I have not paid much attention to the mind while writing this blog about Luke’s Gospel, and now when I come to the end, I am struck by the fact that Jesus’ last teaching was not about ethics or seeing with spiritual eyes. Instead, “he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” Just as he healed the memories of the disciples on the Road to Emmaus (and did some scriptural teaching, as well), now he heals the intelligence. I write those words with some trepidation, because, ever since the enlightenment, we’ve had a tendency to idolize the intelligence, to become dry and didactic in our study of scripture, to repeat the necessary discoveries of German scholars and think that we’re wise. Or at least that’s the tendency of those of us who are seminary trained, because seminary is about educating the mind, rather than the soul. Maybe that’s appropriate, since the deep, spiritual education that Luke’s Gospel gives us is the result of following Christ out in the world, rather than sitting in academic cloisters. Still, I can’t help but feel that seminary can do a disservice in its approach, if it makes an idol of the mind and the intelligence.
Recently, I picked up Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ and read these words:
God speaks in a variety of ways to all of us impartially. We are often too prying to profit from our reading of Scripture; we want to understand and argue when we ought simply to read on. If you want to draw benefit, read simply with humble faith; and never desire to be known for your cleverness. Be ready to ask, and listen in silence to the words of the Saints (1).
Read with humility, Thomas a Kempis says, and I take that to mean that we should try to read with healed minds. Because in cultures that prize and reward intelligence, the mind becomes the bedroom where the ego goes to tryst. You can study and learn out of a desire to dominate and control others, reading and writing out of a deep fear that people won’t find you intelligent, or clever. You can study and learn without ever experiencing moments of grace in which the mind, like the eyes, are opened to a deeper compassion and a greater love for all the world.
This might seem like a strange way to try and bask within the resurrection. Jesus is Risen! I hear you say, why are you spending time commenting on academia? My answer is that we’re only halfway through the story. Jesus is risen, and the disciples are called to form a resurrected community. In the weeks to come, my focus will shift to community, to practices that attempt to enact the kingdom, to the ways of learning and being transformed that arise when we learn to trust our communities and live in them humbly. In these Beloved Communities, it is not individual wit or learning that matters so much. Or it matters only to the extent that it can be offered to others in service and love. The healed mind understands, as Thomas Merton puts it, that “God does not give us graces or talents or virtues for ourselves alone. We are members one of another and everything that is given to one member is given for the body.”
(1) Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, 1.5