“Remember, O Lord!” This is the translation of this week’s Sunday, the second Sunday in Lent, Reminiscere, the first word of the Introit (in Latin). “Remember, O Lord!” appropriately fits the Gospel for this week, the account of the Canaanite woman begging Jesus for mercy on her daughter.
I sometimes like to set up an explanation of the Gnostic and Neoplatonic understandings of the cosmos though this image. Imagine being a head floating in deep, dark space. There is nothing around you. No stars, no planets, nothing that any human sense can take in. You can’t say there’s “blackness” because there’s no way to even say what blackness is, like the woman born blind who, when I asked if she just sees “black,” said, “What’s black?”
Now, let’s imagine your head has been floating around from the beginning, so you’ve never had anything other than nothingness entering into your various sensory organs. Here’s a question: could you speak anything? Could you talk about anything? Would you have an word to say?
The answer is “no,” because there’s nothing to speak of. There’s nothing to think about. Thoughts and the words which communicate those thoughts depend on external realities – beings – that craft our thoughts and have a one to one correspondence with the words defining them. This is the basis for communication. As the proverb says, “A whole some tongue is a tree of life.” In the same way two people in communion with an objective quanta of conceptual stuff bring it to life and make it “a thing.” Sort of like the expression out there, “You mean that’s a thing?” It is once it’s spoken of!
(Gnosticism is such a tricky doctrine to handle because it’s actually an articulated principle of “no-thing” against the inherent evilness of “things.” How do you grapple with no-thing-ness? How do you speak about that which claims to be beyond speech, which itself is seen as a conspirator in the evil. Naming Gnosticism is the significant way to battle it, like Jesus demanding the names of demons before casting them out. Same principle.)
For the Gnostics , their cosmic creation account begins when this head, what they call Monad, had a “first thought.” Monad actually had his first thought once he contemplated the one “thing” in existence, himself. This began the process that ultimately led to the fall. The existence of beings, paralleling the rise of individual thoughts, led to the ultimate fall of the cosmos into material beings, for matter is that in which a thought can claim fully individual existence.
You can see why the Gnostics hated God’s creation.
Because think of what God’s creation means for us in terms of God’s thoughts. We are God’s thoughts “spoken” into existence, and this is not evil but good. This is how God had us in mind from the foundation of the world, as St. Paul says. We were on His mind. At our creation He spoke us into being. And what does that mean? It means having a defined, delineated existence – “a thing,” something to be spoken of, something to be “brought to mind.”
So long as God keeps us in His mind, we will maintain that existence. To be out of God’s memory is the terrifying status of “not being.” Of course, the curse of man is that he’s slowly returning to a place of non-being, the dust, a place forgotten by all. As Ecclesiastes says, “For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten.”
The Canannite woman was experiencing all the forces of “non-being.” She was in danger of being forgotten. Her life – her daughter – was experiencing the spiritual forces of the demonic, a force of nothingness. She was a Canaanite, the refuse of Palestine.
And then we get to the brutal part of her story. Her hope and Savior greeted her cries with silence – God was silent! His silence was backed up by His earthly representatives, the Twelve, the Church. And finally, when God does speak, He speaks an insult to her, calling her a little dog.
Ah! But what did we say before? For God to have you in mind and speak of you is for you to have an existence. A little dog is still a little dog, a thing, something in existence. And a crumb is a something. Anything’s better than a nothing. Jesus speaks the woman into existence! He speaks her hope into existence!
The woman hangs onto whatever the Lord throws at her, because it’s a something. She hangs on to that crumb against the demonic, Gnostic forces of nothingness which would say, “Scorn your life in this world, for your goal is to leave existence in this world behind.”
And little does she know, but she’s finding herself right in the Lord’s wheelhouse. The Lord does great things with formless dust, as He had from the beginning. He has a hard time working with willful dust fleeing from Him as if they want non-existence. But those who present themselves before Him and cry, “Put me on your mind! Speak me into existence!” He makes anew.
Remember, O Lord. Make me to continue to exist. And this means, sustain my body, for it is in my body that I have existence. My body is the manifestation of God’s thinking of me. In the collect for this Sunday, we pray, “O God, who sees that of ourselves we have no strength, keep us both outwardly and inwardly that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.”
Notice the focus on the body. The body matters (pun intended). To be remembered is to have a body that’s “defended from all adversities.” And notice the “evil thoughts” that assault and hurt the soul. Evil thoughts – knowledge of evil – came into “being” with Adam’s choice. Evil wasn’t “a thing” in the creation – everything was very good. When Adam first heard the word “evil” he must have thought, “What’s that?” The answer was, everything the creation was not. By Adam choosing knowledge of that evil, he introduced the negation of the created order. He made evil something to pursue, and thereby flee God’s goodness.
In the collect, we pray God would protect us from “negating thoughts,” thoughts that would remove us as “things” created in God’s good creation, things worthy of redemption, things God keeps at the forefront of His mind. How often these thoughts attack us! How often we contemplate non-existence as a solution!
But not the woman of great faith. Though all the evidence would convince her she was a nothing, she had none of it. She was a creation of God, and therefore worthy to be on His mind, worthy to be spoken back into existence.
And Jesus did just that. Jesus came to restore us to being, to being in existence, to being on God’s mind. “Great is your faith!” May we all have such faith.