By Greg Jones
In the ancient Church of Syria and Iraq, emphasis was placed on the spiritual value of "wonder." The fathers of the Syriac Church understood that to attempt to fathom the sacred truths of God was a difficult exercise for the faithful Christian to say the least — and nearly impossible if approached in the wrong way. The wrong way would be to attempt to seek after God's truth using only deductive, rational or purely intellectual methods. As John of Dalyatha, an 8th century Iraqi Christian, understood it: the seeker after divine truth must "carry the remembrance of God in one's heart" and search for the vision of God's glory in the "mirror of the soul." (Mary T. Hansbury, The Letters of John of Dalyatha, Gorgias: 2006.)
Pursuing the truths of God is a work of wonders, not a work of the rational mind alone. It is a sweet and mystic thing to attempt communion with the God of all things. And, as the wise have discerned over the millennia, it ultimately is a work offered to us by God's own giving. In other words, the path to the Kingdom is there for us to walk on and is not made of the stones we put there, but of the handiwork of the King who made it for us to find. Seeing the path to the Kingdom is a work of wonder, of soul, of heart. Yet, surprise, surprise, while it is not discernible by our reasoned grasping alone, when the path is found, the human mind does indeed delight in its finding.
John of Dalyatha taught that by Christ's incarnation and Baptism, the garment of God's light is offered to us, who since the Fall have been wearing garments of shadow. By putting on Christ, we put on the light, which enables to see the King and the Kingdom — and thus we are robed in glory enough to see the path which has been laid for us to follow. Peter and the others did not quite get this at first, of course, and neither should we. The whole thing is a matter of wonder and is of course hard to grasp on our own. Yet, if we will trust those who went before us and who became enlightened, we may then begin our own seeking after God with a kind of head start, by trusting that by putting on the garment of Christ, even if we're not quite sure what that all means, He will come to enlighten us.
John of Dalyatha, like so many of the ancient fathers and mothers of the Church, took to life in the desert, bereft of worldly distractions, so he might become enriched by the pursuit of wonder and the truths of God. Lent for us modern folk is an opportunity to do the same.
The Rev. Samuel Gregory Jones ('Greg') is rector of St. Michael's in Raleigh, N.C. and the bass player in indie-rock band The Balsa Gliders - whose fourth studio release is available on iTunes. He blogs at Anglican Centrist.