Making Shallow Wells

JMJ

The Readings for the 16th Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)

“Because knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.

Matthew 13:11

EVERY SUMMER my brother, sister, and myself would spend time with my Grandparents at their home in Panama City Beach, Fla. It wasn’t condo-filled resort community it is now: rather it was a large, sandy trailer park with ramshackle one- and two-story “motor courts” and tourist traps. The latter consisted of various miniature golfing establishments, a wild west show, and the Miracle Strip Amusement Park. Like many such communities, much of the tourist trade was destroyed by the amount of economic support thrown to the Disney company both by gov’t and by tourists. People vote with their feet. (For more on this line of thought, you might like Dixie before Disney.) What drew people to this place though was the white sand beaches of the northern Gulf of Mexico: pure, dazzling white in the Florida sun from the verge covered in Sea Oats, then out under the water for a very long while. You could see the white sand under the warm waves. It was the white sand that earned the area the title, “World’s Most Beautiful Beaches.” WMBB is still the ABC affiliate there. Swimming was nice and all, but it was playing in the sand that kept us going back to the beach.

You could dig for hours! Pile sand up! There were crabs and bivalves, slimy jellies and so very many sand dollars. Occasionally you’d find a Crucifix Fish!

You could dig “wells” really deep. There would be a little water in the bottom as you reached sea level. And then this odd thing would happen: the water would do its thing in the sand. The walls of the well would collapse and the hole would close up as you watched. Eventually, there would be nothing left but a little depression where you had been playing. Mind you, as we were playing on the beach, the entire Gulf of Mexico was a few feet away. This is the image that comes to my mind reading Jeremiah. “My people have forsaken me, the source of living waters; They have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13)

I think of this when I think of my wanderings outside of the faith. And I think of it whenever I hear of Catholics who find their own faith meaningless but go running after newagey things like “Native American Prayers”, astrology, tarot, and reiki. Yes, I’ve met Catholics into all of these things. And the “Native American Prayer” was offered in our RCIA class. A friend recently shared with me the full text of two articles by Fr Gilbert Márkus, OP, called Celtic Shmeltic. (Referenced in footnote 5 of Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian reflection on the “New Age” from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.) The whole newage world is filled with shallow wells don’t hold water.

We go looking for deep mysteries. But God has already given them to us.

Chesterton’s famous quote about Christianity goes well here, but not in the way he intended: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” He was speaking of morals, but it applies to all of Jesus’ teaching. We want to simplify it. We want Jesus’ teaching to be an easy melody, a short chorus, and maybe a guitar. Instead, his words blast us in a 40-part motet with full orchestral accompaniment played in a contrapuntal syncopation that would make John Coltrane’s head spin.

And we need to sit there and let it wash over us, reshaping us, changing our ideas of what music is – of what it was intended to be.

This is why the Apostles are like “What are you doing, Jesus?” And Jesus is all, “Trust me, I got you. But my words are NOT very easy to understand.”

But we want them to be.

The problem is we’re fallen. We want deep mysteries that confirm us in our sins, make us feel good about our choices, and – generally – don’t require too much of our lives. We love to be told everything means a lot more than we let on. “This is not sinning, it’s actually an advanced metaphor for salvation…” whispers the snake to us as we take the fruit.

We fall into a shallow well of our own digging and the walls close in on us and we die.

Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He feeds the homeless and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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