Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932, is one of the most widely cited US Supreme Court justices in history. Here is one of his most famous quotes:
“Man’s mind, stretched by a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions.”
I came across this quote this morning (I prefer substituting the male default there with “A person’s mind…”) and it got me thinking (pardon the pun). I believe he was onto something profound with this quote – once your mind has been expanded to see a broader view of the world, of humanity, and of God – it doesn’t ever return to its original dimensions.
This has been very true in my whole life. Though I could describe the transformation that I have experienced over the course of my adult life in a variety of ways, this would probably serve as one of the clearest ways to contrast the before and after. My mind has been stretched and stretched and stretched, and each time it has led to both a different way of viewing the world as well as a different way of living within it.
I am not sure if Oliver Wendell Holmes was a Christian, but certainly his ideology reflected the core message of Jesus Christ. “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is near,” was the most common way Jesus described the importance of his message.
The etymology of ‘repent’ points to a change in thinking – we get the English word ‘pensive’ from the same root. Though repentance certainly includes forgiveness from sin and a change in behavior, it is interesting that it also finds its roots in a change of thinking. To know Jesus you must repent, and to repent means you are now going to enter into a process of transformation with Jesus that causes you to re-think. Once you begin to re-think, you are going to experience just what Holmes described. Jesus will stretch your mind with new ideas about the Kingdom of God, and if you see what he wants you to see, your mind will never return to its original dimensions.
That is a blessing and a gift, but it comes with a stewardship responsibility. To see differently means we must act differently. Once we see money, power, gender, race, culture, education, economics differently – just to name a few – we then have a more significant responsibility to respond.
And I think that’s just what Jesus intended when he called on us to repent.