What makes Jesus unforgettable is that he is first and foremost human. His vulnerability touches us. From ordinary beginnings, born in a stable, he drew others to him from the moment of his birth. Shepherds roused from their night-watch go in search of him. Wise men from far away make the long journey to behold the promised One. It is the universal hope for a better life; for the hero who will make all things right again. The impression he made on all who encountered him never left them. His disciples and followers, evangelist and story tellers, the women and those he healed, those who heard his voice in the synagogue and those who heard him on the grassy rise not far from the sea, would not forget him. He came back to them and lived on in them and in the stories they began to tell in order to keep his memory alive. To keep him alive. They began to piece together like a tapestry woven of the many encounters of him come back to life, where he raised from the dead their faith which now took fire and word began to spread across the countryside and throughout the Mediterranean world. Many sought him out while he lived. And over the centuries many more seek him yet.
We are yet Plato’s children, searching for what is true, to lift the veil, to seek, find and become one with our divine origins. To return to the state of our souls, when we knew God, when we walked in the garden with him, before we covered ourselves and hid, and entered the fog of forgetfulness. We are ever in search of the unity, the wholeness and well-being we sense is our birthright; who we know ourselves to be, or who we can become. It seems ever to elude us, just beyond the horizon, over the hill, behind the leaves we might push aside and there we are –whole, loved, to know as we are known; to redeem our wayward wandering, to come to the source and goal of our existence and thereby give meaning to that existence. This is the human impetus, this is the story of Israel, of Jesus, of all stories of origins that really stories of goals, the continual theme of our lives, studies, journeys, seeking and searching. To calm the disquieted soul who knows itself and can advance in that confidence. In his very humanity Jesus shows us the way. He shows us what it means to be a human being. As we journey with Jesus through the gospel it is not titles only that we discover, but qualities of beingness. Qualities of being human which in this one person we can begin to see ourselves and achieve what it is we have been searching for since we left the garden, crossed the wilderness and a thousand rivers, to make our home no longer in a place, but in a promise and in a person.
The drama and tension that runs through all the gospels is at their core the question of Jesus’ identity. Between John the Baptists, who proclaims the coming one, and Paul, who proclaims the meaning of the one who now has come, Jesus stands. Awash in the waters of the Jordan River, beyond its shores Jesus himself became the message swirling about the Mediterranean in the questions Paul’s converts raised about this Christ Paul asked them to follow. By a dramatic turn of events, Paul would call him Christ and range far wider than any of the evangelists in his proclamation of Jesus’ identity, the nearness of God and saving sovereign for all who believed in him. The gospels and Paul’s letters, read in tandem today can orchestrate for us the mosaic of Jesus’ life and person.
Rising out of the waters of the Jordan he became a magnet to those searching for a better way, a better day. But we do not have the physical presence of Jesus to draw us to him. What sensibility quiets the clamor that seems to reign today? How do we enkindle the flame so our hearts burn within us when we hear his voice, hear the stories he told retold to us today? This is no small challenge. Our desire must be great. Our imaginations open wide. Our searching hearts undaunted by the secular world’s hold, sway and pull on us. And yet we live in the midst of our world, the way in which Jesus lived in and moved about in his world, awash with its own profane and materialistic determinations.
Woven about the person of Jesus, like a shroud that had begun to unravel over the years, over the centuries, are stories and legends, the fact and fictions of his life. He became draped in the mantel of Israel’s hopes. Soon enough, those hopes dashed, he would wear the royal purple of Rome and then become the Roman Empire’s standard bearer, cooped by a king, to be a King.
His life is a mosaic of those who loved him, those who followed him, those who believed he was their savior. His life story was even shaped by those who feared him. But the voices of those whom he had touched won out. Those are the voices that remain to carry his story forward for future generations, for us.
…And Jesus Paid Attention
From an early age my nieces were told bible stories. (One thing I’ve come to realize over the years is that whether you are part of a faith community or not, it is important that our children hear the bible stories. The rest will take care of itself.)
My nieces were told the bible stories from an early age. My sister always started off the stories by saying to the girls ‘now pay attention’. One Easter, my sister was showing off a bit, as parents do. She asked then three year old Ashley “what did Jesus do at Easter?” Ashley thought hard. You could see her little mind working. Then the little light bulb came on and she said “he paid attention.” Well, it sounds like resurrection doesn’t it.
