Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Words are signs, not reality itself. That’s why I can write, ‘cease from struggle’ and ‘struggle with all your might.’ Am I saying two different things, using this same word ‘struggle’? Well, yes, and no. There is a way in which one idea somehow contains or includes its apparent opposite. Christianity is full of this kind of thing, which is why those who choose not to believe it become hopelessly confused and place the blame where it doesn’t belong, on Christ, or God, or the Church, instead of on themselves. First Christ or the Bible says one thing, then the opposite.

For yes, we are to blame when we refuse what is obvious and in plain sight, because we’ve allowed ourselves to be tricked by words, our own words or those of others, using them to further deceive ourselves. Isn’t this exactly what the prophet means when he utters, ‘Hear and hear again, but do not understand; see and see again, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people gross, its ears dull; shut its eyes, so that it will not see with its eyes, hear with its ears, understand with its heart, and be converted and healed’ (Isaiah 6:9-10)?

I always wondered, when I read this passage, who was the prophet telling, ‘Make the heart of this people gross…’? Was he telling God to do this? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then God is able to be tempted to do something wrong, which is something that the apostle Paul assures us He cannot do. But it is also written that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would refuse Moses’ plea ‘Let my people go!’ and open the door for God to act, afflicting Egypt with plagues, killing the first-born, and leading Israel out of bondage ‘with signs and wonders.’

What kind of a God would do that, and still insist on being ‘compassionate and merciful’ and all the rest? Are we to go on blindly receiving and believing the words of scripture, setting ourselves up for a massive logical cataclysm somewhere down the road? Well, or else, as fundamentalists, secure our sanity with the jingle, ‘God said it! I believe it! That settles it!’ No, my brothers, ours is the God we know inwardly through the testimony of the Holy Spirit and the teachings and acts of Jesus Christ, who says, ‘If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.’

‘Words! Words! There was a time when I believed in words!’ declares Francesco of Assisi with a sigh to his beloved friend Bernardo da Quintavalle in the film Brother Sun, Sister Moon. No, I am not bringing in modern screenplay texts to prop up my beliefs, the Bible, or God. Only to give another example from life, that what we speak and think, using words, is never the whole picture, never reality, not even when the words are found written in the scriptures themselves. God entrusts Himself to us principally in the human person, in Christ, past, present, and to come.

Words follow like shadows, but it is the real man, the real God, we seek. Yet our desire is not strong enough, our memories soon take over, and words about Him replace being with Him, and Christ retreats to the sanctuary, the ikon, the scriptures. Our minds are now free to learn from words what our hearts once knew by His wordless touch and, as St Basil writes, ‘we are all deceived.’ In this frame of mind we find ourselves stoning the innocent, those Christ comes to save and whose sins He forgave, and drifting farther away from each other and from Him, justified by words.

It’s strange to visit a congregation of deaf Christians. Yes, like any other, they have words, but many of them have never heard them spoken, others have had to learn language through books and writings only. I often wonder how this affects their thinking and, hence, their actions. They seem to be a more peaceful, cooperative, even loving group than almost any others. Are they experiencing ‘by anticipation’ one of the conditions of the world to come, which is silence? At any rate, I know of only one ‘Deaf Church’ where I live. Apparently they haven’t quarreled their way into denominations.

Back to myself, I say that I am ‘a word man,’ and immediately notice how this has as much imprisoned me as liberated me. Words are both the way out of darkness of mind, and the way in. Heresies rarely come from following Jesus, doing what He does, saying what He says, but ‘by words are men entangled, as birds are by their feet,’ and we go astray, led by our word pictures, those static, false icons, into worshiping them and, through them, ourselves. Like St Paul who says, ‘the letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life’ (2 Corinthians 3:6), let us not be enslaved by these, but beyond words, know the Word Himself, who is ‘the true Light that enlightens all men’ (John 1:9).

1 comment:

HandWrittenWord said...

This passage came to mind almost immediately as I was reading your latest entry:

You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. (John 5: 39-40)

I sincerely thank you for your ministry.