The Universe and God's Law
Our universe is held together by a rhythm. Everything that moves in harmony with that rhythm thrives. The Scriptures call this the Law of God. Our goal as Christians is to align ourselves to that Law, as a community, in our personal lifestyle, and even in the way we breathe.
“Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (John 16:23-24).
I never imagined what a fight it would be to garden in Texas. Everything is trying to kill everything here. If a seed manages to sprout, it gets roasted by the scorching sun. If it survives the sun, it gets starved by the clay and sand. The rare plant that survives its first week spends the rest of its life combatting pests. There are more bugs in Texas than all the bugs in the United States put together. In order for anything to survive this climate, the conditions have to be just right — the right balance of soil and nutrients, sun and shade, watering and pest protection, all fine-tuned to produce healthy fruit. It is the same with our soul.
To pray In Jesus’ Name is a condition of the soul. It has nothing to do with asking for stuff: “In Jesus’ Name, give me a million dollars.” To pray in Jesus’ Name is to pray within his name, to pray with your body, soul, and mind saturated in God.
The Church provides us with a set of Prayers of Thanksgiving to be offered up after receiving Communion. Among these is a prayer by St. Bonaventure.
“O FAIREST Lord Jesus, transfix the affections of my inmost soul with that most sweet and healthful wound of thy love…that my soul my ever languish and melt with entire love and longing for thee.”
In Latin: “Transfige…medullas et viscera animae meae.” Transfix is not a word you use every day. The Latin word, ‘Transfige’ implies impaling something, like a knight with a spear, or a physician with a scalpel. What do we ask God to impale: our ‘animae meae’ — the tender most part of who I am. A commentator on this prayer made this observation: “Unlike the conventional ‘heart and body,’ medullas and viscerae denote hidden, intimate and vulnerable parts of the human anatomy.” We ask God to penetrate the inner person, buried deep beneath all the masks we wear, the real you. To pray in Jesus’ Name is to pray with a soul shaped and transformed by Jesus Christ.
I knew a priest in Cambridge, Massachusetts who had much to say about praying in Jesus’ Name. In one of his sermons, Fr. Anthony Hughes explained: “Before we can ask anything ‘in the name of Jesus’ we must give up our own name, our ego must be dissolved. Without that dissolution we are only able to pray in our own names because we will always be asking for what we want, desire, and expect even, perhaps especially, when we cloak ourselves in conspicuous piety. To pray ‘in the name of Jesus’ implies that we have given up our own name for his. ‘It is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me’.”
Though it is subtle, this message is at the heart of our Gospel reading today.
“Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (John 16:24).
It gets lost in translation, but the Greek is clear. Aἰτεῖτε…ἵνα ἡ χαρὰ. Ask so that your joy is complete. Pray in the right manner that fills you. Only God’s presence gives us joy. Only a life tuned in to the Law of God brings satisfaction. We have to learn to pray with our heart pointed in the right direction.
To pray In Jesus’ Name also has cosmic implications.
Genesis begins: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (1:1). The Gospel of John picks this up: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him” (1:1,2).
“Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος.”
The word λόγος is really cool. It translates as ‘Word’ but it implies so much more. In the Chinese bible, it is translated as Dao. “Dao is the natural order of the universe whose character one’s intuition must discern to realize the potential for individual wisdom, as conceived in the context of East Asian philosophy” (This definition is from Wikipedia by the way, which means you can trust it with confidence…). In eastern religions, the Dao is a transcendental principal, the Way, which holds together the universe. A person becomes wise who studies this Way, this Dao, and aligns his or her life to it.
The Greeks had a similar concept of the Dao. They called it the λόγος. When St. John wrote his Gospel, he used this word, λόγος, to help the Greek people understand who exactly is Jesus Christ. Jesus is not just one god among many. He is the λόγος that holds everything together. Western science also tapped into this. The Christian West inspired an explosion of scientific discoveries unlike anywhere else in the world. It is easy to see why the West produced such magnificent scientists. We started with the conviction that there is a Law-giver. We went on from there to study his Laws.
The Daoists, the Greeks, and the scientists were all correct, recognizing a transcendental Law that holds things together. What Christianity reveals is that this Dao, or Logos, is a person, and that person came to earth to save our souls.
“The law of the LORD is an undefiled law, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, and giveth wisdom unto the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, and giveth light unto the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, and endureth forever; the judgments of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:7-10).
What do I need to do to align my life to the Law of God?
There is a rhythm in the universe. Everything that beats to that rhythm thrives. The life and guidelines of the Church exist to help us tune in to the rhythm. The world gets it all wrong when it criticizes Christianity for its rules and obligations. The rules, obligations, and expectations that are part of our faith exist to help us to learn the dance. When we line ourselves up to God, then His promise becomes infinitely true.
“If you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.”