At Easter Jesus paid attention. St. Paul would agree. Attention is defined as to wait upon, to take care, to minister, to serve. Isn’t this precisely what Jesus did. He paid attention to who he was; he paid attention to God as his Father and his relationship with him; and he paid attention to the needs of the people around him. He cared, he waited upon and ministered to them. Listened to them. Told them stories. (Guess he figured the rest would take care of itself as well.) And as a result it would appear that at Easter God paid attention to him. Throughout Paul’s letters he is asking his audience to pay attention to who they are because then they are paying attention to the Christ-within. Paying attention to oneself, ones’ community and to the Christ-life is to live life in Christ.
This might be a good definition of faith as well. Paying attention – focusing our hearts, minds and imaginations on how Jesus paid attention to who he understood himself to be. Jesus paid attention to the greatest human need: to be loved. That love took many forms. If we can see ourselves reflected in his life and love, to care about and for others, then we incarnate Christ in our lives today and to others.
As Jesus carried his cross up the dirty, rock littered road, he was paying attention. To his life and to those he loved. To us. The attention Jesus paid turned the cross from a sign of death to the tree of life.
Creative spirituality sees life as a journey. On that journey, which we all undertake one way or another, aware or unawares, to go on this journey asks that we learn the language of the soul. The language of the soul provides markers along the way. They provide provisions for the journey. The means by which we chart the course, get our bearing, choose a path and seek the counsel of the sacred as we go. The counsel of the sacred, what some might call the will of God. Yet it is not such a big thing as that. It is that still small voice that is all about us if we just listen and are watchful. When we travel we learn about the place we are going. If another country we learn all or at least some of the language, some of the essential words so we can navigate, get some of our needs met, not get lost. At some point in our lives, the soul makes its claim upon us. When it speaks it would be well if we know its language, what it is saying to us. We are seeded with markers, symbols and images, planted along the path, in our psyches that incarnate in our dreams, the stories we tell of ourselves, the stories that have been told to us, both ancient and new. In the very lives we lead. In the story that we are. The chartings are all about us. All that is required is to pay attention. To have some intentionality. Then the universe shows up. Shows us. Lights the way. This is where the moments and mysteries of our encounters speak for us, speak to us and sustain us. Here we come to the threshold of revelation. The only hermeneutic we need is our humanity. Creative spirituality is the grace to hear the voice of our souls and discover our sacred humanity imaged there. Creative spirituality is the Word taking flesh in our lives.
What is your God-bearing image? Stone or thimble…or…?
Tonight as we left the first of the Lent’s Sacred Conversations at my church we were given a small stone. On the stone it said I Am God. I put it in my pocket and was glad to have something to touch now and again, just to make sure God was there. And this reminded of something Rilke said in Letters to a Young Poet. Rilke is encouraging the young poet to the writer’s life, a life focused on his work and status and vocation. A kind of single-mindedness and simplicity of childhood. And the poet must have wondered if he had somehow lost God. And Rilke asks Do you believe anyone who really has him could lose him like a little stone…?
I put the stone in my pocket recalling another place in Rilke’s Stories of God entitled How the Thimble Came To Be God. In the story a little boy named Hans has said his evening prayers. He feels something in his folded hands soft and warm, like a little bird. And he hurries to finish his prayers so he can open his hands, but when he does there is nothing there. The children he was telling this to were silent, perplexed. But then Hans said “How stupid. Anything can be God.” So the children searched for something to be God. Then little Resi finds a thimble which is bright, as if made of silver, and for its beauty’s sake it become God. And the children each took their turns carrying God around in their pockets. After a few days the children were playing and one asked Who has God now? And little Maria, who had had God last, searched in her pockets and realized he must have fallen out while they were playing. She was very distressed and after all the other children had gone home, she kept search everywhere for the little thimble. Some tried to help her; but no one could find it. As it grew dark and she was about to give up, a stranger came along and asked her what she was looking for. Almost in tears, little Maria says, I am looking for God. The stranger smiles down at her, taking her by the hand, she lets herself be led as if all were well now. Along the way the stranger says Look! What a beautiful thimble I have found today.
So I’ve taken my little God-rock that the stranger gave me and put it on my desk where I have a day job. Sometimes I pick it up and take it with me to get coffee or on a break. Each morning as I leave Canaan and drive across the seemingly endless concrete highways snaking my way to Egypt to toil in Pharaoh’s glass pyramid, I know that God is there waiting for me, my God-rock greeting me, my strength throughout the day, pocket companion, never far from reach. A rock and a reminder.