Sunday's Gospel He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches." He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." -Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
And now I had discovered the good pearl. To buy it I had to sell all that I had; and I hesitated. -Augustine, Confessions (8.1.2)
Gosh. I'm always hesitating. I have a treasure map, a shovel, and I'm living on the field. And still I hesitate. What do I think might happen if I actually dug? And what about that minute seed? What do I lose if I prepare ground for the "seed from the absolute" to grow and flourish in me? What do I think I'd miss from the junk I'm reluctant to sell for the one pearl?
Life happens, though, and pearls appear (meditation one). And if I choose to dig, master explorers prove loving and compassionate guides on the way to the treasure (meditation two). I will encounter the kingdom bearing fruit in the most unlikely places (meditation three) and because of that, perhaps even I will bear fruit myself, maybe especially because it seems so unlikely.
Hesitantly, yet ever hopeful, Suzanne
Meditation One (introit) little Pearl
We have as yet hardly spoken of the infant; that little creature, whose innocent life had sprung, by the inscrutable decree of Providence, a lovely and immortal flower, out of the rank luxuriance of a guilty passion. How strange it seemed to the sad woman, as she watched the growth, and the beauty that became every day more brilliant, and the intelligence that threw its quivering sunshine over the tiny features of this child! Her Pearl! - For so had Hester called her; not as a name expressive of her aspect, which had nothing of the calm, white, unimpassioned lustre that would be indicated by the comparison. But she named the infant “Pearl,” as being of great price, - purchased with all she had, - her mother's only treasure!
-Nathaniel Hawthorne 1804-1864 The Scarlet Letter
Still Life with Garland of Flowers with Golden Tazza, Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1618, detail
But many times we meet with those things of which we have never dreamed. For example, they tell a certain gardener who, digging a plot to plant some fruit trees, came upon an unexpected treasure with more fortune than he had hoped for.
Thus, when (Jacob's) father asked him the source of his understanding -- "What is this you find so quickly, child?" -- the ascetic answered and said:
-- "What the Lord God delivered to me" (Gen 27:20).
For when God delivers (to us) the visions [theoémata] of his eternal Wisdom without labor and toil, we suddenly find them (to be) the treasure of perfect happiness we did not look for.
At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask what I should give you."
And Solomon said, "You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?"
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this.
God said to him, "Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.
-1 Kings 3:5-12
Eternal Ruler of the ceaseless round of circling planets singing on their way, guide of the nations from the night profound into the glory of the perfect day; rule in our hearts, that we may ever be guided and strengthened and upheld by thee.
We would be one in hatred of all wrong, one in the love of all things sweet and fair, one with the joy that breaketh into song, one with the grief that trembleth into prayer; one in the power that makes thy children free to follow truth, and thus to follow thee.
Oh, clothe us with thy heavenly armor, Lord, thy trusty shield, they sword of live divine; our inspiration be thy constant word, we ask no victories that are not thine; give or withhold, let pain or pleasure be; enough to know that we are serving thee.
-John White Chadwick 1840-1904
Magdalene, Caravaggio, 1596, detail
Meditation Two (insight) hidden treasure
How can I explain the riches and treasures and delights found when the soul is united to God in prayer? Since in some way we can enjoy heaven on earth, be brave in begging the Lord to give us his grace in that he show us the way and strengthen the soul that it may dig until it finds this hidden treasure. The truth is that the treasure lies within our very selves.
-Teresa of Avila 1515-1582 The Interior Castle
Yet you inquire: Since Him Whom my soul loves is within me, why don't I find Him or experience Him?
The reason is that He remains concealed and you do not also conceal yourself in order to encounter and experience Him. Anyone who is to find a hidden treasure must enter the hiding place secretly and once he has discovered it, he will also be hidden just as the treasure is hidden. Since, then, your beloved Bridegroom is the treasure hidden in a field, for which the wise merchant sold all his possessions [Matt. 13:44], and that field is your soul, in order to find Him you should forget all your possessions and all creatures and hide in the interior, secret chamber of your spirit. And there, closing the door behind you (your will to all things), you should pray to your Father in secret [Matt. 6:6]. Remaining hidden with Him, you will experience Him in hiding, and love and enjoy Him in hiding, and you will delight with Him in hiding, that is, in a way transcending all language and feeling.
-John of the Cross 1542-1591 The Spiritual Canticle
Meditation Three (integration) for they know...
The world does not say: "blessed are the poor." The world says: "Blessed are the rich. You are worth as much as you have." But Christ says: "Wrong. Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, because they do not put their trust in what is so transitory." Blessed are the poor, for they know that their riches are in the One who being rich made himself poor in order to enrich us with his poverty, teaching us the Christian's true wisdom.
-Oscar Romero 1917-1980 The Violence of Love
The Last Word
The Absolute works with nothing. The workshop, the materials are what does not exist.
Try and be a sheet of paper with nothing on it. Be a spot of ground where nothing is growing, where something might be planted, a seed, possibly, from the Absolute.
After his father David's death, Solomon survives the intrigues of his power hungry brothers as well as his own mother's ambitions for him. And now on the eve of his coronation Solomon enters the tent of the presence to pray.
Solomon hears the voice of the divine Holy One: “Solomon, what shall I give you? Tell me.”
His answer reminds me of L. Frank Baum's Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. On their journey along the Yellow Brick Road the Oz characters display those gifts most treasured and desired by each of them. The Scarecrow, who thinks he needs a brain, solves with ease all their problems with logic and common sense. The Lion, who thinks he needs courage, spontaneously proves his bravery again and again in the dangers along the way. When challenged about the risks he takes on behalf of others he insists that his noble actions don't count as courage if he's afraid while performing them. The Tin Man who claims to have no heart, cries and rusts his jaw with compassionate tears over accidentally stepping on and killing a beetle. He explains,
“You people with hearts... have something to guide you, and need never do wrong; but I have no heart, and so I must be very careful. When Oz give me a heart, of course, I needn't mind so much.”
Each treasured the very gift they already possessed. Each ennobled that gift with profound humility. But somehow, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion still needed to dig up and find and hold in their hands that treasure hidden in the depths of their being.
And Solomon? “I am a little child, and I don't know how to come in and go out!” Solomon humbly admits to the Holy One. Therefore, “Give me a listening heart,” he says, “so that I can know good from evil and govern your people.” To have survived the intrigues of his father's house, Solomon already proved his wisdom, his prudence, his extraordinary understanding. That Solomon treasured the most precious gift within him pleased the LORD.
I go to the Holy Place to pray. A Voice ask me my desire: “What shall I give you, tell me?” What do I say? What would you say?
Help me to find my treasure hidden in the field of my life! Help me to put away all these distractions and find the pearl of great price you conceal in the heart of my heart.