I am in the middle of writing my master's thesis on Evelyn Underhill, a British writer on mysticism from the early twentieth century. Last night I was working on the section that deals with her personal correspondence; it is interesting to see how a spiritual journey is reflected in language. In contrast to the personal letters, her published books carry a certain sense of distance from her subject, the necessary academic objectivity, one might say. But to go along with that, I also get the feeling in many of her early books that she doesn't quite grasp what she is talking about (sorry, Evelyn!).
There is something about being intimate with one's subject, about letting knowledge come through you and touch something deep inside of you, changing you before you pass it on to others. It modifies how you deliver the message, because you are not just passing on knowledge, like participants do in a relay race; you are handing on something you have lived with and learned to love.
This morning, I was reading a story of Moses (see Numbers 20) where he was again caught between complaining people and a holy God. The issue this time was that they were out of water, so God told Moses to speak to a rock and water would come forth. Apparently, God's instructions were only partially received by the great leader, Moses, because instead of speaking to the rock, he chided the people and then struck the rock twice! Moses took what he believed was the message from God (anger and impatience) and delivered it rather vehemently to the people. Perhaps he wasn't listening all that closely to God and did not catch the whole message. Perhaps the message became only another package to be delivered, another complaint to respond to. Unfortunately, Moses seems somewhat disconnected from both God and the people in this story, because he does not listen carefully to God nor identify with the thirsty people.
This distancing meant that Moses stepped away from trusting God, from truly listening, responding, and obeying. He misread the message, adding his own interpretation, and ended up misrepresenting God. Moses' anger also meant that he had ceased to identify himself with the people he was leading, which was quite a change from the many times in the past when he had pleaded as an intercessor before God on their behalf. So God declared that Moses' time as a leader was coming to an end because he had lost that sense of being the meeting place between Truth and those he was leading. He had disengaged from both sides and become his own party, which is always a mistake.
As teachers and leaders, let us always listen closely to Truth, Wisdom, Love, Compassion, Mercy, Justice, and Grace. And let us never lose sight of the fact that we are one of the people, one of the learners, one of the followers. They are us and we are them. Let me have ears to hear what God is saying, and let knowledge always pass deeply through my life before I attempt to pass it on.
Photo from communities.canada.com.