We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Small & the Large of It All

In a recent interview translated into English and published under the title, "A Big Heart Open to God," Pope Francis I reflected on what it means for a Jesuit priest to become the Bishop of Rome.  Asked how his Jesuit background helps him as pope, Pope Francis replied,
Discernment...discernment is one of the things that worked inside St. Ignatius. For him it is an instrument of struggle in order to know the Lord and follow him more closely. I was always struck by a saying that describes the vision of Ignatius: non coerceri a maximo, sed contineri a minimo divinum est (“not to be limited by the greatest and yet to be contained in the tiniest—this is the divine”). I thought a lot about this phrase in connection with the issue of different roles in the government of the church, about becoming the superior of somebody else: it is important not to be restricted by a larger space, and it is important to be able to stay in restricted spaces. This virtue of the large and small is magnanimity. Thanks to magnanimity, we can always look at the horizon from the position where we are. That means being able to do the little things of every day with a big heart open to God and to others. That means being able to appreciate the small things inside large horizons, those of the kingdom of God.
 Our tendency is to think of God in terms of largeness, as that which exceeds the boundaries of the universe and of reality as we understand it.  God's power, knowledge, and presence are thus virtually limitless.  Pope Francis' reflections remind us that there is another dimension to God, what we might almost call the quantum side of the divine.  God is small as well as large, close as well as distant, within as well as Beyond.

God resides in a touch, a song, and a flower.  God also resides in a spat, a disagreement, and an off day when nothing seems to go like it should.  And somehow the largeness of God and God's smallness, God's distance and intimacy, are both Present in the touch, the song, the flower, and the depressing moments of life.  Somehow.  The large is swallowed up in the small and the small magnified by the large.  Discernment of the way in which God resides in the small and large opens us to the possibility of becoming magnanimous, that is to live on a deeper spiritual plane beyond meanness, pettiness, and anxiety.  It means seeing God's closeness in such a way as to be drawn closer to God.  It does not mean gaining control of the divine or seeing "the true nature" of the divine.  It means being drawn in a direction beyond being in control and understanding.  What is small is magnified and made sacred.  What is large and inherently sacred is personalized and remerges in the world of the mundane, and we are "able to appreciate the small things inside large horizons, those of the kingdom of God."