Sunday, 16 July 2017

Trinity 5: Empty bell, good ground

“The one who sows on good ground is the one who hears the Word and understands it, and he is the one who bears fruit.”
A bell sounds because it is hollow. If it were a solid block, all you would get when you struck it would be a dull metallic clatter. It is the emptiness of the bell that gives it voice.
The bell is a metaphor for spiritual truth in Buddhism, and many other religious traditions attest to the need for inner emptiness as the ground which bears spiritual fruit.
Yet we do not need to go all the way to India to find this path of prayer. We find evidence of it weaving its way through our own sacred scriptures, the teachings of Our Lord, and the spiritual traditions of the Christian Church.
Only two Sundays ago, we heard from Jesus’s own lips that to find yourself, you have to lose yourself. The false self of the ego must be emptied to make way for the true self which is Christ. Last Sunday, he told us to take our rest in him, the Lord of the Sabbath rest, who has made resting and return the very purpose of creation.
And from its purpose, think back to where creation began. The orthodox tradition of the Church is that God created ex nihilo, from nothing, absolute emptiness. It was in this emptiness, like the hollow of the bell, that his Word found voice and resounded into being.
Later, we find this motif of the Word sounding out of emptiness repeated: in the emptiness of the Blessed Virgin’s womb and in the emptiness of the tomb, where the Word continues to be burst into ever creation. First, the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us; then, the Word Resurrected speaks into being a new creation, from the desolate bounds of death a new infinitude of life and being.
The seed of Jesus’ parable is, he explains, the Word. Now remember that the Word is not a word, or any number of words: it is not the Bible. It is the Logos, the divine principle of order and creation, the Word which according to St John is and always has been God from the very beginning, and is none other than the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Word which came and dwelt among us not as a book but as a boy, the Word whose script is scribed by the Spirit not in letters but in a Jewish carpenter’s DNA. The Word that Jesus wants us to hear and understand is himself, the Word made flesh: he is the seed and we are the ground.
“You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you: and I have appointed you that you might bear fruit.” If we are to bear fruit, then we must make ourselves good ground. We must harrow and water before we can sow. And we must tear up the weeds that would hamper good growth.
The harrowing is repentance. We will achieve no peace and will be quite unready to welcome the Word if our mind and hearts are laden with the guilt of our sin. Repentance, then, is the first step. Sin is a sharp sword which pierces the heart, but Christ in his kindness has turned it to a ploughshare for us. That ploughshare is confession, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whereby Our Lord furrows our hearts to fill them with his forgiveness.
I have seen the gift of tears that flow after a good confession soften many hearts, but the true water that fills those furrows is the Living Water of the Holy Spirit. This we drink by going to mass, by reading the Scriptures, by acts of loving kindness.
But while we are harrowing and irrigating, we must also clear the way of weeds. The weeds of nagging thoughts, of unconsidered instincts, of our own devices and desires detached from God. And I am persuaded by our own Christian monastic tradition and also by many non-Christian spiritual paths, that the way to do this is to cultivate an inner silence.
When my mind and heart are full of other things, they are like a bell filled with solid metal. Strike it as much you like, it will only give the dullest clang. The Word is muted, at best muttered, at worst even distorted.
But when I have spent time in silence and stilled my thoughts, I am like the hollow bell, and then a far more beautiful voice can ring out of me: it is no longer I who speak, but Christ who sings from within me. The Word is given space to reverberate, grow, sound clearly.
So I repeat my plea from last week. If you wish the Word to find its voice in you, then rest in him. Make some sabbath space each day for silence and stillness. Become the empty bell, the empty womb, the empty tomb, find the Word’s still small seed of a voice within, give it good ground to be reborn in you so that it is no longer you but Christ who sounds aloud the new song of the Resurrection from your heart.

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