Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Lenten Mercy ~ Meditation: What's Inside?

The Temptation of Saint Anthony the Abbot

On another occasion he called the people and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you and understand this: nothing that goes into a man from outside can defile him; no, it is the things that come out of him that defile a man."
When he had left the people and gone indoors his disciples questioned him about the parable. He said to them, "Are you as dull as the rest? Do you not see that nothing that goes from outside into a man can defile him, because it does not enter into his heart but into his stomach, and so passes out into the drain?" Thus he declared all foods clean. He went on, "It is what comes out of a man that defiles him. For from inside, out of a man's heart, come evil thoughts, acts of fornication, of theft, murder, adultery, ruthless greed, and malice; fraud, indecency, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly; these evil things all come from inside, and they defile the man." Mark: 7:14-23

Here is poor Saint Antony the desert monk surrounded by a horde of bizarre, dangerous and un-nerving creatures.  Remember the title of the children's book: Where the Wild Things Are? Jesus goes to some lengths in his teaching to make it very clear that the wild things are inside us. Anthony's real contest is an interior one. 

In the ancient world, the heart was the place where thoughts originate. Our minds formulate, categorize and articulate those heart-thoughts. Perhaps today these mind/heart distinctions can be argued: What does what? Ultimately what matters is that we have an interior world and that its best parts needs cultivating and its worst bits need transforming and evolving. Some people go through life just arranging and re-arranging the outer stuff of life: like the outer rituals of religion, which Jesus dismisses in these verses. Go inside!

Jesus points to thirteen inner problems. AA calls them character defects. Some people would be quick to call them sins. But it's not as simple as all that. I grew up thinking that just about everything was a sin. But whatever we call them,  the list in verse 23 does seem to say, "Look at what we're capable of!"

It doesn't say these are the only things we're capable of, but these will be familiar to us. In light of these inner realities, ritual impurities: I touched the wrong thing, I ate the wrong food, become irrelevant. Remember, Jesus is saying these things because some religious fellows argued that the disciples hadn't wash their hands ritually!

A clean heart create in me, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 

That's a good prayer. Would I dare to ask someone who really knows me, "What do you think I might change about myself?" Maybe I have sufficient self-knowledge to admit: "I really don't like that about myself," or even, "I really don't like what I've become."

The path to change can be interesting. It might make me more aware; more mindful. I might cultivate a deeper inner life - more silence perhaps. Who knows, I might begin working with a counselor, attending to the underlying reasons that cause me to behave in old and tired ways. Lots of people go through their entire lives never getting at the old wounds that stir up inner trouble. 

There's an old expression still floating around that we sometimes use when we don't know what else to say: "Time heals all wounds." No it doesn't. Time doesn't heal - God heals. And how God heals is unique to each of us. There's nothing innately healing about time. 


  1. Sometimes we already know what must be changed about ourselves, but we are too afraid. What if I can't change? What if I change and then lapse into my old ways? It can be the fear of failure even after admitting what needs to be fixed from within.

  2. Yes! I've long thought that fear is spiritual enemy number one.

  3. An inner cleansing does make you feel lighter and cleaner. When I truly examine some of my shortcomings and address them, I admit that I can go about my daily life with a greater sense of happiness and focus. Maybe it is the feeling of unburdening that I pass on to others.

  4. Yes. And I believe the now hardly-heard-words, "I'm sorry" go a long way too. Spouses often have a very hard time with "I'm sorry," or "You know, you were right."

  5. What is on the inside can be quite scary and the thought of examining our character defects can be more than we we can handle by ourselves. I also see the outer shells that people wear to hide their inner being. Maybe we are too insecure to let people see the parts that need cultivating. Or maybe we have something to hide.

  6. Yes. And that's why, thanks God, sometimes we can find a professional helper. But once we take on this work - and it is real work - then we're free! If we go about it sincerely, it is a graced time.

  7. Yes. And that's why, thanks God, sometimes we can find a professional helper. But once we take on this work - and it is real work - then we're free! If we go about it sincerely, it is a graced time.

  8. This is a good lesson for us all. To turn our thoughts to the important things that come from within. All the rest of this worrying about little infractions just breeds intolerance of what is things we consider out of the norm.

  9. Mark 7: could you imagine if we took this seriously? Everyone has a way of making it all 'belong'. It's all been reworked and rebranded. We don't even like using the word sin. God forbid we say this or that is a sin. How about sin standing for: Seriously I Notice this or that about me. And I love Praggles: Pride, resentment , anger, greed, gluttony, lust, envy, sloth. Whew, we are a mess without Gods mercy.