Leaders of the people and elders: If we are being examined today about a good deed done to a cripple, namely by what means he was saved, then all of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed.
Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord.
There is a mysterious aspect to verse 12 of chapter 12 of John’s gospel. “And none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they realized it was the Lord.” If the disciples do not dare to ask who this is, then they must have some question about it. Yet, we are also told that “they realized it was the Lord.” How is a realization at the same time mysterious to us?
The disciples have just experienced the mysterious catch of fish by obeying the command of Jesus, and they are now called by him to have breakfast, to engage in a very homey and domestic activity. This very complex and weighty verse of scripture which is describing the nature of the encounter with the Risen Jesus captures the experience not only of the disciples but of ourselves. Likewise, the words of Peter in Acts assert that the good work the disciples do now that Jesus has been raised from the dead are always done “in his name.”
One of the most meaningful and powerful of human experiences occurs in a moment in which we realize that some work that we have done has been so much more than we ever thought possible. Our state, when performing such a work, is often one in which we are, in one sense, totally out of ourselves and, at the same time, absolutely within. That is, it is an expression of ourselves that is more complete than we often feel capable of, while, at the same time, its effects are clearly infinitely beyond us.
Less this sound hopelessly vague, here is a somewhat common example. Recently a friend and colleague and I have been engaged in composing a text for the members of the community to use for their personal and shared reflection. We spent hours reflecting together and speaking about what might be of help to the brothers in their living out the call of our Fundamental Principles “to enter into a true mutual sharing of faith and prayer with your brothers.” Although we gave all the energy and thought we had to the work, we realized in retrospect there were aspects of the final product whose relevance and interconnection very much surprised us. As we looked back, we saw that some of the questions we posed, that were actually most helpful to others, were ones that we couldn’t even remember formulating. Somehow the work that came about was both ours and not ours; it was both the fruit of our efforts and a result far beyond those efforts.
The “common, ordinary, unspectacular flow of everyday life” includes such experiences for each of us. There are times when we are worried about what to say to someone or in a given situation and we are shocked at the words that come out of us, even so far as to wonder about who could this person be who spoke them. There are moments when, somewhat on a whim, we might choose to go to listen to someone speak or to pick up a certain book and discover that the words we are hearing or reading are precisely what we need to hear at this moment in our lives. Sometimes in dealing with a problem or issue that has seemed intractable to us for a long time, a certain flash of insight occurs, or we see or hear something that, of a sudden, unknots the problem. Recently our leadership team spent time over three days pondering and attempting to discern what response was being asked of us by a difficult communal situation. We wrestled with many possibilities that came to mind, yet no one held on to any one of them. We would express our thoughts to the group and then release them into the shared discernment. Eventually, a response that was both helpful and possible emerged, not from any pre-ideation of any one of us, but from the sharing and open discernment of the group.
In both personal and shared experiences of such flow and insight, we, like the disciples in today’s gospel, dare not ask who it is that has done this work because we know it is the Lord. Yet that knowing remains for us shrouded in mystery and in faith. It looks, to some degree, as if it is us. And yet, we know it to be far beyond the “us” that lives our ordinary domesticated life. For a time we have given ourselves over to a work in a mode of flow, which is also a mode of obedience, that realizes our life as an “instrument of God’s peace,” as St. Francis would say, as an instrument of the works of God. At such times, we share the experience of which Peter speaks, that we have done what we have done “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean.”
So the power of the Resurrection, which can often seem a vague abstraction to us, is really very much experientially known to us. Yet, we are well aware that although such an experience of our work is known to all of us, it is not at all true that this is the usual mode of living and working. What then is required on our part to dispose ourselves to becoming more consistently this kind of instrument of God’s works of love?
Jan van Ruusbroec says that “if a person is to savor God, [that person] must love, and if [that person] wishes to love, [such a person] must have this savor.” For Ruusbroec, we savor God in subsisting with God in God’s eternal rest, and we love by subsisting actively in God’s eternal activity. Recently a respondent to one of my reflections reminded me of the insight of Blaise Pascal: “All human evil comes from a single cause; the human person’s inability to sit still in a room.” It is only when we are at rest that we are able to savor God.
Perhaps most significantly in our time, we must once again learn to rest. Ruusbroec says that to subsist in God’s rest we first of all must not let ourselves “be satisfied with other things.” If we enter a time of discernment or any true moment of work hoping to satisfy our need for power, for the esteem of others, for a quick and easy answer because we are so busy, a possessiveness of our own ideas and projects, then we shall not be a servant of anything but that goal or need. We shall limit the possibilities because we are unconsciously filtering out whatever does not satisfy that need. So, the rest of which Ruusbroec speaks is the rest that empties ourselves of all in ourselves that is not our longing and love for God. It is to clear away all in us that is motivated by a desire for self-promotion and self-aggrandizement, that is, all that serves our pride form.
This does not mean failing to give all we have to the task. In fact, one of the ways we practice such emptiness and rest in God is by humbly offering all the little that we have. It is by expressing in openness and with detachment whatever it is we have to offer. It is doing what we can, as little as that may seem. It is pride that leads us to withhold ourselves. Again using the example of shared discernment, it is by each of us “offering up” to the others what we have to say, to offer it up in such a way that we release it and cease holding on to it, that the space begins to be created, a space of rest from our tendencies to manipulation and control, a space where spirit and the Spirit may enter. In a sense, we keep emptying ourselves until there is space for God, who is eternal activity as well as eternal rest, to fill that shared empty space.
When God does fill that space that the expression of our poverty and humility creates, the life of God, that is our true life, arises. We know not where it came from and not even where it is going, but we do not ask who it is because we realize “it is the Lord.”
Every lover, then, is one with God in rest and is like God in the works of love, for God, in his sublime nature of which we bear a likeness, subsists blissfully in eternal rest in accordance with the essential Unity of his being and also subsists actively in eternal activity in accordance with the Trinity. Each of these is the perfection of the other, for rest abides in the Unity and activity abides in the Trinity, and the two remain thus for all eternity. For this reason, if a person is to savor God, he must love, and if he wishes to love, he must have this savor. If he lets himself be satisfied with other things, then he can have no savor of what God is. We must therefore possess ourselves in a simple way in virtue and in our likeness to God and must also possess God above ourselves in rest and unity by means of love. This is the first point to be made concerning the gift of understanding: how a person who is common to all is made firm and stable.
Jan van Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals, II,iv,B