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Into the Mess

Michael Beck Michael Beck

“Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.” (Proverbs 21:13)

“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is the life that we would want and then there is the life that is. This is not to say we can’t pray for things to change, but until the change we desire should come we cannot close the door of our soul to the present reality. One metaphysical trick is to pretend a world of pain and want and trouble simply don’t exist. In such thinking, they only exist if you think they exist. They are real only if you believe they’re real. Otherwise, they are illusions from the world of sense that a man of the spirit is to live above and beyond.

The Transcendentalists were the forerunners of a movement that spawned Mind Science teaching in the 19th century and Positive Confession theology in the 20th century. Emerson is considered the father of American transcendentalism who sought to live in a higher realm of the spirit where his soul would not come into the “confusion” and turmoil of earthly existence. To “keep his state” was to keep his peace and tranquility.

Jesus plunged Himself into the lives of those around Him. They were not an imposition.

But how often does such a way to find peace harden us to a world around us that we should let knock on our “closet door” and disturb us? Perhaps we should not just have a “weak curiosity,” but a great curiosity toward what is going on “outside” our closet and affecting those around us. What they are going through may seem like “emphatic trifles” to us but they are matters of real concern to our neighbor.

We may think we are aligned with the ministry of Jesus when we lay hands on someone, claim they are healed, and move to the next person in line, but are we really? Do we bother to find out how they’re doing, or would the continuation of sickness in their life not fit the ideal world we have erected or the realm we think we live in? Perhaps people in pain need more than our quick prescription for relief; perhaps they need our presence and our ear.

Emerson might have found transcending the lower realms to be an effective strategy in maintaining his own peace, but Jesus who lived in the bosom of the Father, plunged Himself into the lives of those around Him. They were not an imposition. He did not come to demonstrate Himself the wise sage and philosopher, He came to get His hands and feet dirty while serving others. When He heard the knock of human want, He opened the door of His life and gave of His rich store. When He laid hands on the sick, people were indeed healed. Because He heard the cry of the poor and needy, His voice was heard on high.

Let life intrude. Spend and be spent on others. Then and then only, you can be sure, you will have transcended this world of selfishness.

Emerson was right. No man can come near us but through our act. With a heart of generous love, we must let them draw near. Therefore, let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Look not on your own things only, but on those things that concern others. Esteem others better than yourself. Draw out your soul to the hungry. Open your heart to those others have shut out. Don’t hide yourself from your own flesh because they are needy or annoying. Let life intrude. Spend and be spent on others. Then and then only, you can be sure, you will have transcended this world of selfishness. Then you will be living in that “realm” of love where God lives.


Michael Beck is a pastor in New York City and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.