Embracing Mystery: Diagram this sentence!

Reflections from Dr. Howell

And so we plunge into a beautiful, profound and hopeful book of the Bible: Ephesians. After identifying himself as the writer of the letter (ancient people signed at the beginning, not the end, which is more sensible!), Paul launches into one of the most extraordinary sentences in the history of humanity. Beginning in verse 3 and running through verse 14, Paul gives us a single sentence – that is 202 words long! Staggering… English translations break it up into 6 or 7 sentences.

Paul’s sentence would be a nightmare to diagram. You can feel Paul’s enthusiasm for God and for the people he loved spilling over, as if he just couldn’t stop rambling, unable to stop things with a period, with yet another Oh yes, and also

As we’re determined to read Ephesians slowly, here are just the first verses, not the whole long sentence: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are also faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.”

Re-read that. Ponder it. Slowly. Paul doesn’t say he had a great idea or a brilliant strategy. He is writing, he simply exists because of the will of God. More on that later.

Notice he writes to deeply flawed people who don’t know all that much about God – and calls them “saints.” We think a saint is some superhuman spiritual hero, or someone who’s a bit prissy, avoiding earthly pleasures, or doing immense good. But the saint is someone whose thinking and living at least strives to be different, special, not blending into the mobs out there. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says holiness is simply making space and time for God.

It’s aspirational. We dream of being what Paul calls us: holy. Mary Oliver’s words always move me: “Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have. Oh Lord, grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart.”

And then, in a book we’re using in our small groups you can join, Richard Rohr makes this intriguing suggestion: “We don’t have to make ourselves holy. We already are, and we just don’t know it.” It’s ”more letting go of the false self than any attempt at engineering a true self. You can’t create what you already have.” I’m holy, and you are too, because God’s Holy Spirit is in us. Maybe that’s the blessing Paul speaks of. What would be a greater blessing?