Listenings: Being Mastered, Not Mastering

I have worked professionally in theological education for thirty years.  I believe in an educated clergy.

But if I could change one thing, I would re-name the seminal degree.  We call it the “Master of Divinity.”  I know why it’s called that, but it opens the door to a huge and dangerous misconception—the notion that we can ever “master” divinity!

We are never able to “master” divinity; we are supposed to be “mastered by divinity.”

Nouwen takes the idea of emptying/filling and moves immediately to this very point (p. 4), dispelling all notions that we can ever “catch” or “comprehend” the things of God.

Whatever else the spiritual life does when it is alive in us, it eliminates any thoughts that we are in control.  No matter how high or deep we go in the things of God—no matter how wonderful our experiences of God may be—God is greater.

If we do not see this and live accordingly—as Nouwen shows—we will develop a spirituality where we unceasingly try to adapt God to our will and way.  It is only when we say, “I do not know, but I know the One who knows” that we enter into the paradox of knowing truly.

This is not ceasing to use our minds; it is surrendering them—reversing them from acting (control) to being acted upon (consecration).  It is the big word “abandonment.”

It is the opening phrase in the Wesleyan Covenant Prayer:  “I am no longer my own, but thine” as we recognize that we are never “mastering” God, but that God is always seeking to “master” us.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books.
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2 Responses to Listenings: Being Mastered, Not Mastering

  1. MARIA says:

    A very good word, Steve. I feel it more and more…about not having mastered divinity but letting myself be mastered by the Master – so that I may ever be submitted to His will.

  2. Hillary Johnson says:

    Amen. Great post and reminder. The more I learn the more I realize I do not know and will never know “until I see Jesus face to face.” Would you please post the titles of the books you are quoting from. Thanks so much for meal this morning.

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