The principle of the “self-made person” has always filled me with skepticism. While some may be particularly resourceful or have an abundance of grit and ability, no one goes it alone. Somewhere and when, every life is touched, shaped, influenced, informed, and inspired by others. Each of is the product of parents (or their surrogates), family, spouses, friends, community, school, and, if we are so blessed, a community of faith. Some would even claim they are formed by what the Book of Hebrews calls the great cloud of witnesses, the communion of saints.
Many years ago in college, I heard the firebrand Methodist preacher, the Rev. Joe Matthews, founder of the inner city Ecumenical Institute in Chicago. In an unforgettable sermon he kept referring to “my friend, Martin Luther”, “my colleague, John Wesley,” “my teacher, Paul”, as if these biblical and historical figures were his present companions! Dr. Bruce Rigdon, church history professor at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, visited Greece doing research on Orthodox Christianity, and lived in a Greek village with this family. In a story he recounted at a session of The Academy for Spiritual Formation which Kitty attended in the late 1980’s, his young daughter came up missing, and after a frantic search, discovered her with a playmate in the local church. They were sitting on the floor facing the iconostasis, the screen separating worshippers from the altar which is covered with the pictures of biblical characters and saints. When asked by her relieved parents what she was doing, she innocently replied, “We were talking with our friends”.
I was reintroduced to one such holy friend this week, St John of the Cross (1542-1591), Spanish mystic and religious reformer. In two morning devotions to which Kitty & I subscribe, this Carmelite friar was remembered for his sublime devotion to God. His continual journey of seeking God was not a steady uphill ascent. He struggled with his own religious order and their resistance to reform (for two years they even imprisoned him!), sometimes sensed the absence of God, but continued striving toward the Infinite Love which he knew created him and toward whom his life and vocation were directed. It is John of the Cross who coined the term, “The Dark Night of the Soul”. We sometimes use this term glibly when we are feeling down, or things in life are going awry. For him, this was spiritual anguish where the soul is not dusted off, but scoured. It is what many are feeling now in the face of an invisible virus, but whose effects have left devastation across the globe. It a feeling of abandonment, isolation, and despair. Yet, he pursued Divine Love, because deeply he believed that Love was seeking him.
John explained what we certainly know at the human level: ”Anyone truly in love will let all other things go to come closer to the loved one”. How much more true this is in our souls’ journeys toward God, toward Infinite Love. John would tell us that that such seeking brings us tranquility, gentleness, and strength, and finally what the scroll in the icon pictured above proclaims: “The love of God is the health of the soul”. My prayer for you this week, beloved, is not just safety, health and protection in this time of uncertainty, but the health of your souls as well.
Faithfully, in love, Pastor Tom+