This isn't only the information age. It is also the age of experience. Deeper than our need to know about things is our need to experience them for ourselves. It used to be said that learning taught you more in one year than experience in twenty, but we now have our doubts about that! It may be true of the less profound kinds of knowledge (like information, or even theoretical knowledge) but it is not true of the deeper kind of knowledge we call wisdom. Information and theoretical knowledge are like coins: you can take them out of your head and scatter them around just like coins from your pocket. Like coins too they have the stamp of someone else's head! But wisdom has to be your wisdom, just as your hunger is your hunger and your eating is your eating.

     O God, you are my God, for you I long;
     For you my soul is thirsting.
     My body pines for you
     Like a dry, weary land without water.
     So I gaze at you in the sanctuary
     To see your strength and your glory. (Psalm 62)

     Knowledge is power, we say. Much of what we call knowledge is about having power or control, or at least the feeling of power and control. In contrast to this, notice the verbs in that psalm: to long, to thirst, to pine, to gaze…. These are not 'control' words; they are just the opposite. They are words that express incompleteness.
     Is that a good thing? Wouldn’t it be better to be complete (whole)?
     Despite the nice words, no. Have you ever looked into the eyes of someone who felt complete? What you saw was smugness at best; and at worst, arrogance, indifference, a separateness that had no love in it. I met a man recently whom I hadn't met for twenty-five years. On that occasion long ago he was giving a lecture at a theology symposium, and he was very fluent and clever, at ease with his subject. But the other day there was a different quality in him: he had suffered greatly in the meantime, and there was such vulnerability in his eyes, such humanity. His friends, who see him every day, may not be as conscious of the transformation; but I could see it all in one instalment, so to speak. I feel that this was a glimpse of the meaning of human life. It gives substance to what someone quoted to me recently: "Religion is for people who are afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for people who have been there."

     To end, some lines from Patrick Kavanagh:
     O God can a man find You when he lies with his face downwards
     And his nose in the rubble that was his achievement?

     His implied answer was yes yes yes. In John's gospel (12:20) some Greeks came looking to see Jesus. When Jesus was told this he said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." In other words, that is the place to see him. Not in the halls of power, not in the glare of publicity, but in the ground of humility.
     I would like to hear that vulnerable man speak about God now. I think only such people can really talk about God. That man has followed Christ to Calvary: that's the qualification required.


Donagh O'Shea OP

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.