Some thoughts on a mind that is stretched by a new idea…

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.

3 responses to “Some thoughts on a mind that is stretched by a new idea…”

  1. Fantastic observation! Thank you for sharing this.

    Kevin Watson

  2. To your point Daniel.

    Romans 12:2 talks about the renewing of our minds. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

    I’ve heard it said that repentance represents a 180 degree turning away from something that is taking us down the wrong path. It doesn’t matter if it’s a good thing or a bad thing; if it doesn’t take us towards truly loving God and loving our neighbor as ourselves it will take us down.

    But it’s not just turning away but staying “turned away” from it. God’s promise to us is renewal of our minds, then clarity comes. We will be able to live into God’s will.

    So how do we do this? Well, there again, God is at play/work. Giving God access into our lives brings us the ability to discern what we are doing; whether it’s good or bad and if it is in God’s will. You know that feeling or inkling, however small it may seem, that lets us know we should or shouldn’t go forward with the thought or word(s) or action(s). That’s God at play/work in us. Even if we haven’t acknowledged God in our lives, He is still at work.

    This all works out because God empowers us to capture (imprison) any thought that isn’t in alignment with His kingdom principles. Not only to take thoughts captive but to replace them with right thoughts. The only thing we need to do is respond to that feeling, inkling and move forward in faith that it is God directing our decision making. Our minds will get stretched and changed as we walk in the power of the Spirit of Jesus and as we read/study/reflect on His word.

    Thus the change in perspective comes gradually but intentionally because God wants us to look and sound more like Jesus and His body in a real, practical way.

  3. I’ve read the quote elsewhere as “a mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to it’s original dimensions”. I don’t know why everyone thinks that’s a great quote. A “new experience” doesn’t automatically equate to being a good thing. Some experiences destroy a person’s mind. Ask anyone that suffers from PTSD.

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