Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Deep Knowing

“And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:16–17).

The baptism of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels is more of a theological proclamation by the Gospel writers about Jesus, than it is a historical recollection or narration of an actual event. The heavenly voice echoes a combination of Ps. 2:7 and Isa. 42:1. Jesus is hereby proclaimed at the very beginning of his ministry as the Son of God who is God’s agent of redemption in the world and the Servant of God who is faithful to God’s will and cause.

And yet, I think that the imagery used to describe what Jesus saw and heard echoes the kind of deep spiritual experiences Jesus must have frequently had. The symbolism of the heavens opening and the Spirit descending and the Voice proclaiming Jesus to be God’s beloved Son and Servant reflects something deep and true that is available to all of us who are open and receptive to God’s workings.

The experience of hearing the voice of the Spirit calling us a beloved son or daughter and servant of God (bringing together identity and vocation) maybe the most important spiritual experience we can have.

In one of Dr. Howard Thurman’s trips to India, a little boy from a nearby village heard the famous American minister share his faith. Later that night, there was a knock at the door where Dr. Thurman was staying. It was this little boy. His clothing immediately identified him as an untouchable. The caste system in India locked one in to the class one was born in so that there was no real possibility for any other kind of life. In fairly good English the boy said, “I stood outside and listened to your talk. Tell me, please, can you give hope to a nobody.”

When we are receptive to the divine Spirit who lives within each of us, when we hear the Spirit’s voice, the first and most important thing the Spirit says is what the Voice says to Jesus at his baptism, “You are my beloved son, my beloved daughter, in whom I am well pleased.” In God’s eyes and from God’s point of view, there are no nobody’s, just somebody’s—God’s beloved daughters and sons.

This spiritual experience lies at the heart and core of all authentic spirituality. Paul spoke of this experience in his letter to the Romans when he said: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:15).

The reference to God as Abba is a warm, intimate expression that was popularized by Jesus. It was Jesus’ way of addressing God, which undoubtedly reflected his own rich, full experience of the divine Compassion and Love.

As soon as the Divine Voice pronounces Jesus to be the Beloved Son and Servant of God, the Spirit leads him into the wilderness where he confronts the tempter. The first words of the tempter are, “If you are the Son of God . . .” Didn’t the Divine Voice just proclaim him as such? Did he really hear the Voice? Is it really true?  

When we feel connected to and at one with the Divine Spirit who speaks to our human spirit, then we know this to be true, we intuitively, instinctively, and subjectively know this—that we are God’s beloved child, called to a high vocation of service in the kingdom of God.

But when our calling and responsibilities as God’s redemptive agents and servants take us into the wilderness, or when the events and circumstances of our lives thrust us into the wilderness, we are soon confronted with other voices, we face the tempter telling us that we are nobody’s, that we are unworthy, that we are not good enough or capable enough.

Or the voices may tell us that we deserve more, that we need to grab the gusto while we can. The tempter may entice us to pursue our own glory, to acquire accolades and honors.  “Haven’t you worked hard for these? Don’t you deserve them?” the tempter whispers.  

When we read of Jesus withdrawing from the crowds and retreating into solitude, we see a rhythm in Jesus’ life, a rhythm of ministry and prayer, of service and  solitude, of engagement and withdrawal. I suspect that amidst the clamoring voices, Jesus needed to be in silence and solitude to hear the Divine Voice affirming him as God’s Beloved and giving him discernment for his work.

If Jesus needed this, how much more do we?



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