St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Transparent World

The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:5-15)

“...there are many ways of ‘being’ in a place.”

This was written by the wonderful Catholic mystic Teresa of Avila. She was writing about entering the Interior Castle, the interior kingdom of heaven. By this she means the soul. Then she says, "But since we are already there, how can I speak of entering?" Then she explains that there are many ways of "being" in a place; many ways of responding to the truth of God's Presence within us. Do we see it, do we want it, are we open or resistant to his Presence?

“We are living in a world,” writes Thomas Merton, “that is absolutely transparent and God is shining through it all the time…in people and in things and in nature and events,” but the problem is, “we don’t see it.”

The "place" we inhabit is the grace-filled cosmos. The universe is his Cathedral not-built-by-hands. We exist in the ocean of God's infinite Compassion. And it permeates us. The exterior temple is mirrored in an interior temple. Cosmos and image. We literally have no choice but to be in God. The one choice we have is how to respond to it.

I am not sure, but perhaps St. Teresa was thinking of today's Gospel reading in which Jesus describes several ways of being using the metaphors of seeds and soil. 

We can be in his Presence with a heart that is open and receptive or with a heart that is hard and closed.

The soil of an open heart is ready to receive the seeds of God’s word at all times, for they are always being sown as Jesus says, “My Father and I are always working.” An open heart is a pure heart, unburdened by attachments to this world, to its anxieties and expectations. An open heart is a mystical heart that longs for union with God that looks for him with expectation and trust, ready to learn, eager to grow.

The open heart longs for truth, for goodness, for beauty. It clings to nothing, knows that it knows nothing, and is always ready to accept whatever the truth turns out to be for if we love him, we will always be learning and growing and changing. Thus the open heart is a heart of faith, for faith is always ready to give up the good for the sake of what is better.

The hard, closed heart is impenetrable. The seeds find no place to plant themselves. This is a heart filled with anxiety, ruled more by fear than by faith, or more by passions and desires than sacred longing, so attached its own ways (no matter how foolish) that growth is shunned and change is resisted. God cannot teach a closed heart, for such a heart believes it has nothing to learn. That is why the scriptures tell us that God loves a broken heart, for the wound is where the light enters.

A closed heart is untilled, hard and unyielding, unable to absorb moisture, and impervious to the dynamism of God's continual creative energy, closed to the Word of God which is living and active and unpredictable and always achieves that which it is sent to do, “never returning to him void and empty.” 

Jesus tells us that in some “the devil comes and takes away the seeds of the Word from their hearts.” How can we understand this? I think one clue come from this quote from Pema Chodron: “Our personal demons come in many disguises. We experience them as shame, as jealousy, as abandonment, as rage.” These interior personal devils, if you will, may be what Jesus also refers to in the parable as “weeds” that choke new growth.

St. Basil tells us that when Jesus says, as he often does, “he who has ears to heart, let him hear,” the Lord is not referring to physical ears, but rather internal ones. “It is evident that some possess ears better able to hear the words of God.” I submit that it is those whose hearts are open and pure in the sense we have indicated, that are better able to receive the words of God, which is why the spiritual life is primarily about opening the heart and learning how to keep it open.

And we know when our spiritual practice is godly and genuine when it serves to open our hearts like the Savior’s. When through it we experience the closeness of God and the interconnection of all things.

To the open-hearted everything that comes in life is a good seed to be received and to nurture. What we think of as bad things, to the pure in heart, are seen as blessings because they serve to break open the hardness of our resistance, our entrenched egos. Suffering dissolves our defenses and leaves us vulnerable to His love. Even death is a good seed, believe it or not. Let me read to you from John Newell’s book THE REBIRTHING OF GOD to show you how this perspective works. To me it is really quite beautiful.

“We are all eventually heading toward the collapse. ‘Sister Death,’ as St. Francis calls her in his Canticle of the Sun, is coming for each one of us. As frightened as we are of her, she is our sister. She comes in love to free us from our ego – the ego of our nation, our religious tradition, our species, our culture, and our many separatenesses. We will all eventually need to meet her, at the moment or our death. But we do not need to wait until then to get to know her blessings. For it is now that we need to do the work of dying to the way in which our ego claims to be the center, rather than serving the Center. It is now, both individually and collectively, that we need to be freed from the imprisonments that keep us in exile from the true heart of one another.”

There is a famous saying from the Medieval monks of Europe who said, “Die before you die and you will never die.”

God shines through death as he does through life. Maybe even particularly through death and we have no need to fear, not death, not anything. Perhaps, when our spiritual practice finally produces in us a pure, untroubled heart, we discover that there are no bad seeds and that when we open our hearts to receive everything with gratitude, we will find that it is God who is sowing them all.