I Am the Gate
“All of humanity’s problems stem from their inability to sit quietly, alone in a room.”
This is a quote from Blaise Pascal. He was a child prodigy, a mathematician and scientist who lived in France in the mid 1600s who had a life-changing religious experience at the age of 34.
It was in his unfinished book Pensées ("Thoughts") that he expressed this opinion that “All of humanity’s problems stem from their inability to sit quietly, alone in a room.”
It is admittedly quite a sweeping statement, but one that is worth contemplating for a while. Ours is a world that has become so busy with such high stress levels, in which sitting alone in a room is one of the last things that people are either willing or able to do.
But just imagine a world in which children, from a young age, were taught the art of sitting quietly, learning to acquire a taste or an appreciation for silence and stillness, an ability to sit with one’s thoughts watching them change and flow, instead of allowing those thoughts to be like a slave-driver constantly pushing one to doing this and then that with no end.
Imagine a world where all adults made time to sit quietly alone, with no external stimulation, just resting quietly in the silence for an hour every day, allowing their minds to process their experiences from the day, allowing their thoughts to slowly settle, (in an image I am borrowing from Wendy), like a snow-globe that had been shaken up and then left to sit on the mantle piece, to quietly return to a place of rest.
What kind of society might we live in if this ability to sit quietly everyday was something that was encouraged and cultivated and highly valued?
I suspect it would be a society that would have few stress related health problems. Perhaps a society that might not need quite as much constant entertainment and amusement. Maybe a society that was a little more in touch with the rhythms of nature and even the rhythms and needs of our own body. When one sits like that in silence, one ends up doing a lot of listening. Maybe it might be a society with a better ability to listen, a better ability to listen to each other, without jumping in prematurely to try and fix things before we have deeply heard what someone else is trying to say?
What other problems might humanity be saved from if we all learned the ability to sit quietly alone in a room?
I wonder if this lockdown period might give us some clues?
We would perhaps all consume less than we do….
There would be less traffic on the roads…
There would be less noise…
Maybe perhaps less pollution…
Perhaps less heart-attacks and strokes…
More goundedness, less compulsion….?
In our passage today, Jesus is described as the the gate for the sheep.
What does it mean that Jesus is a gate, or a doorway?
In the evenings in the past week, Wendy and I have been watching Philip Pullman’s TV series “His Dark Materials”. It is a fantasy story in which there are parallel worlds. And in the story it is possible to move from one world to a different one by passing through a portal of light.
George our little cat recently had such an experience…. Or so he thought.
George and Annie have recently learned that they can jump from the oil tank up onto the lower roof of our extension room. It has brought much joy and fascination to the two cats, but much anxiety for Wendy. It has also meant a bit of handy-man work for me as I have built a bit of a bridge for them to prevent them from slipping and falling instead of jumping across up onto the roof.
One of the things that George and Annie have discovered is that from on top of the roof of the extension room, if the humans are kind enough to let them in, they can enter the house from the bathroom window. This was a paritcularly amazing discovery for George. The first time I let him in through the bathroom window, as he entered, it was almost as if he was seeing the house as if for the first time, looking this way and that, almost in amazement that this was actually his home. Coming in through the bathroom window from the outside was a bit like entering a portal into a new dimension, or so it seemed that very first time he did it.
What is interesting in our passage is that the Greek word for gate or doorway in this passage can also be translated as portal. That is quite an evocative word. It suggests that Jesus’ life is a portal into a whole new kind of life.
Our passage describes this new kind of life with two words:
The first is the Greek word sozo, which is normally translated as saved. – The word ‘saved’ has in some ways become one of those Christian cliche’s. Are you saved? We are often asked. But what does it mean? The Greek word has a number of different meanings. One of those meanings is to be brought to wholeness. To be saved is to be brought into a life of greater wholeness. A life of greater balance.
The other word that describes the new kind of life that Jesus invites us to step into is the word abundant.
