In the ancient Nag Hammadi text, “The Gospel of Thomas,” the students ask their teacher,
When does ‘rest’ for the dead begin, and when will the cosmos arrive? (Logion 51)
These are perpetual questions that lurk around the edge of our consciousness: When do we get to rest? What does the future hold?
At their core, these questions point to the students’ sense that something in life is lacking. I need something I do not have and I long to know when I will receive that missing component.
The teacher in Logion 51 does not respond to the surface of the question He does not answer the “when” part of the question. Instead he goes deeper and addresses the real need behind the question. He replies,
What you are looking for is already here.
You simply have not recognized it.
The spiritual life is not a journey of attainment. There is nothing we need to get. We need only to open to the bounty that fills all of life and sustains us for the journey.
I was part of a discussion of this “Gospel of Thomas” Logion recently. At one point in our discussion our host got up and went to a drawer where he pulled out what looked like a ping pong ball. He instructed us to join hands around the circle. The person next to him touched her finger to a small metal strip on the white ball. Immediately a light inside the ball lit up. When one person broke the circle by letting go of the hand beside them, the light went out.
The invisible energy that lit the ball was passing through our bodies. Everything the ball needed to be lit was present in the room, but we could not see it. When we became connected, a deeper reality was revealed. We did not create the energy to light the bulb. We only opened to the connection that allowed the existing energy to be revealed.
The great contemporary American poet Wendell Berry understood Logion 51. For Berry, his awareness of the fullness and abundance of life that we so often miss is communicated, not through a ping pong ball that lights up, but through the beauty of creation. Berry wrote,
What We Need Is Here
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
The path to seeing is “Abandon.” It is when we are willing to let go of our need to control the circumstances of our existence that our eyes begin to open.
Later in “The Gospel of Thomas,” the students ask
Is circumcision of any help to us?
They want to know what the program is. They are hoping the teacher will reveal to them the steps by which they can control the process of their lives.
But, again, the teacher refuses to respond to the surface question. Instead he goes deeper, returning to the reality of wisdom and light that he is determined the students possess within themselves. He says,
If it were your fathers would have
been born fully circumcised
from their mother’s womb.
The only circumcision that will benefit
you at all is spiritual.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says,
Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.(Matthew 18:3)
Jesus is saying here that we need to go back to what we were created to be. The spiritual life is not a journey to get something new, but a journey to embrace that which we have always possessed. We are beings created in the image of God.
In John’s Gospel, when the religious people of the day were unable to see Jesus’ divinity, he quoted Psalm 82:6 asking them,
Is it not written in your law, “I said, you are gods”? (John 10:34)
We fail to trust the true richness of our lives because we lose touch with the wonder of our true identity. We are beings created in the image of God. We are containers of the strength, beauty, wisdom, and light that is our Creator.
We do not need to know the future. We do not need to find the spiritual program to change our lives. We need only to rest in our true identity and trust the gifts of God’s Spirit that surround us and fill our lives with the abundance of God’s grace.