By Steven Norris
The great American poet, Emily Dickinson, once said, “If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that it is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that it is poetry.”
Perhaps the poetic descriptions of Luke 24 capture a similar dynamic at work that first Easter in Jerusalem. How did the disciples make sense of this new resurrection reality? Did they rub their eyes in disbelief? Scratch their heads in utter confusion? Feel as though they were wait deep in a bog of confusion? In verse forty-five, Luke records, “Then [Jesus] opened their minds so they could understand…”
Modern psychology has revealed many interesting insights on the brain’s ability to grow and learn new information. Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, is a pioneer in the field of belief systems and how they affect our behavior.
Dweck identifies two major categories of beliefs about our personalities. A “fixed mindset” assumes that character, intelligence, and creative abilities are givens — they are inherited at birth and don’t really change in any meaningful way. As a result, those with a fixed mindset tend to focus on completing manageable and comfortable tasks that reinforce their worthiness and ability.
A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, sees difficulties and failures as opportunities to develop and mature rather than being evidence of a lack of intelligence. Those who fall into this category are frequently seek to challenge themselves with uncomfortable and difficult work in order to grow and improve.
While these mindsets are developed early and unconsciously, they are not static. Individuals have agency to choose a different way of seeing and interacting with world, should they elect to do so.
I can’t help but think that something like this was going on in the life of the disciples. Jesus pushed the disciples well beyond their comfort zones. From their fixed and static ideas about what it meant for him to be the promised Messiah, Jesus needed to “open their minds” to reinterpret the scriptures. He needed to propel them out of the safety of the known and into an uncertain adventure ahead.
As this Easter season nears a close, I can’t help but see these two mindsets at work in the lives of Christians I know. Could it be that our present circumstances are challenging us to evaluate what it truly means to BE the church in this day and age? Will we choose to fall back on the fixed mindset of “what we know” and “play it safe” or will we dare to follow Jesus into an unknown and uncertain future?
I believe that Jesus is encouraging this kind of “growth mindset” — not only in the disciples, but in us as well. A new and different way forward is necessary to continue faithfully meeting our circumstances with the creative, life-giving message of Jesus. A new way is possible, if we courageously follow the Christ into the unknown.