cast out into the deep

In the Twelve Step Program, the first Step is admitting that you are powerless over your particular addiction; and the 12th Step is carrying the message of the Program to other addicts who still suffer. But there’s a phenomenon that speaks of people who are “two-steppers,” who go right from the 1st Step to the 12th. One version of it is someone who admits he or she is powerless––and then tells everybody about it. But the usual way I’ve heard it described is people who take Step One––accepting that they are powerless over their addiction––and then jump directly to trying to help others, but without having done the in-between steps where the hard work lies. In other words they try to pass along something they themselves haven’t really gotten yet.

It’s a rather common phenomenon in religion too, and it seems it has been from ancient times. There’s a story from the desert fathers about Abba Theodore. A brother was speaking about matters of which he had no experience. And Abba Theodore said to him, “You’ve not yet found a ship to sail in, not put your luggage aboard, not put out to sea, and you’re already acting as if you were in the city which you mean to reach. First you must make some attempt to do the things you are discussing, then you can talk about them with understanding.”

This is a criticism I heard in India often too. This one time when I was staying up in Rishikesh I heard several serious spiritual practitioners admonish against someone teaching before they themselves were ready, pointing out how oftentimes Christians are so focused on the exterior, missionary and apostolic work, to the expense of real spiritual transformation, that there is a tendency to “give it before we live it.” The saying that I heard was, “In the land of the blind a one-eyed Jack becomes the King.” What was rather humorous about that was that the folks who told this to me didn’t know that I was actually writing a book on prayer and meditation at the time. I wanted to blurt out, “It wasn’t my idea! Someone asked me to do it!” I ended that book by writing to my audience, “Not that you, kind reader, are blind, though I may only be a one-eyed Jack.”

It is one of the insidious temptations we face, especially people who really desire to be leaders or to be seen as leaders, talking about things of the Spirit that we have not yet lived. If you think about it, the Lord Jesus didn’t do anything that we know of until he was around 30 years old. And in the Letter to the Galatians St. Paul lets us know that after his conversion experience in Damascus he spent three years in Arabia before he even went to Jerusalem to meet Peter––and some think that since he didn’t make his second trip until 14 years after that, perhaps he spent all that time too studying the Jewish scriptures and trying to make sense out of what had happened to him in his encounter with the Risen Christ.

That’s what I always think of when I hear this saying of Jesus: ‘Cast out into the deep!’ [i] It’s notable to me that he asks them to cast out into the deep before he invites them to be disciples. Before Jesus calls them to fish for people, he first wants them to cast out into the deep. I always think of bodies of water in the Scriptures as a symbol of the unconscious, of our own inner depths, and certainly when contemplatives hear that phrase—‘Cast out into the deep’––they generally take it as an exhortation to greater interiority. Having had enough experience in ministry, I often feel what many ministers in the church are missing is a real experience of the indwelling transformative presence of God, and so they/we tend to bustle around with programs––sometimes very good programs, mind you, but giving from the surface, and not from the depth. Maybe we monks have the opposite problem; we tend to dive deep, but we have a little trouble re-surfacing and making it real.

One other thing: we’ve been talking about Origen’s[ii] notion of the different levels of meaning in Scripture in class lately––the literal, the symbolic and the moral, to which later Gregory the Great adds the mystical (or anagogical) meaning. When Ewert Cousins wrote about this he compared those four levels of meaning to the levels of consciousness. I love this teaching: the literal is the everyday mind, the moral is like the Freudian superego, the symbolic the Jungian archetypal, symbolic and then the fourth level, the mystical meaning. This is also casting into the deep, into the depths of our own consciousness as well as into the depths of scripture. As we mature more and more juicy substance is revealed to us in the Word of God, ‘til we reach that mystical level. Maybe one day, like St. Romuald, one line of the psalms will suddenly be to key to everything and unlock the mysteries! If we just keep casting into the deep.

So there’s a little something for everybody today. Let’s pray that the Lord would reveal to us the inner meaning of the Word. And if we are just chomping at the bit to be an evangelist or to be seen as a great teacher, we need to make sure we really know what we’re talking about or have had some experience of what we’re talking about before we start talking about it. And for those who feel as if they have really cast into the deep, we need to remember sometimes to come up for air and to share the fruits of deep diving with others––fish for others, spread the Word. It doesn’t necessarily have to be preaching or teaching, but finding some way to bring others to Jesus, if only by the sweetness of our lives, and the brightness of the light that shines from within us.

cyprian, 6 sept 18

[i] Mt 5:1-11.

[ii] The great 2nd-3rd century catechist.

Share Button

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *