Chapter 1: The Imitation of Christ and Contempt for the Vanities of the World
“Christ’s teaching surpasses that of all the saints.”
Several years ago, I grew sick and tired of my faith and was ready to give up on Christianity. I began to explore the teachings of the Buddha and Lao Tzu and even Muhammad. However, as I read their wisdom I felt some spirit wooing me back to the teachings of Christ. When I read something in the Tao Te Ching that I loved I would think, “Wow, this is beautiful and brilliant, but I think Christ said it even more powerfully.”
I consider the Buddha, Lao Tzu and Muhammad all saints along with Augustine, Aquinas and Thomas Merton. I love reading the prose of Annie Dillard, the poetry of Mary Oliver, and the comforting theology of Julian of Norwich, but all of these teachings are surpassed by what Kempis calls Christ’s “hidden manna.”
Although I find many of Christ’s teachings to be troubling and disturbing, I take pride in upholding him as my teacher and guru. The writings and teachings of these saints above often help me to see and to chew and to eventually swallow Christ’s “hidden manna.” The wisdom of the saints helps me “to understand Christ’s words and relish them fully.”
“What good does it do you to be able to give a learned discourse on the Trinity, while you are without humility?”
However, Kempis claims that I would be vain to be overflowing with the wisdom of the saints and with knowledge of Christ’s teachings. He says, “It’s useless! Unless they are helping you to love.”
All of learning is useless, unless it’s helping us love.
Arthur Holder, the President and Dean of the Graduate Theological Union, told a story about a student who yelled at his roommate saying, “Shut up! Be quiet! I’m trying to read about compassion here!” We can read thousands of books about love and compassion, but if we are not on a path towards deeper love and compassion ourselves, then, what’s the point?
Kempis echoes Qoheleth, “Vanity of vainities!” then adds, “All is vanity, except our loving God.”