David McKee’s Homily from May 8, 2022

Holy Wisdom Monastery Homilies Leave a Comment

Fourth Sunday of Easter

May 8, 2022

Acts 9:36-43

Revelation 7:9-17

John 10:22-30

Two fragments from today’s gospel:

…you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice.

and

God and I are one.

Spoken by John’s Jesus to the religious authorities, these two proclamations have been arising, persisting, and fading away in my mind, over and over in the last several weeks. What I have to say this morning, for what it’s worth, is my own thinking out loud about what they mean to me, and how I see them as related to one another. I offer this in the hope that my musings have some resonance with your own understanding. We are all in this together, right? Right?!

In my efforts to be a good Benedictine, I will start with the importance of listening. “Listen” is the first word in the Rule of Benedict. Our patron saint’s opening sentence reads, “Listen carefully…to my instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” Listening is very important in our Christian life and is central in the Benedictine way. And listening is not easy. It takes a lot of work to listen without preconceptions and judgements, without formulating our own answer, without formulating our next question. Just listening, fully taking in and being with what someone is saying is definitely a challenge. It is a lifelong practice. When real listening happens, it can be both rewarding and surprising. As my favorite Zen master, Yogi Berra, put it, “You can hear a lot by listening.”

That being said, St. Benedict adds something a bit more mysterious to the mix: he enjoins us to listen with the ear of our heart. It is an evocative turn of phrase. In everyday speech, we often use the word “heart” in ways that are neither anatomical nor physiological. We say our hearts are touched, our hearts are moved, we give heart-felt thanks, we say that someone is in their head rather than their heart…the list goes on. In our Christian contemplative tradition, starting with the earliest desert monks, there is much focus on cultivating “purity of heart.” This is grounded in the Beatitude, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. In the Eastern church, there is the long-established tradition of the “prayer of the heart,” and the admonition to “put the mind in the heart.” In some way, there is the sense that listening with the ear of the heart is different, is deeper, than ordinary listening.

In our contemporary world, we tend to identify the heart with the emotions. In Benedict’s world, the heart had a larger and deeper meaning. The heart was taken to be the symbol of the center of one’s being; the source of our own inner truth. To know something in the heart is to know it with utter certainty, even though we may not be able to say clearly why we know it, or maybe even exactly what it is we know. There is just a sense of conviction and commitment to that truth. In this sense, then, for Benedict and for much of the Christian tradition, the heart is the seat of faith. The heart is where we know in the dark, without clear explications or

explanations. In the heart we know, even though we can’t say. This view is echoed in the even more ancient Dao de Jing of the legendary Chinese sage, Lao Tzu, where it says: “Those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know.” Recently, I heard an interview with the contemporary American poet, Marie Howe. She said something that went through me like a bolt of lightning; she said, “I don’t know about the soul. I don’t know anything about that.  All I know is that some things have happened that I don’t understand, and they’re the most true things I’ve known. That’s finally all I can say…some things have happened that I don’t understand that feel like the most important things that have ever happened to me.”

I suspect most of us have had moments like this; maybe looking into the eyes of someone we love; maybe when we have been truly seen and understood by someone; maybe when, in the silence of the morning, we hear the unexpected whisper of an aspen tree and our eyes unaccountably fill with tears. I think this is what happened to the followers of Jesus when they first met him, when they heard his voice; and particularly when they witnessed how he lived his everyday life in the world. When we listen to Jesus with the ear of the heart, that is when we truly hear his voice. In those moments we truly are his sheep. He invites us into the sheepfold and we go; no explanations needed. And, by extension, when we listen to one another with the ear of the heart, we are participating in what we call the Body of Christ. Indeed, in that listening, in that receiving of one another without preconceptions or explanations, we are the Body of Christ. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m going to step back for a moment. I want this to be more than just me talking. I’m going to ask us to do something together that invites us to listen in an unaccustomed way. It is an opportunity to just listen, without listening to or listening for anything–a chance to have a little taste of the inner stance of just listening.

DO THE “BELL” EXERCISE

So, just listening without listening to or listening for anything…let’s try it again

DO THE “BELL” EXERCISE

Keep your eyes closed for a few moments and experience that inner stance of just listening. Maybe just for a moment, there is just the listening without an object, and maybe even without a

subject. Just listening without a listener.

We are used to listening with a purpose, with a goal. Our habitual mental stance is that I, the subject, am here, listening to something or someone outside myself; something or someone I think of as being “not I.” Generally, this is our typical view of our living in the world: that the reality of things is “me in here and everything else out there.” And this extends to our spiritual lives: “me here, God there.” We live as though God is another object (or being) among all the other objects or beings…only bigger, omniscient, omnipotent, etc….all those qualities most of us learned in Sunday school. But John’s Jesus proclaims a very different understanding. He says boldly, God and I are one. No “me here, God there.” No separation. No subject, no object. Jesus was someone who realized, who embodied, this truth in his own life. I also believe that he saw this as true for all of us. Jesus is modeling this for all of us; his proclamation invites each of us to realize that God and I are one. Now, before I get up to my neck in apparent doctrinal hot water, let me take note of the scripture scholar, Gail O’Day. In her verse-by-verse commentary on John’s gospel, she makes clear the difference between John’s theology and the theological arguments of the early church that eventuated in the doctrine of the trinity as expressed in the Nicene Creed…over 2 centuries later. John’s Jesus expresses his deep faith in his union with God, not that he is God. Throughout this gospel, Jesus is at pains to point out to his disciples that he is a vehicle of his God’s, his Abba’s, action in the world. The 20th century Catholic

writer, Romano Guardini, put it very well, saying, “Although I am not God, I am not other than God either.” Or in the words of the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing, “God’s being is my being, though I am not God’s being.”

In the mysterious darkness of our listening hearts, we have intimations of this reality. We know, deep down, that we are not separate. We know there is, ultimately, no me-in-here and

you-out-there. I may not be you, but I am also not other than you. Nor is there

me-here-and-God-there. We know in our hearts that we are already one; that we are eternally in God and God is eternally in us. We know in our hearts that it is in and through us, the Body

of Christ, that God lives and moves and has Her being in the world. On this Mother’s Day, let us recognize that we are all held in this loving embrace; an embrace that is a divine embrace;

God’s embrace that we know in and through our embrace of one another. AMEN

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