A biblical and personal reflection based on Philippians 4.4-13.
“My dear Saint Paul, what, I pray you tell me, is the source of your joy? Meaning no disrespect, but are you mad? Suffering the delusions of a distorted reality? Or a quaint, but no less unrealistic romanticism? Or, perhaps, an impossibly pious religiosity given to flights of hyperbole (as similarly exaggerated, I must confess, as these questions of mine)?”
He looked up from his writing desk, his faint smile and knowing nod indicating to me that he, before and many times from many others, had been on the receiving end of like and equally impolite (even ill-tempered) inquiries.
“My dear Paul, as I have written, ‘I have learned to be content with whatever I have.’ Do you know what I mean?”
Ah, I remember. The Koine Greek term translated “content,” literally, “self-sufficient,” means not being unduly bound or burdened by external events and other people or internal tensions.
“My dear Saint Paul, how do you find this contentment?”
“My dear Paul, again, as I have written, ‘I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret.’”
Again, I resort to the Greek. The word translated “secret” literally means “to be initiated.” To be met and welcomed into a mystery.
Hmmm, mystery. Not a riddle to be resolved by human reason. That is an impossibility. For though wondrous is the human intellect, the fullest fathoming of mystery is beyond its reach. Nevertheless, mystery is a reality that can be lived.
“My dear Saint Paul, now, tell me, please, what is this secret?”
“My dear Paul, it is this. Simply, profoundly this. Once again, as I have written, ‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’”
Illustration: St. Paul Writing His Epistles (1620), Valentin de Boulogne (1594-1632)