This article is shared by Tom Hall
If we can understand a saint, then we can understand a man. And if we can understand a man, then we can know how he ought to behave and how he was meant to behave.
What is the one characteristic that all saints have in common? Not piety or love of God, as commonly understood for many saints did not believe in God and many people are pious who are far from saintly.
The quality they all have in common is identification. Through some mysterious process, only dimly perceived by the rest of us, they are able to identify with the full range of creation.
They identify with the leper and the criminal, with the disfigured and the stupid, with the thief and the alien, with the coward and the heretic, with the beast in the field, the bird in the air, the fish in the sea. They comprehend the sharingness of creation.
A saint is a man in his fullness just as an oak tree is an acorn in its fullness. He is what a man is meant to be, a model, an archetype, a goal, that is given us.
This is what all religion is about, despite the doctrinal differences. It is about the way to be a human being…the first and only lesson worth learning in life and the ultimate end of all education. The more creatures unlike oneself that one can identify with, The more fully one enters into humanhood. This is the whole message of the saints, why Jesus moved among the poor, the afflicted, the disreputable, the outcasts, the dregs of society.
If there should be, say, on Christmas night, a second coming, would there not be soon a second crucifixion? And this time, not by the Romans or the Jews, but by those who proudly call themselves Christians? How would we today regard and treat this man with his strange and frightening and “impractical” doctrines of human behavior and relationships?
Would we believe and follow, any more than the masses of people in his day believed and followed? Would not the militarists assail him as a cowardly pacifist because he urges us not to resist evil, the nationalists attack him as a dangerous internationalist because he tells us we are all of one flesh, the wealthy castigate him as a troublemaking radical because he bars the rich from entering heaven, the liberals dismiss him as a dreamy vagabond because he advises us to take no thought for the morrow, to lay up no treasures on earth, the ecclesiastics denounce him as a ranting heretic because he cuts through the cords of ritual and commands us only to love God and our neighbors, the sentimentalists deride him as a cynic because he warns us that the way to salvation is narrow and difficult, the puritans despise and reject him because he eats and drinks with publicans and sinners, preferring the company of winebibbers and harlots to that of “respectable” church members, the proud and important among us laugh at him when he instructs the 12 disciples that he who would be first should be the one to take the role of the least and serve all, the worldly wise and educated be aghast to hear that we cannot be saved except as we become as children and that a little child shall lead us?
Would not each of us in his own way find some part of this man’s saying and doing to be so threatening to our ways of life, so much at odds with our rooted beliefs, that we could not tolerate him for long? Thoreau: “If Christ should appear on earth, he would on all hands be denounced as a mistaken, misguided man, insane and crazed.”
If you are normally a right-handed person, try a little experiment for a half hour… do with your left hand everything that you usually do with your right. The most simple and obvious acts will become complicated and cumbersome. You will hardly be able to write or cut or eat your food and you will quickly become baffled, frustrated and exasperated. Now… imagine this lopsided process intensified a thousand-fold and you may have some idea of how painful and difficult it is to think “with the left hand”, that is, to reverse our customary process of thought.
Why has science made such enormous strides in knowledge and development, while human affairs still remain largely as they were in the days of the Assyrian Empire? Largely because every advance in science is gained by reversing the spool of thought, by thinking in a way that is opposite of the traditional and customary ways.
Of all the habits of mankind, the habits of thought are the most persistent, the most tenacious, the most enslaving. We put on an idea in the morning as we put on a shoe, left or right first, unconsciously, and without ever varying the procedure by a fraction. And our resistance against changing our habits of thought is immense and unrelenting. If we try, briefly, we find it as vexing and unrewarding as writing a letter with the left hand. What we are used to is comfortable, what is comfortable is good, and what is good is right…this the unspoken belief of almost all people everywhere.
When a scientist, however, tackles a problem that has hitherto seemed insoluble, he abandons all his preconceptions and all the preconceptions of the past. Only when he begins to question the basic assumptions he has always held can he make an utterly fresh start, unencumbered by the intellectual baggage of the past.
