‘The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.’

So sang David, according to the King James Version of Psalm 25:14. God’s secrets are only disclosed to those who reverence him. ‘The secret and the sacred are sisters’, wrote John O’Donohue. Through Isaiah God warned those whose ‘fear of me is [merely] a commandment taught by men’ that he will bring his judgement on these teachers: ‘I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish’ (Isaiah 29:13-14).

A new day dawned with the ministry of Jesus. Explaining why he addressed the crowds in parables, he told his disciples, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given…But…many prophets…longed…to hear what you hear, and did not hear it’ (Matthew 13:11, 16-17). He also said that ‘unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter [the secret world of] the kingdom of heaven’ (Matthew 18:3).

Initiation into the kingdom of heaven

The Greek word for ‘secret’ is musterion from which the word ‘mystery’ comes to us. A mystery is that which cannot be contained within the constructs of the human mind. Greek philosophers of those days used the word to imply that only those initiated by their religious rites had the spiritual knowledge necessary to be perfected. ‘Initiate’ and ‘initial’ are related words. The first letter of any word it its initial: RIP spell out as Rest In Peace. Initial things are basic and fundamental. Jesus was making it plain that the starting point into God’s kingdom is by being born again and symbolising that in water baptism. Little children instinctively know how to ‘wonder’, which translates as ‘secret’ in the King James Version of Judges 13:18. When Samson’s father asked the pre-incarnate Christ, ‘the angel of the Lord, “What is your name…?”[he] said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful”; [so] ‘you wouldn’t understand’ (as the New Living Translation renders it). ‘Wonderful’ is Messiah’s well-known name (Isaiah 9:6), as choirs love to proclaim in full voice in George Handel’s famous oratorio.

‘The secret and the sacred are sisters’

‘The secret and the sacred are sisters. When the secret is not respected, the sacred vanishes’ (J O’D) – as Samson discovered when he foolishly disclosed the secret of his strength to Delilah (Judges 16:4-22). O’Donohue, who had trained for the Roman Catholic ministry, favours a Celtic approach to Christian worship. He cautions us: ‘Reflection should not shine too severe or aggressive a light on the world of the soul….The light of modern consciousness is not gentle or reverent; it lacks graciousness in the presence of mystery; it wants to unriddle and control the unknown. Modern consciousness is similar to the harsh and brilliant white light of a hospital operating theatre. This neon light is too direct and clear to befriend the shadowed world of the soul. It is not hospitable to what is reserved and hidden. [By contrast,] there is shadow and colour within every candle flame. Candlelight perception is the most respectful and appropriate form of light with which to approach the [spiritual] world…ha[ving] the finesse and reverence appropriate to the mystery…of the soul.’

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