We live in a horribly conflicted world. It is commonly spoken of as secular, and for the predominant understanding of life, the notion of a spiritual reality is dismissed as simply emanating from an overly sensitive imagination which can find a far better explanation when seen through the prism of the scientific explanation of our reality.
Yet if we turn to the world of entertainment, the themes of love and violence dominate the movie screens, well aided by the terrors of the menacing evil spirit, ghost or the mysterious like. Apparently we love being terrorised by the possibility of something we don’t want to believe in, in our more rational and materialistic secular life.
There is a depth of the mind that is far bigger than we can make sense of. From the earliest eras of history humanity has found different ways to speak of this more mysterious dimension of our experience.
Today’s gospel reading provides us with an excellent opportunity to reflect upon life’s experience we call spiritual. John the Baptist, Andrew and his brother Simon Peter, are all mentioned and represent what we might discover in a spiritual person. Each man highlights that once a certain internal depth opens to ones consciousness then it becomes the dominant purpose in a person’s life.
JOHN THE BAPTIST
We have spoken of John the Baptist on several occasions over the past six weeks. He is an extraordinary and unusual man. We picture that from an early age he was open to what we speak of as an inner calling to pursue the deepest realms of his being. It is so strong he is unsettled unless he is seeking for it to speak to him. The story of others like him tells us that once the deep interior moves then one must follow. For him he either walks away from everything to permanently or occasionally wander into the dessert to find his ultimate answer.
Great stories are told of many others who experience such, particularly those who find themselves entering religious communities or devoting themselves to spiritual leadership. What is common is that such people believe they must pursue this pathway, or life has no meaning for them.
In John’s case he has found that such attachment to this inner world does stimulate his mind so much that unexpected activity emerges from apparently within. We read today that he speaks of seeing something that resembles a dove descending upon Jesus in his baptism. He has been informed that this is a sign of the great Messiah the Jews have all been awaiting. The Lamb of God. Such apparitions remain mysterious to people, yet they are not uncommon.
I am very conscious that while not everyone does encounter them, probably far more do than one might realise. They are not spoken of because they are more confusing than not.
We turn to the next story of the man named Andrew and learn he has been a young man who sought John’s company regularly for his insightful teaching. In a more subdued way we can conclude Andrew had been touched by the way the Jewish people longed for the long awaited Messiah. His conversations with John had presumably focused a great deal upon the coming Messiah. On seeing Jesus, John declares him to be the very one they have spoken of. At John’s identification Andrew immediately follows Jesus eager to stay with him. He follows him to his home and spends the afternoon listening, questioning.
Late in the afternoon he must tell someone so leaves to hunt down his brother, and with excitement declares, ‘Simon (we know of as Peter) we have found the one we are looking for.’ Simon immediately follows him to meet Jesus.
Andrew’s story depicts a different experience of spirituality than that of Johns. He is interiorly captured by the story of his community and rather than disappearing into the dessert, he gathers with others to discuss and question, for the purpose of learning, as much as he can about the possibility of such a person appearing. He is a student of his faith with a hunger to learn and understand.
What is in common between Andrew and John is that, while both purse a different way, both have an insatiable appetite to feed their hunger for an answer:
one, in the silence of aloneness, and the other, in the gathering of a learning people. But for both, their hunger shapes their spiritual journey to be the heart of their purpose in life.
Peter is the third of the three figures from our reading. As Andrew’s brother, and from what we can conclude, he is equally interested in the belief in the coming Messiah, or anointed one, as the passage suggests. Andrew seeks him out to share this exhilarating news. He immediately leaves his work and hastily follows Andrew to meet Jesus.
The meeting with Jesus turns out to be a vitally important one. For it’s in the coming together, we discover an extraordinary picture of what takes place when he or anyone meets Jesus. It’s as if Jesus touches a different you. In fact, it’s not a different you, but the real you, in other words, the spiritual you. Jesus emphasises this by giving Peter a new name that better represents his comprehensive identity. In his case, he calls him Cephas or Peter, which means Rock.
John and Andrew have each been enticed by this inner yearning of the spirit and their lives are the journey to fulfill it. Peter is the same, but in his case, Jesus gives identity to it.
There is actually a fourth figure in the reading but this person is unnamed. It tells us two people were speaking to John the Baptist, one being Andrew. For our own reflection, it would be helpful for us to treat the other unnamed figure as a shadow of ourselves.
Where do we fit in this story? What do we understand about our spiritual journey? Is it more inclined to be relatively introverted like John, or is it more like Andrew engaged with others in ones search? In what way do we resemble Peter? Do we know our deep spiritual identity?
The Spiritual call and journey is of various shapes and nature. However it is what makes the Christian distinct from the many who are satisfied with what the Secular life style offers.