By Alexander John Shaia
This is an excerpt from Dr. Shaia's book Heart and Mind. Dr. Shaia joined the Missional Wisdom Foundation on pilgrimage to Iona in May of 2018.
I thought of the many times I had puzzled over the ancient Sunday Gospel Reading Cycle. I had prayed the cycle for many years; I found it deeply meaningful and loved it profoundly. But I had often asked, Why did the early Christians read the gospel in a three year sequence: Matthew, then Mark, then John (during Lent and Easter), then Luke? I always thought there must have been some good reason, yet no one had ever been able to give me one, and though I had searched, I had never found any explanation. Now my old questions kept intruding: Who had created it originally, and why? Did that sequence hold some special truth? My already overloaded brain added these further queries to the cerebral stew.
For a long time afterward, I thought of what happened next as my “discovery.” I now realize that, in fact, I discovered nothing. Rather it was as if a deeper wisdom of the gospels found me. All of my upbringing and prayer and education and life experience had been preparation for the moment that came that night under the limitless stars. To me it seemed as though thunder sounded and a door flew open, though there wasn’t a cloud in sight. I believe I know how Archimedes felt when he discovered the displacement of water and shouted, “Eureka!”
Suddenly, I comprehended the original gospel reading cycle in a completely new way. I trembled in the dark as I saw revealed the landscapes of faith, the ancient journey that our early mothers and fathers had walked—but which had been long forgotten. I saw the four texts as Christianity’s great teaching of the universal journey.
Four early communities wrestled with four distinct sets of challenges when faced with four distinct sets of historical circumstances that prompted four deep questions requiring answers. There are four universal paths to spiritual maturity. There are four levels of healing needed after trauma in order to recover psychological balance. Early Christians commonly placed the four texts into a specific sequence and read them that way in most communities until the seventh century. Without psychology, without all the self-knowledge we have gained in the last two millennia, clearly inspired by a much greater wisdom, the early fathers and mothers of Christianity managed to grasp and set out the universal progression in a clear and workable fashion. The four individual texts, set in their ancient sequence, disclose what we can now know and celebrate as one seamless Gospel—the full internal/eternal journey, the great and immutable design, the heart and mind of God that moves all creation.
Matthew: (from Antioch) How do we face change?
Mark: (from Rome) How do we move through great trials and sufferings?
John: (from Ephesus) How do we receive joy and know union?
Luke: (to all the emerging Christian Communities) How do we mature in service?
excerpt from Heart and Mind: The Four-Gospel Journey for Radical Transformation, Second Edition, by Alexander John Shaia with Michelle L. Gaugy. Amazon, 2017. www.quadratos.com
ãAlexander John Shaia, used by permission
Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Alexander grew up as part of a large extended family that had emigrated from Lebanon a generation previously. He grew up with the ancient traditions of Maronite Catholicism and was expected to become a priest, a family tradition since the year 1300. Alexander was led otherwise.
He attended the University of Notre Dame and received a degree in Cultural Anthropology. Next came a Master's in Counseling Education, a Master's in Religious Education, a graduate certificate in Pastoral Psychotherapy, and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. His training includes time in Switzerland with Jungian analyst, and founder of Sandplay Psychotherapy, Dora M. Kalff. Returning to the United States, years of retreat ministry, private practice, teaching, leading trainings and study continued to build on a life-long practice of prayer.
Beginning in 2001, Alexander's professional life changed from being solely a speaker to also becoming an author. From his primary work as a psychologist, spiritual director, and liturgist, he has moved to being a widely sought teacher, trainer, and inspiring keynote speaker.