Isaiah 29:14: I will destroy….I wil thwart
This passage always brings me up short. It is a warning to those of us who strive towards faith either through study or meditation. The opening verse is the first clue: The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…” It is foolishness because the message of the cross is to lose our lives for Jesus’ sake. That was part of the message from last week’s gospel pericope: “Those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8: 35). How is it that I don’t perish if I deny myself, take up my cross and perish?
Paul continues his warning with the verse from Isaiah 29: 14 — “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” For years I strove for “wisdom” in my studies of philosophy and theology. For Paul “wisdom” connotes philosophy (philo–sophia),the pursuit of the Greeks. Now, I am trying to become a person of greater discernment. According to Paul, both pursuits are in vain. My studies will be destroyed; my efforts to discern will be thwarted. Why? I suspect that Paul is getting at the truth that one cannot gain wisdom through study and books alone. We need to be able to step back, to “stop and smell the roses” if we truly are to use that knowledge, that “wisdom,” to understand life and the world. This step back may be conscious or unconscious. But to be able to see the Grace of God’s gift of creation is itself a gift.
What about my current efforts to become more discerning? Why will they be thwarted? Again, I can read the mystics (right now I am reading and consciously contemplating Merton’s works). That may give me some insights into what discernment is about. It is being able to listen to the Other. But such reading and study will not make me a person of greater discernment. I may try to meditate but that won’t improve my “discernment” abilities. What will? Again, I need to internalize what I read. God’s gift of discernment is a gift freely given. It is not one that I can work for and receive as a reward.
There is a well known passage in Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. “What is serious to men is often trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as ‘play’ is perhaps what he Himself takes most seriously. At any rate, the Lord plays and diverts Himself in the garden of his Creation, and if we could let go of our own obsession with what we think is the meaning of it all, we might be able to hear His call and follow Him in His mysterious, cosmic dance.” Merton warns us who are trying so hard to gain insight and to listen to the Other, to back off. “Don’t seek the Divine in my writings,” he is warns us. The seeds of contemplation are here but only the Holy can grow those mustard seeds into the mighty bush. “Let go and let God.”
So what must we do? Nothing EXCEPT have the courage to surrender, to let go and to let God. For me this is extremely difficult. Why? Because it is foolishness. How can I live this way? Yet it is the only way. Take the time to recognize Grace and to really listen to the Other. But then again, as Paul reminds us, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness stronger than human strength.” (I Cor 1:25)