Why had no one ever pointed out those brilliant instances of literary intercalation in Mark? Why had I never heard about Athanasius? Why had I never recited the Nicene Creed? How could I have attended church for two decades and never learned about the Babylonian exile? (Andrew Byers, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint)
I laughed and answered out loud as I underlined the writer’s lament at discovering, upon his arrival at seminary, the many, many things he did not know.
Come on, Byers. What rock had you been living under? I learned about the Babylonian exile in Sunday School.
But the Nicene Creed? I did not encounter it until college. And even then I wasn’t sure I was permitted to recite it. I discovered Athanasius just last year, though he played a crucial role in the history of Christendom, standing contra mundum some seventeen hundred years ago to defend the truth of Christ’s deity and incarnation when its very core was up for grabs.
And the Gospel of Mark’s literary intercalations? That one I had to look up the other day.
Just to find out what the word even meant.
Andrew Byers chafed an already tender place to the point of inflammation. This is no idealistic expectation that someday, if I try hard enough, I can know all there is to know.
I do know better than that.
But it seems no matter where I turn of late, I bump into the wall that memorializes all the things I should know by now but do not. I just closed the lid on my forty-eighth year. The matter of what I don’t yet know seems to grow in inverse proportion to the time remaining in which to learn it.
I am reminded that I enjoy knowing far more than I appreciate learning, though I know in the deep that the latter holds far greater treasure.
There’s no real worry here, I suppose. The “ignorance threat level” — currently perceived in the red zone — could leave me frustrated and cynical, which sadly enough is often my default. But instead, it seems to have stimulated a new thirst as though the boys had mistaken salt for sugar on their last batch of cookies. Not that it’s ever happened.
I decided to soothe my bruised intellectual ego by spending a little time with the church fathers and mothers this week, courtesy of Scott Cairns. His volume Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life presents their spiritual direction in poetic verse. He joined the growing chorus affirming the need to continue to engage the intellect as early as the introduction when he explained his decision not to translate the word nous but to leave it as-is in his adaptations:
Noetic prayer is the heart of our matter; if it is acquired and sustained, it becomes the means by which we apprehend God’s presence and His will. Nous is a tasty noun from which the adjective noetic springs — a word found throughout the Greek New Testament and throughout the writings of the fathers and mothers of the Church. In translation, its import as, say, the intellective aptitude of the heart is almost invariably lost. It is the center of the human person, where mind and matter meet most profoundly, and where the human person is mystically united to others and to God.
The intellective aptitude of the heart. Though perhaps it makes more sense to us to separate reason and intellect from matters of the heart, it seems that we separate the two to our peril. And I wonder if that’s why, when Jesus made pronouncement of the greatest commandment that He was careful to amplify the original command to ensure that we would love not only with our heart, but also with our mind:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31, NIV1984; see also Deuteronomy 6:4-6)
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Byers, Andrew J. Faith without Illusions: following Jesus as a Cynic Saint. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2011. Print.
Cairns, Scott. Love’s Immensity: Mystics on the Endless Life. Brewster, Mass: Paraclete, 2007. Print.