A small group of us were sitting in my friend's living room last night in silence. Dean had led us in an exercise where we laid aside our thoughts and preoccupations of the day (mine were the 2 proposals I am writing, a lecture to prepare for next week, a reading course to finish, a research trip to organise, and that I really need to clean the bathrooms), confessing our shortcomings (I admitted to timidity, fear, lack of trusting God), and invited us to become quiet in the presence of God. It was such a pleasant sensation to let my mind stop its constant thinking about so much stuff, its habitual practice of mental notation and composition, and just look at Jesus. Only one thing on my mind.
It reminded me of what I had been reading on the subway on the way to the gathering. Kierkegaard talks about the one Good thing, and how everything else is not "one." When we are truly pointing in God's direction, looking and walking toward the ultimate Good, all is one. Here are a few quotes to give you an idea:
Purity of heart is to will one thing...he who in truth wills only one thing can will only the Good, and he who only wills one thing when he wills the Good can only will the Good in truth.
That which a simple soul, in the happy impulse of a pious heart, feels no need of understanding in an elaborate way, since he simply seizes the Good immediately, is grasped by the clever one only at the cost of much time and much grief.
The person who wills one thing that is not the Good, he does not truly will one thing. It is a delusion, an illusion, a deception, a self-deception that he wills only one thing.
Father in Heaven! What is a man without Thee! What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee! What is all his striving, could it even encompass that world, but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee: Thee the One, who are one thing and who art all!
When I read this, the words were a giant infusion of life-giving air into a soul that sometimes feels like it is drowning in work. As I often confess, I am a person who cannot multi-task at all. I can place my attention and my affection only on one thing at one particular moment, and that seems rather limiting in many instances. But this tendency, says Kierkegaard, is the way of purity, of goodness. It is the movement toward the One. It might actually be more difficult, I believe, to chase "one" thing than to pursue many things. I also really identified with the simple soul that he talked about, wanting very much to grasp things with a happy and pure heart instead of with extensive mental effort. And so it was with joy and contentment that I thought of only one thing that evening, and let everything else be contained in that One.
At the end of the silence, people were invited to share any thoughts they had with the group. I said, "I don't really have anything to say; it was just nice to have an empty head because I am always thinking." And then I mentioned the notion of pursuing "one thing" as Kierkegaard explains it and how encouraging that was for me.
After a moment, one of my friends said: "You say you have an empty head, but you are quoting Kierkegaard!" I think Kierkegaard would have thought that was funny, and a great example of willing or doing but one thing and having it seem like much more.
Let my focus be on the one Good today and every day, and may I indeed come upon truth by joyous gazing on the Good One instead of by feeble and exhausting attempts at cleverness.
Quotes from Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing by Soren Kierkegaard, translated by Douglas V. Steere. HarperCollins, 1966.
This is a photo of one tree amid a blanket of fall leaves.