Father Richard describes Timothy, Saint Paul’s devoted young disciple, as an exemplar of the beginner’s mind, which makes us both available to God and to generative relationship with others:
The letters of Paul give a very positive impression of Timothy as a man who could be taught to be a leader. What gave him such a teachable spirit so young?
Timothy is sometimes described as fearful or timid, and maybe he was just afraid of being wrong or afraid of not being liked or just afraid of himself, as many of us are. If that is true, he made a virtue out of it. His fear was seemingly transmuted into what we call “beginner’s mind,” which is what grace always does—it turns our vices into another way to love and serve God’s reality. What starts as timidity becomes humility and openness and teachability. It is that enduring sense of openness and humility that does not close down by reason of failure, facts, or cynical old age. It asks for and listens to good advice. It creates and values team over grandstanding and self-made careers. In fact, Timothy’s intense knowledge that he cannot do it gives him the certainty that God is doing it. His healthy self-doubt allows him to trust and admire another. Not a bad metamorphosis for fear.
The first part of the name Timothy could be translated “awe-filled” or “wonderstruck.” We see this in almost all descriptions of authentic religious encounter. Every biblical theophany from Moses to Mary speaks of the recipient as being “afraid” in this sense, aware of their own finiteness and incapacity to receive what is happening. Yet the word from God is invariably the opposite: “Do not be afraid.” “Don’t waste time asking questions of worthiness,” God seems to say. “I am not concerned about worthiness (think intelligence, knowledge, purity) but about readiness and receptivity.” To be wonderstruck is to allow the distinction, to suffer one’s own littleness, and to stand under the mercy anyway. “He looks upon me in my lowliness, and all generations shall call me blessed,” Mary says (Luke 1:48). These are the chosen, who are never the same as the worthy. Yes, many are called. In fact, all are called. But very few allow themselves to be chosen (Matthew 22:14). They would rather be “worthy.”
Timothy had that enduring and rare beginner’s mind, and maybe in the beginning it was even his weakness or vice when it manifested as timidity, but in a certain sense he gave it back as a virtue to the overly self-assured Paul, who finally learned that “it was when he was weak that he was strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). This ever-rediscovered beginner’s mind, which is a deathlike vulnerability before reality, kept each of them forever growing and forever young. They kept each other in contact with a pattern that was very old and endlessly fruitful—the vulnerable pattern of the universe, which is always, it seems, beginning anew.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Soul Brothers: Men in the Bible Speak to Men Today (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 76–77, 78, 79–80, 83.
Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Jenna Keiper, Winter Bird. Jenna Keiper, Mystic. Jenna Keiper, North Cascades Sunrise. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image.
There is humility in accepting how much we don’t know.
Story from Our Community:
In the 1980s, I was living in Belen, New Mexico raising my family. I joined a weekly prayer group…. One day, a dear friend brought in a series of Fr. Richard’s tapes which we all listened to and discussed as a group. Fr. Richard’s words opened my mind and heart to a new view of Christianity. Now retired, I’m returning to New Mexico after 21 years away to be near my children. The Daily Meditations have put me back in touch with the spirituality of Love that I was first introduced to many years ago. Each day, they fill me with peace. —Michelle W.