“I Still Have Much to Say to You”
by Robert Hamerton-Kelly
June 3, 2007
Scripture: Romans 5:1-12; John 16:12-15
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
Last Sunday was the feast of Pentecost on which we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the church and to our individual lives. We did not meet for worship last week so we have some catching up to do. The gospel text for today is good for such a catching up, because it takes us to the heart of the nature of the experience of the Spirit. I have recently been reading a commentary on the gospel compiled from Patristic texts; the advent of the computer makes it possibly to collect in one place all extant comments by any of the Fathers of the Church on any text of Scripture. Here are ideas I gained from their comments on John 16:12-15.
We begin with this quotation from St Augustine (Tractates on the Gospel of John, 96:4):
“Beloved, you should not expect to hear from us what the Lord refrained from telling the disciples because they were still unable to bear them. Rather, seek to grow in the love that is shed abroad in your hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given to you so that, fervent in spirit and loving spiritual things, you may be able – not by any sign apparent to your bodily eye or any sound striking on your bodily ears but by the inward eyesight and hearing – to become acquainted with that spiritual light and that spiritual word that carnal people are unable to bear. For that cannot be loved that is altogether unknown. But when what is known, in however small a measure, is also loved, by the same love, one is led on to a better and fuller knowledge. If, then, you grow in the love that the Holy Spirit spreads abroad in our hearts, ‘He will teach you all truth,’ or, as other codices have it, ‘He will guide you in all truth’…So shall the result be, that not from outward teaching will you learn those things that the Lord at that time declined to utter, but you will all be taught by God, so that the very things you that you have learned and believed by means of lessons and sermons supplied from without …your minds themselves may have the power to perceive.”
This long quote contains two of Augustine’s great contributions to the spiritual life of the church, firstly, the idea that love is a way of knowing and second that arising out of this love there is an inner-based knowledge that trumps empirical, outer-based knowledge. Both of these ways of knowing are given along with the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. This means that the Godless, who do not have the Spirit within, lack essential knowledge; their minds are blinded to the truth because only love can see the truth; only those who know the love of God first can go on to know the fullness of reality and the plenitude of life. So when Jesus says that the Spirit will lead us to the Truth, we might parse it as, the Spirit will teach you to love and love will show you all the glories of this world and the beyond. Augustine no doubt had often in mind Aristotle’s lapidary statement that the human being is the only animal who by nature desires to know. That could also be read as, ‘human being is the only animal who by nature desires to love.’ Love is the key to open the lock boxes of mystery and the one to take out the treasures and share them around.
Thus by starting our meditation with Augustine we have leapt to its conclusion, or at least, established from the start its structure and dynamics, namely, by nature we want to know, knowing entails loving, and the Holy Spirit is the gift of the ability to love, and thus the work of God that enables us to know. I cannot here or anywhere show by argumentation that all of our real advances in knowing as a race and a species are made by love’s light, but I intuit it, I believe it, and I bet that you too will know it when you let your love lead you to the truth.
Love leading to truth; that means the important thing is not what you know but how you know, and, by extension, not what you do but the spirit in which you do it. Scientists who love their specimens and their methods, novelists who love their characters and their plots, athletes who love their games, business persons who love the building of businesses and the making of money, all these are just hints of how love leads to truth. Now let us apply this insight to life.
Those of us who have lived long enough to pass through several stages of life and especially those of us who stand in or near the final stage know by looking back how aptly life is compared to a journey, with changing scenes and changing companions. Last week at the funeral of a friend I was reminded that at a point in her life she changed her name. The officiating priest reminded us how name changing is in place in the Bible: Abram became Abraham, Jacob became Israel, Cephas became Peter and Saul became Paul. Name change is a dramatic marker for something we all experience, the passing from one phase of the self to another. It is wise to make these passages gracefully, even those caused by loss, because they are part of the process by which love leads to truth. I remember when we lived in New York City in the early sixties Norman Vincent Peale still was preaching at the Marble Collegiate Church on Park Avenue, the gospel of positive thinking. He advised us to look in the mirror every morning and say, “Every day in every way I am getting better and better.” At about the same time an author named Gail Sheehy published “Passages,” a book of popular wisdom on the times of a life. I am much more respectful today of that folk wisdom than I was then, when I mistakenly believed that a young doctoral student in theology knew more about life than that. Now I know that Peale is right, love is leading us into truth, and Sheehy is right, it is good to know the folk wisdom about life’s stages, what to expect and how to respond, if only to show us that we are all roughly the same in our life’s unfolding. But it is Peale who gets the prize in my opinion: even though he meant it as a mantra magically to motivate us to improve our performance, which it might be only tangentially, it does touch the central truth that love leads to truth.
Every stage of our life is a new opportunity to love and after the many stages some of us have passed through we are beginning at last to learn what love might be. I, at least, find the present retirement stage of life to be truly the “golden years,” not because all that went before were years of lead, but because there really is wisdom that comes when love allows one to let go of the reins of life’s chariot, step off and watch for a while from the sidelines. One sees life and love anew; the promise of God to give the Spirit to lead us to the Truth seems to become more and more real; and the assurance of the Apostle that as the outer person wastes away the inner person is renewed, fulfils itself.
We know that down the years Christ has had many things to say to us, and has constantly worked with us to enable us to love, that is, to live the truth, how much more as we approach the end of our journey will he not work with us in this way? So take heart, rejoice and listen: ‘I still have much to say to you.’