Not one person in a thousand is willing, although many are able to think left-handed for more than a few minutes at a time. Yet every important discovery has been made in this way, from Harvey on circulation of the blood to Freud on the unconscious. And we know what derision and abuse these great men (great teachers have authenticity, a realness, a presence, an aura, which comes out of the depths of the personality… they affect you and once seen cannot be forgotten… such persons, of course, are extremely rare and worth far more than we could ever pay them…it is the prime task of a good society to recruit such personalities for safeguarding our children’s futures… our failure to do so is our most monstrous sin of omission) were subjected to for daring to violate the right-handedness of their times.
Men of great intellect are like huge buildings standing on a small plot of ground… the size of the building cannot be seen by anyone, nor can the greatness of a genius be estimated while he lives but after a century or a millennium has passed the world recognizes it and wishes him back again. A great man is like a mountain. You cannot appreciate it when standing at its base. You must throw miles between your eye and it before you can catch the symmetry of its sides and feel the majesty of its colossal dimensions. So it is with Jesus. Each generation will understand him better, so great that the men of Palestine could not take his measure.
When you wish that you had lived in Jesus’ day, you are wishing for a great misfortune. Had you lived in the first century, you would most likely have been found among those who saw in Jesus nothing but a disturber of the peace. It may be that you would have joined the crowd that cried “Crucify him!” Some said Jesus was John the Baptist, some Elijah, others Jeremiah, went to the grave to find a man to whom he could be compared.
We do the same thing. When we search for the great we descend into the grave and talk about Gandhi and Lincoln and Montessori and Einstein… we dare not use the name of a living individual.
One unknown great man, given a little food (creation comes before distribution or there will be nothing to distribute…the need of the creator comes before the need of any possible beneficiary…men who do not understand this and act in accordance are the men who are ruining the world) can do more for us in a month than 1000 of the greatest dead geniuses can do for us in an eternity (only the living can take care of the living…presence is needed) but we like them dead… that is… safe.
Doesn’t this tell us that Jesus was a man of tremendous power? Jesus is nothing but a poor unarmed peasant, yet Pilate, clothed with authority is afraid of him, washes his hands, to get rid of this man. He feels there is power in him unlike any power he has ever come in contact with before.
If you would have the finest proof of his power, it can be found in the intensity of the love which he excited. How many hated him! They could not hear him talk without sizzling, hissing and boiling like a pot under which the fire roars. He stirred tempests in the heart, awoke serpents in men. He drove them to madness until they cried out in frenzy, “Crucify him!”
Only a great man can do that. You cannot hate a pigmy, a weakling, a ninny. You can hate Nero or Mandela or any giant, but you cannot hate a nobody.
Who was the most detested man in England during the 19th century? Gladstone. He stirred men to hatred because he was so mighty. Who are the men most detested, misunderstood and ignored in the world today? Every one of them a man of tremendous power… men that are loathed and feared are men of genius who have in them extraordinary capacity for bringing things to pass.
An age without great men is one which acquiesces in the drift of history. Let us not be complacent about our supposed capacity to get along without great men. If our society has lost its wish for heroes and its ability to produce them, it may well turn out to have lost everything as well.
There is no question that if Jesus Christ or a great prophet from another religion, were to show up today, he would find it virtually impossible to convince anyone of his credentials, despite the fact that the vast evangelical machine on TV and all the hypocrites in the pulpits are predicated on his imminent return among us sinners.
We’ve been going downhill (Toynbee: “Of 21 notable civilizations, 19 perished, not by conquest from without but by moral decay from within.”) since King (“it is always difficult to get out of Egypt”) and Malcolm (“do you realize that some of history’s greatest leaders never were recognized until they were safely in the ground?”) were killed and will continue until our next spiritual leader is acknowledged (men with the capacity for leadership are always among us, waiting in the wings, but it sometimes takes a great crisis to bring them to prominence), known (when the gods come amongst men they remain unknown), recognized (what we are not we cannot perceive or understand), and used.
In nature living things have instinct, wisdom programmed before birth. When the queen bee emerges and announces herself, the workers, knowing how helpless she is without them, rush to her aid. By herself the queen makes no honey, neither the workers… TOGETHER (snowflakes are one of natures most fragile things but look at what they can do when they stick together)… lots of it… so too us human insects. Let us respond when the queen emerges… if only we had instinct!