“It is no wonder that Jesus used the word “Change!” as his dramatic opening line in the Gospels (Mk 1:15, Mt. 3:3) There is a necessary movement on each of our parts – probably one of many in our lives if we are to keep growing spiritually. We must move from “I already know about that,” to “I am not sure I know,” to “Could I have actually missed the point?” to “”Oh, my God, is this what it really means?” At this point there will be an inrush of fear, denial, or ecstasy and very often a combination of all three. The refusal to stay with the ecstasy is probably the reason why so many go neither deep or far.” (Richard Rohr in The Mendicant, a newsletter from the Center for Action and Contemplation.)
How do we recognize our own stagnant intellectual swamps? When we find ourselves saying, “I already know about that” – in other words, “My mind is made up.” Sometimes we say that out of moral conviction. Sometimes we say that out of self-righteousness. Sometimes we say that out of laziness. And, worst of all, sometimes we say that out of rigidity. We just aren’t willing to even consider that we don’t know everything.
Rohr lists three stages we need to go through in order to keep growing spiritually:
- Acknowledging that it is possible that we don’t know everything
- Admitting that our understanding is inaccurate or incomplete; being open to change
- Living with a better awareness of the truth
We may have to go through these stages over and over again about different issues during our lifetime. The more flexible we become, the easier the process gets.
My hero in this soul-training exercise is Peter. Few Biblical characters are more sure of themselves than Peter, but Jesus had to periodically call him out of his confidence and encourage him to re-think his suppositions. This apprenticeship training by Jesus during his time on earth was crucial; Peter had practice in listening to God’s truth. So when it came time to decide if the Gospel was meant only for the Jews, Peter was ready to learn. (Acts 10 1-23) When he was called to visit Cornelius, the centurion, who was eager to hear about Jesus, Peter obeyed. And the story he told Cornelius began with, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” As he continued to preach, the Holy Spirit poured out – even on the Gentiles – which convinced the disciples at the Council of Jerusalem of the truth of his words.
Consider our fate if Peter had remained stuck in his belief that some people were unclean and not fit for God’s Kingdom? What if he had allowed his fear and even hatred for Paul to govern his life and had refused to allow this persecutor of Christians into the fold? Our moral rigidity may not seem as threatening to the Kingdom as Peter’s. However, we don’t begin to know how we will be used by God until we listen to Jesus’ call to change.