Tuesday 15 April 2014

Wisdom and Bitter Tears

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Psalm 51:6

61 The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.’ 62 And he went out and wept bitterly.
Luke 22

There is an idea that the acquisition of Wisdom is a feelgood thing. The purpose of acquiring it is to affirm our own essential goodness and rightness. Peace of heart is the result of discovering that actually we are not the sum of our failures but truly good people. Over against this Christianity with its desperately unfashionable insistence about the need to repent and repudiate our own wickedness is seen as an enemy of Wisdom and self-affirmation. And yet, somehow, many of these seekers after Wisdom are happy to say that Jesus was a wise teacher whose followers have misrepresented His teachings.

I think that it is true that we learn the deepest and most valuable wisdom in the secrets of our heart and that in a way without words. When Jesus looked silently at St Peter He imparted a wisdom teaching to the Apostle. The fruit of that Wisdom was tears. Here we come to the crucial difference between the Wisdom of the Christians and the wisdom of self-affirmation.

The heart is a secret not only to outsiders but also in no small measure to the one who possesses it. A silent wisdom can enter into it and grow and we can be unaware of it until the moment it suddenly bursts forth into flower-
26 He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.  
Mark 4
The eyes of Jesus conveyed a message to Saint Peter that had the effect of bringing to its culmination that process of growth which had for so long been taking place within his secret heart. A memory is a more complex thing than we often allow for. Every single thing that is recalled carries with it a host of other things that are associated with it.

In remembering the words that Jesus had uttered He also recalled, consciously, unconsciously or subconsciously, the person who had uttered them, their friendship, His many acts of kindness and healing, the meals they had shared, the friends they had in common-not least the Blessed Mother of the Lord- the teachings, the baptisms, the journeys, the love He had freely given. For memory is not a thing of the discursive mind only, with feeling we remember feelings, with emotion we recall and re-experience feelings. In a moment of time, or perhaps in an experience wholly outside of time and space, the Apostle felt all these things rushing upon him. And over and against all this was his act, now three times repeated of denying that he knew the man Jesus or had anything to do with Him.

The Gospels are insistent in recording that this Prince of Apostles did not simply weep but that he wept "bitterly." These were tears of a man whose heart was breaking. His worldly human heart was being broken on the rock of his secret spiritual heart. He was growing in wisdom. He had heard many months before the words that so many of us have heard since Whosoever shall seek to save his life, shall lose it: and whosoever shall lose it, shall preserve it.(Luke 17:33) Perhaps, like many of us, he had nodded along to it and thought 'yes, thats right'  but had left that thought in his head and not driven it down into his heart. But in that secret interior place of his the seed did fall and silently grew. Now, here on the very night his Lord was betrayed and arrested he had sought to save his life and had surely lost it by his own triple denial. The sad eyes of Jesus conveyed to him that truth but they conveyed something else too. They unfolded to him the wisdom in his secret heart. His bitter tears were not only a sign of regret, a sterile thing, they were his birth into a new kind of life.

It is not wisdom to affirm that we, as we are, are basically alright. We may do good things, cherish good feelings, have good thoughts be, in the conventional worldly sense, good people. But that is not enough. The pain that we feel, the wrongs that we do, or desire to do, are not always or even often the fault of somebody else. We are broken and need to be fixed. We are imperfect and cannot make ourselves perfect. We are small and weak and, however many friends or loved ones we may have, we are ultimately alone inside our own heads and hearts. Or, at least, alone as regards others of our species. The unfashionable wisdom of the Christians teaches you what you already know to be true, self-affirmation is not enough, and also what you may not yet know to be true. There is One whom you can invite into your life. He will come when you ask. And then you will no more be alone or weak or small, your imperfections will be transformed into perfections, in eternity if not in time, and your brokenness will become wholeness now and forever. He will delight in you and you will delight in Him. His affirmation is all that you need.

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