Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ. of Dallas
I just kept praying that the numbers and letters would start speaking to me, start saying something to me about how they worked or played or lived together…anything, anything at all to help me put a mark in the vast white space next to the algebraic formula: ax2 + bx = c. The Muses were quiet that day. The gods of Math were napping. Even St. Baudhāyana, priest-discoverer of geometric solutions to Pythagorean linear equations and father of the demon algebra that tortured me that day in high school, even he was silent in witness to my despair. Finally, having reached the logical conclusion that prayer would not help me understand nor would crying, complaining, appealing to the charity of my teacher, threatening my health, the health of my teacher, nothing, nothing would help me to grasp the truth of the beauty of algebra, nothing; after these flashes of enlightenment, I surrendered to the problem itself, just gave up; I let the equation have its way with my impatience, my stubbornness, my irrational fear of math, and when I did, the numbers slipped into the letters perfectly, the solution just “fell out” of the equation…and I was saved.
I could see. I could hear. But I did not understand. I had knowledge but no wisdom; I knew, but I did not love. And love is that kind of knowing that makes the Word spoken to our ears and shown to our eyes, open—accessible, useful, complete, and nearly irresistible. I came to understand that perplexing algebraic formula by releasing my hatred of math, my determination to control the outcome; by surrendering my impatience and annoyance with the feeling of stupidity the formula imposed on my over inflated sense of myself as a “smart kid.” Literally, I gave up. And my vision cleared so that I could see the solution and my deafness exploded into sound so that I could hear my teacher talk sense to me. I barely touched Love that day. Just lightly brushed against love in coming to understand algebra. Understanding the Word sown, on the other hand, requires that we soak ourselves in love until we are indistinguishable from it. What else will nourish the seed?
Think about it this way: the Word is tossed to you, sown in your heart for nourishment and growth—what will it find there to take root in, to draw food from, to flourish and bloom out of? In other words, what lives in your cardiac tabernacle? Around what or whom does your physical and spiritual life rotate? Will the Word land hard on a stone of anger and resentment? Will it land on the ever-shifting, never faithful sands of compromise and deceit? Will it land on the mushy, rotting glop of sentimentalism, excessive passion, and intellectual indolence? Or will the seed of the Word find itself sown on rich soil but surrounded by the poisonous thorns of envy, pride, disobedience, dissent, and a lust for violence? The Word might grow in any of these, but the fruit it bears would be ugly, bitter, and very likely deadly.
Only Love can feed the seed of the Word in you what it needs. If the seed lands in your tabernacle and finds there: a boundless hope; an unequaled trust; deeds soaked in mercy; a longing for the blinding beauty of God’s face and a thirst for His goodness and truth; an excitement about witnessing Christ to the world; a passion for justice and peace; if the seed lands in the rich soil of your heart and discovers there this brilliant garden, then your yield for the Kingdom will be thirty, sixty, one hundredfold what it would be otherwise.
You can fight the formula, staring at the blank page for hours, waiting for a miracle, willing an easier, more convenient solution. Or, you can surrender now and find all your blank pages filled with the Word. Hear the parable of the sower: you must be richly prepared to be planted with God’s Word. Soak your soil in love then until you are indistinguishable from Love Himself.
Pic Credit: Melissa Hirsch