There Must Have Been Something
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, June 14, 2015
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (4:18-23)
This statement intrigues me: “they immediately left the boat and their father, and followed him.” Does that make any sense? They had families to provide for and, as we know, Middle Eastern families have very strong ties. But they left “immediately” we are told. They just…left! If it really happened exactly like this, there must have been something special about these men that allowed for such spontaneity.
Of course, Jesus was a very charismatic figure with a message that spoke to such hard-working people as fishermen, . They may have heard of him from others, about his preaching and healing, even though this was at the beginning of his ministry. And yet, would that be enough to cause this radical a response? A great leap into the unknown and into insecurity. I don’t think so.
There must have been something else. Of course, the Holy Spirit was inspiring them, but there still had to be more. The Spirit can inspire until Kingdom come, but if we are unreceptive, then the inspiration can’t get through.
I think it was this. These four, somehow, were prepared. Not in any supernatural way. We do not know if they were pious men. I believe the tedious, back-breaking work of fishing prepared them. Hours spent tending and mending nets prepared them. They had learned to read the signs of the Sea and of the weather. They were close to the earth. They were attentive and attuned as people who struggle often are. Their hard scrabble life and attentive labor and caregiving to their families prepared them to see and hear Jesus on a deeper level.
They had nurtured a gift that we all have and rarely open. I would call this gift “mindfulness”. Others might call it something else or would rather I call it something else. But “mindfulness” works just fine for me. It takes a great deal of mindfulness to be successful fisherman. Just ask any fly fishermen. They will tell you just how “Zen” a practice it is.
Mindfulness is the art and practice of being able to be present, to see and hear what is before us, without making judgments, that is, without the interference of the chaotic mind. It is a natural ability everyone has, but not everyone develops. It’s like receiving a gift on Christmas morning and never opening it. It is part and parcel of the image of God in which all of us are made. The Church knows this. Every time you hear the words “Let us attend,” it is a call to mindfulness; a bell to wake us up.
In the Philokalia there is a saying by none other than the great nondualist, Maximos the Confessor, that goes like this: “Created man cannot become a son of God and a god by grace through deification, unless he is first, through his own free choice, begotten in the Spirit by means of the self-loving and independent power dwelling naturally in him.” Mindfulness is an integral part of that natural power dwelling in us. We can open this gift, utilize and develop it if we choose.
I remember my maternal grandfather. I do not know if he even had a high school education. He was a simple man, a man of the mountains, a grandchild of a full-blooded Cherokee woman, and he was amazing. He could do just about everything, including build houses and barns, farm, make killer moonshine, and play a multitude of stringed instruments by ear. I remember hearing that he built his own mandolin. Whether that is true or not, I sincerely believe he could have. He had the insight of a man who was highly educated and the intuition of a hermit all from his ability to see and hear and learn, accept and respond to the world around him. I believe his Native American heritage contributed volumes to his exquisite mindful awareness of life which he had sharpened to a fine point. In many ways, he was like our apostolic fishermen: open, mindful and aware.
I believe the presence of Jesus to these four men on the shores of Galilee, sparked their already highly developed mindful awareness. This awareness moved them to see and hear him on a deeper level, deeper than their fears of insecurity or the reactions of their families to their irrational and radical choice to follow him.
Mindfulness is not the answer to all ills, not a panacea, but without it would be impossible to recognize any answers at all, even if they stood before us personified and in living color. Without it, we could not recognize Christ in our midst, in our neighbors, or in ourselves. Mindfulness is not the ultimate answer, God is, but it is necessary if we are to grow spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and in every other way. It is a gift from God we are most unwise to leave unopened.
Two quick examples of mindfulness in scripture: Think of Mary Magdalene in the Garden. She did not recognize the risen Lord. Fear and sorrow had blocked her awareness, but when he said her name, she awakened. His pronunciation of her name wiped away her fears and her tears, so that she could recognize him. She woke up from the tragedy of the past and fears of the future and became mindful of the presence of Hope as he stood before her in that present moment. That is mindfulness.
One more: Peter got lost in his fears and insecurities while he sat by the fire during the trial of the Lord. When asked to give testimony to his being a disciple, his awareness was blocked and he could not give an honest answer. He fell that moment into a deep sleep and into a nightmare. But even after his denials, he went out and wept bitterly. He knew what he had done because he was aware of what he had done. Without awareness, we cannot repent.
It is our belief that God is everywhere and in everything and that if we attune ourselves to the spiritual life in Church, in prayer, in sacrament, in fasting, and in keeping vigil, that is by staying mindful in everyday life, there is no reason we could not at all times see him everywhere and in everything. That is the sublime result to which mindfulness is an indispensable tool.