Featured in one of last week’s liturgies, the gospel text provided us with a very short but profound insight into the spiritual life. It came Mark 3:21-22. It consists of only two sentences, the second of which reveals that the relatives of Jesus were convinced that he was out of his mind.
This was said in the context of him having healed so many people such that his life seemed to be so overwhelmed with people who were in need of a touch of the divine. This obviously concerned Jesus’ relatives to the point of their thinking that there was something not quite right about him, causing them to make this remark about his being out of his mind.
Is this not the essence of true spirituality - where one is no longer merely a logic-centered and empirically controlled person, but is able to look beyond what lies before one in life? Coming hot on the heels of the previous gospel texts in the days before was the term ‘repentance’. This English term is a very poor translation of the Greek ‘metanoia’ which has a much deeper implication than being sorry for one’s transgressions. ‘Metanoia’ or ‘metanoiete’ calls for one to go beyond the mind, or to enter into another platform of realization, where one not only grasps truth and reality in a new way, but rather that one allows oneself to be grasped by truth and reality. No longer just the work of the mind, it is encounter with the eternity of the divine.
The problem with most of humanity is that it is often purely centered on the mind and nothing else. One can look back in history and blame it on the advent of the modern philosophy with the work of Rene Descartes and friends, but in truth, I believe that it is something that has been somewhat hardwired in our broken humanity. We are ‘rational animals’, as Aristotle is often quoted as saying, and he was not wrong. Neither was he fully right. He got it half right.
It is a common saying that the longest journey that anyone can make is that from the head to the heart. Some do not even begin to make that long journey, and prefer to stay on the level of the mind, trying to figure out God and conceptualize God as one being among other beings, instead of the one who is the ground of our very being. Problems will obviously ensue when we see God as just another being (though with much more power and strength) as he will be constantly competing against other beings that we deal with in life. This erroneous and diminished view of God weakens our sense of him in his very being, and so, many of us end up looking for ways to give God our time, outside of what other items of our lives demand of our time and energy. So, for instance, giving God time in prayer can end up being something that we do when we are doing nothing else that is considered profane or worldly, as if God is not in the world.
Of course, the danger of writing about this is that one can just exonerate oneself from the very act of praying by saying that one is now doing everything with a heightened awareness of God’s pervasive presence in all things. The temptation would then be to say that there is thus no need to give God dedicated tine in prayer. Unfortunately, this may well be an indication that one has missed the point of the spiritual life.
In fact, knowing that God is ever-present and the ground of our very being requires of us a much deeper response to his invitation to be in union with him in prayer, surrendering ourselves more and more, to be soaked deeper and deeper in his pool of divine love. This will enable us to be more aware of how God can be encountered in our normal everyday activities. An analogy of this would be how so many people tend to say that as long as they live justly and honestly, that there is no need to be people who worship and pray to God and be religious.
Timothy Keller, an author whose book I am currently reading, gives a very good response to this, and gives an image of a widow having a son whom she raises and puts through good schools and a good university at great sacrifice to herself, as she is a woman of slender means. As he grows, his mother imparts wise advice, reminding him to always tell the truth, work hard, and be sensitive to the poor. This man graduates from his studies and goes on to establish his career and life, but hardly spends time with his mother, hardly even giving her one phone call a month. If asked about his relationship with his mother, this man would say, “I don’t have anything to do with her personally, but I always tell the truth, I work hard, I have a keen sense of right and wrong, and I do care for the poor.” In essence, he is saying that he is living a good life (like many atheists do) and would argue that that is all that matters. Or is it?
The obvious truth is that there is a lack in this man’s life and approach to life, which goes beyond his living a mere moral life that his mother set in his conscience. This man in actual fact owes his mother far more than just living a ‘good life’. He owes his mother his love, and his loyalty, and a dedicated relationship with her.
So too for us, when we want to find some good reason to be faithful in prayer, difficult and inconvenient though it may be. We owe it to God who is the very ground of our being, and to always put him in the centre of our very lives. This is not a case of logic, which is mind-centered, but a case of the heart, which is being-centered. Where God is concerned, perhaps we need to be ‘out of our minds’ too.
The truth is, not only was Jesus truly ‘out of his mind’, but that we as Christ’s brothers and sisters, also need to learn how to live ‘out of our minds’ and make that long but oh so necessary journey to the heart. Only a true metanoia allows us to begin this journey, which I am quite sure doesn’t ever end, even after our physical deaths.