SLIDE 4: ALONE TIME
What was the source of Jesus’ strength, the secret of the miracles that seemed to sprout around him? Jesus was deeply engaged with people, and he also needed lots of alone time for rest and prayer. Again and again we read in the gospel that Jesus withdrew by himself to pray, often all night. We should also pay attention to Bargil Pixner’s reference to a cavern on the Mount of Beatitudes in his important book, With Jesus Through Galilee: According to the Fifth Gospel. Recently scholars and archaeologists have discovered and restored a small cavern near the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus may have retreated for prayer. Pixner believes that understanding the geography of Holy Land is like having a “Fifth Gospel” we can use to understand our written scriptures.
SLIDE 5: DESERTED PLACES
If we visit Capernaum, we can see that the village lay at the bottom of the Eastern slope of the Mount of Beatitudes. The Bible sometimes uses the word “desert” to describe areas around the Mt. of Beatitudes and between the villages of Capernaum and Bethsaida. That term should more accurately be translated deserted, because much of the Galilee around Capernaum was lush and green even forested. Jesus went into these deserted areas to be close to nature and seek solitude for prayer and meditation.
SLIDE 6: DARKNESS, QUIET, SOLITUDE
Bargil Pixner claims that the cavern on the Mt. of Beatitudes was one of Jesus’ favorite retreats for prayer. Barbara Brown Taylor points out in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, several important spiritual geniuses spent considerable time in caves: the Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, St. Patrick, St. Francis all spent long periods of time in caves. What did they find there? Darkness, quiet, solitude a time and place free of distraction, a place of self-emptying.
SLIDE 7: ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS
Another spiritual genius St. John of the Cross drew strength and insight from his imprisonment in a dark cave like prison. He was responsible for coining the term the “dark night of the soul,” and he may give us some insight into the source of Jesus’ spiritual energy.
SLIDE 8: NADA
For John of the Cross, the dark night is a love story, full of the painful joy of seeking the most elusive lover of all. John is no help at all to anyone seeking a better grip on God. One of the central functions of the dark night, he says, is to convince those who grasp after things that God cannot be grasped. In John’s native Spanish, his word for God is “nada.” God is no-thing. God is not a thing. And since God is not a thing, God cannot be held on to. God can only be encountered as that which eclipses the reality of all other things.
SLIDE 9: THE REAL THING
This makes John a teacher in the negative way. He does not try to teach by saying what God is, since positive statements about God serve chiefly to fool us into believing that our half-baked images of God and our flawed ideas about how God acts are the Real Thing. John works in the opposite direction. He teaches by saying what God is not, hoping to convince us that our images of and ideas about “God” are in fact obstacles between us and the Real Thing.
SLIDE 10: THE DARK NIGHT IS GOD’S BEST GIFT
The dark night is God’s best gift to us, intended for our liberation. It is about freeing us from our ideas about God, our fears about God, our attachment to all the benefits we have been promised for believing in God, our devotion to the spiritual practices that are supposed to make us feel closer to God, our dedication to doing and believing all the right things about God.
SLIDE 11: OUR HEART’S DESIRE SOURCE OF STRENGTH
All of these are substitutes for God, John says. They all get in God’s way and prevent us from realizing how far we have strayed from our heart’s true desire. Perhaps in the solitude of the deserted places where Jesus retreated to pray he connected with his heart’s desire, a direct experience of that reality that eclipses all other things, and drew strength from the source of all spiritual energy.
SLIDE 12: CONNECT WITH THE NATURAL WORLD
Now that may be all well and good for John of the Cross and maybe Jesus, but what does that mean for us? First, I think Jesus’ deep attachment to nature should be an important example to us. We can take time to connect with the natural world around us. My daughter Jennifer seeks her connection with the divine in nature. Tom Hedrick hikes every day. I am greatly diminished, when I do not walk outside. (And that has been difficult lately.) Connecting with the natural world can bring all of us into closer harmony with ourselves and the universe. In the words of Henry David Thoreau: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
SLIDE 13: SOLITUDE
And Thoreau suggests to me our need for solitude in our spiritual development – time alone without distraction. And our world is full of distractions, televisions, radios, ipods, Kindles and our ubiquitous cell phones. Can we spend twenty-four hours without all of our devices? What if we had a “silent retreat?” No phone calls, no email, no text messages, no Facebook. Made to do without all of those connections we might finally connect with ourselves and God?
SLIDE 14: LISTENING
Solitude also suggests to me the importance of listening — deep quiet listening. At first when we try to be alone all of our internal voices begin clamoring to be heard. The endless babble of our very busy stream of consciousness. In order to quiet the chatter, we may need a piece of paper beside us to write down some of those thoughts, so we can promise we will come back to them later. And then when the voices fade away we can listen to the silence. For it is out of the silence we connect with the divine.
SLIDE 15: ADDICTION TO ELECTRONIC DEVICES
I suspect that our addiction to our electronic devices our avoidance of solitude has something to do with our fear of the dark night of the soul. We use our phones, the internet, our music, our cable T.V., Netflicks, and all of our electronic messaging to try to keep at bay the dark night. Like most difficult disciplines the hardest part of the dark night of the soul is simply persisting long enough to get through.
SLIDE 16: STAY WITH THE NIGHT
According to St. John of the Cross we are never more in danger of stumbling than when we think we know where we are going. When we can no longer see the path we are on, when we can no longer read the maps we have brought with us or sense anything in the dark that might tell us where we are, then and only then are we vulnerable to God’s protection. This remains true even when we cannot discern God’s presence. The only thing the dark night requires of us is to remain conscious. If we can stay with the moment in which God seems most absent, the night will do the rest.
SLIDE 17: HUMILITY
One last thought about finding our source of strength is humility. Only when we are willing to give up everything we think we know do we find the way to God. St. Thomas Aquinas provides perhaps the best illustration of this kind of humility. Aquinas wrote the Suma Theologica, a multi-volume work covering almost every conceivable subject about God. Then he had a direct spiritual vision of the divine, and he stopped writing. A friend begged him to continue his work, but Thomas replied: “I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”
SLIDE 18: SNOOPY’S TRUTH
Perhaps in his divine vision Aquinas discovered Snoopy’s great truth, “has it ever occurred to you, you might be wrong?” Which isn’t to say we are wrong, but maybe we finally discover humility and a vision that transcends our feeble mortal understanding. As we grow older and become less sure of all we think we know, maybe we grow closer to the source of strength that will see us through.