This week it’s something different. Geoff Wood is someone whose writings are little known to the general population. He writes for his parish in Sonoma, CA, and I’ve spent a wonderful morning speaking with him. He writes a weekly reflection on the Sunday Gospel. This reflection is for the Gospel for this Sunday (John 15: 12-15), when Thomas learns more than his pessimism might allow for. Geoff’s other reflections are online: http://angelacentergeoffwood.blogspot.sg/ I decided to substitute this one for mine this week because 1) I can’t think of anything better to say, 2) his words describe something that echoes my own experience, and 3) it’s good to share interesting reflections by other people. On the weekend when we celebrate Buddha’s birthday, the openness of the human spirit to realities thought to be beyond our reach is a good thing to think about.
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.”
With startling rapidity the faith of our civilization seems to be slipping away. As recently as my childhood Catholics and Protestants for the most part didn’t question their creed. They were born into it and, as they grew up, it was reinforced by a prosperous Church, plenty of priests and ministers, family solidarity. We had no doubts where we came from cosmically. The catechisms were full of answers that were easily memorized. The sacraments were accompanied by gestures that had become habitual, collectively uniform. Now, I am speaking as an old man; I’m not sure someone born even 30 years ago has had the same experience. But that’s my point! Times have rapidly changed. The ethnic, creedal solidarity we once assumed had been around forever has broken up. People of different cultural and even global background have become our neighbors. And then, 300 years of secular philosophies, of the “supremacy” of science over religion have reduced Christ, for example, to another Socrates, at best – and all options seem open as far as what truth might be.
And so I read today on the Internet a blurb by an ex-Catholic who boasts of his newfound freedom – from the whole “myth” he was taught in his youth. He doesn’t take the Gospels seriously either literally or metaphorically. He now embraces an existence (for his kids too?) that stops dead at death! And yet he’s laughing. Obviously he has not reached 40 let alone 50. And he is raising his children as dogmatically in his skepticism even as he was raised dogmatically in Catholicism. Except again – there’s that Berlin Wall called death that he’ll have to deal with some way or other – or steel himself to it with a display of theatrical defiance? But is it his fault? One must admit our Christian tradition shares the fault. The essence of biblical and liturgical theology poorly taught, poorly understood even by teachers can contribute to disenchantment. Young people in this day and age and under the influence of bright atheists or agnostics are going to be better impressed.
But is it, after all, a matter of a better Christian education? Teaching, be it “literally” or “abstractly” done, won’t be enough. What has to happen is “conversion”. This being the Pentecost season, we should be aware that conversion happens when one wakes up one morning a different person, suddenly alive, aware of a spark having been struck in one’s mind, one’s imagination, one’s soul. The mission of teaching is to arrange the dry grass and wood chips, to strike the flint, to create the spark – in other words educate in a way that allows a tongue of fire to enkindle a blaze of genuine, living faith, hope and love within even possibly a 60 year old Catholic who may have recited his creed his whole life long - but never with a “tongue of fire”.
“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” Jesus said this at the Last Supper and scholars think he’s foretelling his coming resurrection when he will deepen his disciples’ understanding of what he is all about. Yet those words are addressed to you too – that if in fact what you have learned about Christ and his mission and origin is still a lot of “information” or piety – then he is telling you there is more to come. It will not just be a good course in theology. It will be that waking up one morning aware of a depth and expanse to this universe far beyond the range of any telescope, a sense of a grace permeating creation that becomes a turning point you will never be able to reverse or explain to others. It means suddenly seeing the risen Christ and dropping to your knees not in a servile way but with astonishment and blurting out: “My Lord and my God.” - Geoff Wood