Shadows and Shape-Shifting Dreams

11/9/17


I rocked him in the darkening room, the sun just flirting with the idea of settling in for the night. Twenty-five pounds of him lay limp against me, one chubby hand grasping listlessly at the breast it remembered once finding comfort in, though not seeming to recall when or how. The fever burned through his body and I pushed the chair back and forth with my toes while I sang.

Salve Regina, mater misericordiae

There is comfort in remembering that she rocked Him like this once too, hundreds of thousands of sunsets ago. I wonder what she sang? The Word who became flesh, sick and tired and letting his eyelids fall when His fever raged; allowing Himself to be comforted by a mortal, patting the breast whereat He had first learned tenderness. He knows what it is to be weaker than you want to be. He knows what it is to be dependent, to be frail. He knows the poverty of skin and sinew.

//

As college students immersed in charismatic evangelicalism, my generation was told we would change the world. (I suppose they're likely still telling college students that today.) We would "go to the nations", we would "see revival", we might just be the generation that fulfills the Great Commission and ushers in the second coming of Christ. None of this is wrong necessarily, except in the sense that it's largely inaccurate. Most of us didn't go on any grand Christian missions adventure, and those who did are either already back or have stuck it out for the long haul but realized it won't look anything like what we imagined. It's safe to say that wherever we've landed, the vast majority of us lead lives that more or less look and feel incredibly ordinary.

Like rocking sick babies. Like skin and sinew. Like the older and wiser voices we had written off as jaded.

//

It's been over a decade since I was a young twentysomething, but I'm just now beginning to realize that the joke's on me. The Kingdom of God is not somewhere "out there" to be attained or earned, and it's certainly not something that is designed to bolster my ego or make me look good in front of other Christians. Jesus told us exactly where to find Him- in the neighbor we clothe, the lonely we visit, the cup of cold water we give to another- but we want to make it so much harder. Some of us want to make it unattainable so that we have the excuse of not being "called". Others of us want to make it unattainable so that onlookers will admire our hefty sacrifice.

But now I think the way of Christ is small. I think it's accessible to everyone. I think it's less of a one-time, life-altering call and more of a habitual going low and elevating the other, whether that be a difficult child or a homeless refugee. I think all of that is true, and yet I ping-pong between the surety of the conviction and my own idea of radicalism.

Saint Therese writes of "the little way"- the faithful acts of love in our ordinary lives that unite us to Christ- and it makes me want to scream. What about victims of sex trafficking, Therese?! What about all of the nuclear weapons, what about unjust treatment of immigrants, what about women who need support in order to not choose abortion?! If we all just sat around singing to Jesus while we washed dishes, how would the Kingdom ever come?!

Then I feel His thick hands weighty on my shoulders. My peace I give to you, He says. Follow me.

//

I don't know if I'll ever do anything that feels big and important in the moment; maybe no one does. Maybe they do. Right now the most true thing I do know is that the smallness He's given me is a gift, one I'd never have asked for but has changed me nonetheless.

I wear this human flesh just like God Himself once did. The Incarnation necessarily demolishes walls between the weak and the strong, the worthy and the unworthy, the pitied and the impressive. No such labels can stand in the presence of the Divine enfleshed in bones and blood: nothing about the appearance of my life or my impact matters, nothing elevates me above anyone else, nothing earns me more approval from the only Eye who matters. I am simply one of us, in whom the power is in the poverty.

If His humanity isn't unto that, it is unto nothing.

//

My life got smaller a few months ago, and though it was a hard turning I'm settling into the idea of it. As it turns out, the narrowing has made room for something new: a book. I'm working with publisher OSV to write a nonfiction book on what happens when we confront the weakness within us and offer it back to a God who cloaked Himself in human experience. Examining the Incarnation changes both the way we see ourselves and the way we encounter a hurting world, and our own poverty is the gift we never saw coming.

I'm so thankful to get the chance to write this for you, for us. Others will have said it better (Vanier, Metz, Nouwen), but I still have to say it like me. I hope you stick around until Spring 2019 when the words come to life. I'll be praying for us as I write: little, flattened, broken-up us, just desperately hoping He meant it when He said ours is the kingdom of God, and seeing it here and there in glimpses- usually where we never thought to look.

I will be here still, smaller than I once imagined myself to be; rocking babies, writing words, loving my neighbor. And on the good days, when the sun sets just right for painting shadows on the far corner of the nursery wall, I can believe it is enough.

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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

DESIGNED BY ECLAIR DESIGNS