Growing in the Knowledge of Christ (4)
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Matthew 13.45, 46
[Solomon] spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were one thousand and five. Also he spoke of trees, from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall; he spoke also of animals, of birds, of creeping things, and of fish. And men of all nations, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom, came to hear the wisdom of Solomon. 1 Kings 4.32-34
Take up, examine, discover
On a certain day a pearl did I take up, my brethren;
I saw in it mysteries pertaining to the Kingdom;
Semblances and types of the Majesty;
It became a fountain, and I drank out of it mysteries of the Son. Hymn I.1
So begins the first of a suite of seven hymns in praise of Jesus by Ephrem the Syrian, a deacon in the Syrian Church toward the end of the fourth century. Ephrem was a poet, composer, and bold witness for Christ. He wrote poems and songs about the life of faith and the hope of glory. He defended the orthodox faith against the insidious threats of the emperor Julian the Apostate. And he wrote “The Pearl” – seven brief hymns celebrating Christ and His work, based on careful examination of a single pearl.
I put it, my brethren, upon the palm of my hand,
That I might examine it:
I went to look at it on one side,
And it proved faces on all sides.
I found out that the Son was incomprehensible,
Since He is wholly Light.
In its brightness I beheld the Bright One Who cannot be clouded,
And in its pureness a great mystery,
Even the Body of Our Lord which is well-refined:
In its undivideness I saw the Truth
Which is undivided..
I saw therein His trophies, and His victories, and His crowns.
I saw His helpful and overflowing graces,
And His hidden things and His revealed things. Hymn I.1
All this in a pearl! As Solomon found the glory and wisdom of God hidden in animals, creeping things, birds, and trees, Ephrem found his knowledge of Christ brightened and enhanced by concentrating for an extended season on a pearl.
Concentrating on the pearl
Ephrem set the pearl in the palm of his hand, so that he might examine it carefully – as he says, looking at it from every angle, studying its texture, color, and composition, considering its provenance and uses, and in all this looking to discern the glory of Jesus Christ.
Ephrem likened the pearl to tongues singing, voices uttering mysteries, and a “silent harp that without voice gave out melodies” (I.2). He says that concentrating on this pearl filled him with more pleasantness than reading books or hearing explanations of things (I.2). He calls us to join him as he pries into the pearl (a word deliberately chosen because it describes how one must get to a pearl), to explore its deeper meaning, and to “wander” through all aspects of its existence and essence, gathering up our minds in contemplation to discover the truth of Christ (IV.1; V.5).
Ephrem speaks to the pearl, seeking more insight. The pearl responds to Ephrem, albeit not in words, complaining that people never take the time to ponder the deep mysteries locked in her essence, since they are only interested in what she can gain for them (I.3). The pearl tells him that, to discover the secrets of divinity she holds, his searching must be “mingled with thanksgiving” and praise (I.4).
Ephrem likens the pearl to Christ, risen and enthroned. He observes that the pearl rises to life and beauty “from the sea, that living tomb” and so is like Christ in His resurrection, and is thence “exalted to a goodly eminence” as a cherished piece of jewelry (II.1).
In being prepared for its eminent place of beauty in the crown of a king, the pearl reminds Ephrem of the suffering of Christ:
Shadowed forth in thy beauty is the beauty of the Son,
Who clothed Himself with suffering when the nails passed through Him.
The awl passed in thee since they handled thee roughly,
As they did His hands;
And because He suffered He reigned,
As by thy sufferings thy beauty increased.
And if they showed no pity upon thee,
Neither did they love thee:
Still suffer as thou mightest,
Thou has come to reign! (II.2)
The beauty and simplicity of the pearl point Ephrem to the beauty of Christ (III.4), and incite in him a greater desire for oneness with God:
And since I have wandered in thee, pearl,
I will gather up my mind
And by having contemplated thee,
Would become like thee,
In that thou art all gathered up into thyself;
And as thou in all times art one,
One let me become by thee! V.5
We should value Christ now, Ephrem insists, for when we finally see Him exalted in glory, it will be too late, and our clownishness will be our doom:
If one despises thee [the pearl] and throws thee away,
He would blame himself for his clownishness,
For when he saw thee in a king's crown he would be attracted to thee. V.2
Six hymns reflecting on the pearl lead to hymn VII, which reviews Christ’s work of redemption, and ends with the prayer:
O Lord, make the priests and kings peaceful;
That in one Church priests may pray for their kings,
And kings spare those round about them;
And may the peace which is within Thee become ours, Lord,
Thou that art within and without all things!
Concentrating on all things
Jesus is indeed “within and without all things” – all in and all around all His works – and we may expect to meet Him, even in familiar objects, if we will take the time, as Ephrem did, to concentrate, think, give thanks, and praise God.
Several ideas from “The Pearl” can guide us in learning to concentrate on familiar objects so that they release to us the knowledge of Christ they hold. First, we need to take such objects into our hands, with a view to concentrating on what they can teach us about the knowledge of our Lord. This entails setting aside time and having something in front of us that we can examine closely.
Think deeply about the object of your concentration. Let’s say you’re contemplating a cup. What are its components? Where did it come from? How did you come by it? How do you use it? What colors, shapes, and textures does it reveal? As you are examining the object, give thanks and praise to God for everything you’re learning, even though at this moment these merely objective observations may not be disclosing anything about the deeper mysteries you hope to discover.
Next, “wander” (Ephrem’s term) between what you’re learning about the cup and what you know about Jesus. Try to make as many associations between the object of your concentration and what you know about Jesus, just as Ephrem did. Remember Jesus and the cup of His sufferings, the cup of the New Covenant, or what He taught about the cup of cold water. Is your cup full as you observe it, as Jesus wants to fill your life with Himself (Eph. 4.8-10)? What would it look like running over? What would you look like if Jesus were overflowing from you? Is your cup part of a set, as you are a member of the Body of Christ? How does it complement the other pieces in the set? What work does your cup do for you in bringing refreshment to your body, as Jesus works constantly to bring refreshment to your soul?
Jot down your observations and associations in a notebook, giving thanks and praise to God for each one. Focus on what this everyday object is teaching you about Jesus. Then begin to craft a conclusion. Solomon wrote proverbs and songs to celebrate what he discovered of God’s glory (Prov. 25.2). Ephrem did the same. You can certainly write a prayer, a journal entry, a poem, or perhaps an email to a friend, sharing your thoughts.
Don’t worry if you feel frustrated, or if you’re not quite sure about your observations or conclusion, or if you feel like there’s so much more you could discover. It’s enough to start here. As you learn to concentrate more closely on the things around you, and set aside regular time to do so, you will find your awareness of Jesus’ Presence growing, and your joy in knowing Him increasing. Jesus is within and without all things, but we’ll need to practice the discipline of concentrating to discover the glory He has hidden in His works all around us.
1. Why is it reasonable to expect that familiar, everyday objects might yield insights to Jesus and His glory that provide great pleasure in knowing Him?
2. Ephrem said he found such times of contemplation more pleasant than reading books. Does that mean reading books cannot be pleasant or useful? Explain.
3. How can such exercises in concentration help to equip you to minister the grace of Jesus to others?
Next Steps – Transformation: Set aside one hour this week for an exercise in concentrating on a familiar object. Follow the guidance of Ephrem. Share your conclusion with a friend, and ask your friend to respond. Talk about your experience.
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 All quotations from St. Ephrem the Syrian. “The Pearl: Seven Hymns On the Faith.” Apple Books. https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-pearl-seven-hymns-on-the-faith/id526241164