The Prison of Our Minds


The Readings for the Memorial of St John Bosco

Wednesday, 4th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Et non poterat ibi virtutem ullam facere, nisi paucos infirmos impositis manibus curavit, et mirabatur propter incredulitatem eorum.
And he could not do any miracles there, only that he cured a few that were sick, laying his hands upon them. And he wondered because of their unbelief. 

What do you make of this? It sounds, does it not, like I might hinder God if I refuse to believe in him. “God is not there, so I don’t have to worry about him” is the Credo sine qua non of the current aeon. I know those who would argue that it is a non-credo, but it is a credo. You have to believe there is no God, for you cannot use scientific methods to prove it irrefutably.

It will not surprise you (if you read along) to know that the Greek has a different tone than the Latin. But in this case, it’s very subtle. For, in fact, the Greek word, ἀπιστία, apistia, means unbelief. The Latin is correct in rendering it as incredulitatem. We might today say incredulity or a lack of gullibility. But that Greek word, apistia is, again, our friend the a- suffix meaning “not”, and that Greek word, pisteo, meaning “Trust”.  The word, in a literal rendition, means a lack of trust, or not-trusting. So, yes, it is a lack of credulity, but it means a lack of trust.

We have a marvelous example of this in C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle. I won’t give too many spoilers, but by way of set up, the Good Guys and the Bad Guys are fighting and the Dwarves have decided they are not going to pick a side. “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs” is their motto. So they sit on the sidelines of the last battle until they are captured and thrown through a door to certain death (so it is assumed).  In fact, the door is the gateway to Paradise. And all others who enter the door find themselves in a garden with Aslan himself; the Good Lion, the Messiah figure. But the Dwarfs are all trapped in darkness, sitting on the ground grumbling. Finally Aslan agrees to do something even though he knows it won’t work.

Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a Stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said, ‘Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.’ But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said: ‘Well, at any rate, there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!’
‘You see,’ said Aslan. ‘ They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.’

Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.’

That’s the folks in Nazareth. Jesus is unable to help them because they won’t let him do so. It’s not that their lack of faith takes away Jesus’ magic power: rather their unwillingness to cooperate makes it impossible for Jesus to act at all.

Think of how many other stories involve people coming to Jesus, or people asking for something, or people being brought to him (even against their will). In the traditional understanding of the Church this action is called synergia, or synergy: we must act with God. God is playing the music, but we must dance… often out in space where there are no visible means of support. And we must do so full in the Trust that God’s got this.

For each of us, our prison is only in our own minds, yet we really are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in by others that we can not be taken out of our prison by hook or by crook. Failure to let ourselves out dancing leads to even the music fading. Doing so makes the music stronger and more present each time. 

God says to each one of us (over and over), May I have this dance? God wants to be present through you with your friends, in your family life. God wants to be present through you at work and at your Church, but – although he can easily find someone else to do the work, no one would come to the tasks with your gifts, with your skills and memories, with your relationships in time and space. God can find someone else’s gifts and use them. But he’d really like yours.

What say you, will you sing and dance to Jesus lead?

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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