The word abundant in Greek is the word perissos. The word peri is the same word that is used in the word peri-meter. A perimeter is a path that encompasses/surrounds something. Abundant Life in this context could mean a deep sense of connection and oneness with the whole of life that surrounds us. It is an expansion of our being that brings us into connection and communion with others and the encompassing life of God.
Most of our lives are lived with a sense of separation. I am a separate person. And from this painful sense of separation come all our fears and anxieties. From this sense of separateness from others we try and desperately bridge the gap between us and the rest of life, sometimes in healthy ways, but also often in unhealthy ways.
In our passage, we read that the life of Jesus is a doorway, a gate, or a portal into a new kind of life, defined not by our anxious sense of separation, but by a life of deep inner connectedness with the whole of life, which in the final analysis is the very life of God, whose life and being, as we have explored in recent weeks, fills all things… Over all, Through all, and In all. Or as an ancient philosopher is said to have written, “God is a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference encompasses all things.”
How is it that Jesus life is a doorway or a gate, or a portal into this life of wholeness and deep inner connectedness with God’s life that surrounds and encompasses us?
Because Jesus’ life was and is, a Life in tune with the very Being of God.
That’s what I believe is meant in this passage when we read that Jesus says: “I Am” the gate for the sheep.
“I AM” is the name for the Divine. It suggests that GOD is Beingness itself. When Jesus says “I AM” the gate for the sheep, his life is at One with the Life and Being of God.
Another way of putting it is that Jesus Life is Centred and Grounded in the stillness and fullness of God’s Being. God’s Being is the centre of Jesus’ Being, and in this way, Jesus is a doorway, a gate, a portal for us to step into God’s Being as well.
When we discern the still centre of God’s Being in Jesus, we begin to touch and uncover the still centre of God’s being in ourselves and others. And in discovering the still centre in ourselves, we awaken to a new life of wholeness and connectedness. Wholeness and Connectedness with the Life of God that surrounds us, holds us, and that lives in and through us.
I believe that there are two essential things we can do to discern the Still Centre of God’s Beingness in Jesus, God’s I-Am-ness that was and is the ground of Jesus Being.
Firstly, we can meditate deeply on the life of Jesus. Our passage uses the phrase, “listening to his voice”. My sheep listen to my voice. The voice of Jesus is not only heard in the words he speaks. The voice of Jesus in the Gospel stories is also heard in the way Jesus interacts with others. It is heard in his actions. In his gestures. In his silences. To hear the voice of Jesus, is to read the Gospels in such a way that we listen to the whole Beingness of Jesus, listening for His deep Groundedness in God, in the One he calls Abba.
Secondly, we can learn to discern the Still Centre of God’s Beingness in Jesus, by learning ourselves to sit in stillness and silence and aloneness. Throughout the Gospels, you find Jesus withdrawing into stillness, silence, and aloneness in quiet places. In Mark’s Gospel, “Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus went off to a lonely place to pray.” Stillness, Silence, Aloneness. This seems to have been the engine room of his own Spiritual Life. The place of Jesus’ groundedness and his wholeness.
And so we hear the invitation…. To meditate deeply on the life of Jesus to discern the still centre of his life. And secondly, to practice sitting in God’s stillness, and in being touched in that Stillness by the Beingness of God to discover a new sense of wholeness and wellness welling up from within, and to discover a new sense of abundance, a life more deeply connected and at One with the Whole of Life around us, the very Life of God in all things.
In lockdown, we have learned that sometimes we can save the world, by just remaining in our homes. Is it possible that we can also help to solve many of our worlds problems and the problems of humanity by simply learning to sit quietly alone in a room?
Or quietly alone, staring out the window watching the birds fly past, the wind blowing gently in the trees, or silently watching the cows or sheep as they graze, and in so doing so, imperceptibly beginning to Connect with the One-ness and the Stillness of God at the Centre of our Being and at the very Centre of all of Life.