THE POWER OF NEW DISCOVERIES
In 1941 a man named George De Mestral took his dog for a hike in the Alps. When he returned he noticed the burrs on his clothes and on his dog’s fur and he realised that this same idea could be useful for a fastener. It took him twenty years to develop his idea, but finally velcro was born. Today it is used in applications from the NASA space program to children’s clothing and other products. In fact it has been estimated that velcro gets used around ten billion times a year around the world!
This is the power of a new insight, a new discovery, a new revelation. These moments can change our whole lives, or, as in the case of George De Mistral, it can change the entire world. Never underestimate the power of a new insight, a new discovery, a new revelation, or a new perspective.
But, if we are going to tap into the power of new discoveries we need to be open to learn, grow, and ask questions. And, if we are, we open the door to a deeper connection with God, a deeper understanding of our world, a deeper knowledge of ourselves, and a deeper connection with those around us.
Unfortunately our faith doesn’t always help us in this journey. Traditionally the church has not been particularly good at welcoming new discoveries. Think Copernicus and Galileo. Think Charles Darwin.
But, I believe that God is calling us to a new way of doing faith. We tend to think of faith in Jesus as the way to find answers to all of life’s questions. But I want to suggest that this kind of faith shuts us off to any opportunities where God may be revealing more of God’s self and God’s truth to us. Which brings us to Jesus’ prayer in Matthew.
THE GOD WHO REVEALS…AND HIDES
At the beginning of Matthew 11, Jesus spoke to the crowds about they had failed to listen to John’s message. And then he spoke about the villages he had travelled through and how they had refused to believe his teaching. In both cases, the people believed they already knew everything they needed to know, and so they weren’t open to learn, to explore, to discover.
Then Jesus prays this amazing prayer. He says that God has hidden God’s truth from the wise and learned – those who think they have nothing to learn or discover. But, God has revealed God’s truth to children – those who come at the world with wonder and questions and exploration and experimentation and the willingness to make mistakes. And Jesus says that this pleased God.
It makes God happy to hide God’s self and God’s truth from those who think they have nothing to learn and to reveal them to those who are childlike enough to be comfortable with not knowing and not always being right. This is the longing in the heart of God – for us to be open, questioning, humble enough to receive God’s new revelations.
Then Jesus offers an invitation for us to come to him if we are burdened and weary. We usually apply this to any burdens at all, and I think it’s right to do that. But, in context, Jesus is referring specifically to the burden of always having to know everything, and the burden of always being right – like the people who wouldn’t receive his teaching, and the Pharisees in the next story who challenge him because his disciples are supposedly breaking the law.
It’s a terrible burden to always have to know everything – because no one can ever know everything. And it’s a terrible burden to always have to be right, because if we can’t know everything we can’t always be right. And to expect ourselves to live up to this ridiculous ideal is exhausting and soul destroying. So Jesus invites us to lay that burden down. To come to him and allow him to be our teacher. Because with him we are taught not to know everything and to always be right, but to be open to the new revelations of God’s truth that can lead us into the deepest life and the deepest connections with God and others and ourselves.
OPENING TO GOD’S SELF-REVELATION
So, if God’s delight is to reveal God’s self and God’s truth to the childlike, how do we become those who are open enough to receive God’s new insights and discoveries?
Firstly, I believe we have to accept Jesus’ invitation to lay down the burden of always knowing and always being right. When we carry that burden, we always have to defend what we know, and we are always scared someone will find out that we don’t know as much as we claim. But, if we can let go of the need to be right, we can learn to be comfortable with making mistakes. And if we can lay down the burden of always knowing we can become comfortable with not knowing, and we can open ourselves to new insights and discoveries.
As the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov is famous for saying, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not “Eureka” but “That’s funny…”
Secondly, I believe Jesus calls us to embrace all truth as God’s truth. The problem with the people Jesus taught was that they wouldn’t believe something was truth unless it came from their religious leaders or their understanding of their Scriptures. But, truth is truth – so, if it’s true it’s from God, regardless of where it comes from. And Jesus is the one who teaches us to embrace truth.
It’s important to note here that Jesus loved questions more than answers. And he loved parables more than lectures. As Richard Rohr notes, in the Gospels Jesus is asked 183 questions, and he only directly answers 3 of them! And most of the time when Jesus is asked a question he answers with another question.
And finally, I believe Jesus calls us to embrace the childlike qualities that open us to new discoveries and revelations – play, wonder, exploration, experimentation, and questioning. You know children are always asking why? And how they’re not afraid to try something new? And how they get so excited about things so easily? We could use a little more of that in our lives if we want to be open to the God who loves to reveal new truth to us.
In their beautiful little book, The Art of Possibility Benjamin and Rosamund Zander tell of how they struggled to find a way to help the music students that Benjamin taught to overcome their anxiety of how their performances would be measured. This anxiety meant that they were reluctant to take risks in their playing, and they would never become the free and passionate musicians they could be. The Zanders finally settled on the idea of beginning the semester by giving every student an A before they’d even started. But there was one requirement. They each had to write a letter in the first two weeks but dated to the end of the semester. And that letter had to state what they had done to achieve the A. It had to be written in the past tense, and the focus had to be on the kind of person and musician they had become, more than what they had attained. And this simple practice set the students free from trying to prove what they knew, or how good they were, or how correctly they could play a piece. It opened up the world of possibility, of new discoveries, and the students came alive.
Here’s one letter that a student wrote to get her A:
Dearest Teacher Mr. Zander,
I received my A grade because I worked hard and thought hard about myself taking your class, and the result was absolutely tremendous. I became a new person. I used to be so negative a person for almost everything even before trying. Now I find myself a happier person than before. I couldn’t accept my mistakes about a year ago, and after every mistake I blamed myself, but now, I enjoy making mistakes and I really learn from these mistakes. In my playing I have more depth than before. I used to play just notes, but now, I found out about the real meaning of every piece and I could play with more imagination. Also I found out my value. I found myself so special a person, because I found out that if I believe in myself I can do everything. Thank you for all the lessons and lectures because that made me realise how important a person I am and also the clear reason why I play music. Thank you.
There is power in new discoveries. And God longs to leads us into new discoveries of God’s self and God’s truth all the time. All we have to do is open ourselves to receive them – and when we do, it can lead us into the deepest, richest and most vibrant life imaginable. Are you ready to recapture a little of your childhood to make that happen?