Saturday, March 13, 2010

30 Days of Hearing -- Business

The past few days have been filled with the sounds of business. Metallic voices calling flight numbers, the whine of jet engines straining for take off speed, women's and men's voices debating significant issues, elevators zipping up to hotel rooms, the buzz of people enjoying before dinner drinks, and so much more.

And that's why I shared to following at the opening of our board meeting the other day -- to help us refocus on the meaning behind those sounds of business ... and life.

There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thoughts to any other. If it be betrayed, it bears it, for its ground and spring is the mercies and forgiveness of God. Its crown is meekness, its life is everlasting love unfeigned; and takes its kingdom with entreaty and not with contention, and keeps it by lowliness of mind. In God alone it can rejoice,...

Those are the dying words of early Friend James Nayler. These words of beauty and power have coursed through my soul and challenged me since I first heard them almost 30 years ago.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about that last phrase -- “In God alone it can rejoice.” That’s because I tend to rejoice in lots of other things – the good work that I get to participate in at the Center, the workshops my friend Beth and I are co-leading and the book we are going to write, and the disappearance of the snow! I find it easy to rejoice in God’s creatures and abounding gifts. I enjoy the beauty of the earth – am brought near to tears driving through the Hoosier countryside as the sun sets.

I am enraptured as well by much of human creation be it music or art or writing. It is easy for me to see the divine thread running through literature, art, music and all human endeavor. For example, I was moved deeply by the “Sacred Spain” exhibit at the IMA that Katie graciously led our staff through during the holidays.
I see in those things a search for God and spirit that enlivens the subject and the creator. I am moved, too, by the random acts of kindness, large and small, that people do for each other. Their true beauty shines through in those efforts. Our longing for beauty in nature, the arts, and other people all can point us to the One who created it all. Does Nayler mean I shouldn’t rejoice in nature, people, and the arts? And so I resonate with the words of a sonnet by Kenneth Boulding that includes these lines:

What then! In God alone I must rejoice?
Not in His creatures, His abounding gifts?

Yes, because Nayler and other saints knew, nature, people, and the arts are reflections of the holy. As beautiful reflections they can be distracting. They can capture and hold my attention so strongly that I fail to look beyond them to what they are pointing me toward – God. Nayler’s words warn me that I am are to look to God first and not settle for the image – no matter how beautiful or reflective that image is.

Naylor’s words do not contain an original thought. They are merely a rewording of Jesus dictum to “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Seeking the kingdom of God first is not something that comes naturally for me. Thomas Kelly’s “Testament of Devotion” helps me with this. He writes powerful moving prose that beckons us to a life of the spirit. He says

“Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, the which we may continuously return. Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us with intimations of an astounding destiny, calling us home unto Itself.”

If coming to that Divine Center is what it means to seek first the kingdom of God, then I know I want to do that. That’s why Nayler says it is “in God alone I must rejoice.” It is why Jesus says “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Because when we have found our rejoicing in God alone, then all else pales. It is not that it is less beautiful it is just that God is more beautiful.

As Boulding writes, in another sonnet based on Nayler’s words:

“Seek first the Kingdom – for thy joys are dim
Until thou findest all things new, in Him”

There is a spirit that in God alone rejoices – may that spirit come and dwell in us so that we might “findest all things new, in Him.” Even in the midst of the sounds of business.

-- Brent

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