Knowledge and Discernment

arrowTuesday of Advent 1 – December 4, 2012

The Collect for this week
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Isaiah 11:1-10
1     A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2     The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3     His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;
4     but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5     Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6     The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
7     The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8     The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9     They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as thewaters cover the sea.
10   On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.    

Luke 10:21-24
21   At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.
22   All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
23   Then turning to the disciples, Jesus said to them privately, ‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!
24   For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.’

A reflection:

The readings are about seeing and perceiving. They are concerned with discernment – the knowledge of God’s will and the doing of that will.

We desire “to know.” It is central to our humanity. It was this God-given desire that Lucifer used to tempt Adam and Eve to sin.

I have, over the course of the past couple of weeks, been involved in several conversations regarding the nature of knowledge. An investigation of the nature of knowledge is fruitful and, for that matter, “essential and normative” if we are going to have the Holy Tradition become more than a lifeless set of practices and theological affirmations. The “Traditional” view of knowledge includes the intellectual (head) as well as the noetic (heart). It is good to insist that we need both to live a fully human life. Not an “either or” but a “both and” relationship. Not an equilibrium but a marriage of the two. The born again human being in Christ Jesus is a person in whom a right relationship between the head and the heart has been created and is being actualized. The fact of the matter is, the monastic tradition in the Church witnesses to the authentic form that the “love of learning and the desire for God” takes in a life of discipleship. The monastics have always been, in the Tradition, the guardians of both literacy and learning, and the contemplative (noetic) way of knowledge. In fact, over the course of our 2000 year history they have on several occasions been the saviors of civilization… (Let’s hear it for the Irish).

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Perhaps the “purity” is synonymous with humility or poverty of spirit spoken of in the collect and earlier in the Beatitudes that summarizes the character of Jesus’ coming and abiding in our lives. Perhaps the “seeing” referred to by Jesus is discernment and knowledge received as a gift that comes to hover and rest on both our hearts and heads. Could it be that the grasping for knowledge versus the willingness to receive the gift of knowledge from God was/is the difference between righteousness and iniquity – “the works of darkness” versus “the armor of light”?! Of course!! Our faith is based on revelation not discovery regardless of whether it is heart or head knowledge. Perhaps the key to knowing is the willingness to know that we cannot know in and of ourselves and any attempt on our part to grasp knowledge leads to death not the life we believe such knowledge will provide. But that means being teachable. It means having a childlike radical dependence for all things from our Master and Father. If this is the case, then the allusions in the Isaiah and Luke readings openness and receptivity are vitally important for us to notice. In what practical ways are we grasping and closed instead of open and receptive in your daily life? Are we teachable and childlike in our trust of God and His provision of knowledge to us who ask, seek, and knock not with a grasping spirit but empty hands? I am more and more convinced that the Good News IS Good News if it is relationally informed and governed and not primarily principle based and driven. (The principles fit and live inside a relational matrix not the other way around.) Jesus was discerning because of the character of His relationship with the Father in the Spirit not because of a formula or having completed a curriculum or 12 week series on discernment. What small but vital adjustments are being called for by the Holy Spirit to move from the death dealing Way of living to the life giving Way of living?

St. Theophan the Recluse said, “Whatever you may be seeking, seek it with all your strength, but do not expect your own search and efforts to bear fruit of themselves. Put your trust in the Lord, ascribing nothing to yourself, and He will give you your heart’s desire.” I don’t think he was talking about grasping but a mysterious and energetic non-grasping that is yieldedness.

Perhaps my not so orderly thoughts on today’s readings will lead you down a path of fruitful (practical) reflection.

Fr. Thomas


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