I used to hope that someday I’d meet a holy person who knew it all, who could tell me where to go and what to do and how to live and what to think so that I’d be the right kind of person, so I would be better, kinder, smarter, somehow different, somehow somebody else. So I am very lucky I didn’t fall into some cult for people who have trouble making up their own minds, I am lucky I didn’t get brain-washed: I am lucky I didn’t end up my life trying to be somebody else.
Because for most of the journey I had just enough faith and hope and sense that God was calling me to be myself, to find myself, through trial and error, through a lot of history and with a little hope, with the help of good friends and gentle strangers, and the sense of Gods goodness and guidance lighting the way, sometimes, not always; and after awhile I came to a sense that I was somewhere near where I should be. But it didn’t come easy, and it didn’t come simple.
It wasn’t simple for Samuel in our first lesson. He was living in difficult times, when the voice of the Lord was not often heard, when the world was noisy with other slogans and goals and Gods, and it took Samuel time to take in the voice that was different from the power and principalities he was primed to listen to, and what he finds when he listens is a voice that calls him away from living life with those powers, in those usual places. He finds he belongs to another kingdom, he must give his life to another way and vision, that he must learn to speak the truth of another viewpoint, he must learn to see things the way God sees things, he must live out God’s love, he must live out God’s life.
And in the Epistle to the Corinthians, Paul is speaking to people who are caught between visions. The popular culture in Corinth embodied the belief and action that you could use other people, their bodies, their purpose and passion, without connecting with their minds and their spirits, without linking their lives with your life; that you can serve your own ends, without being tied to other people, that in the end other people don’t mean much, don’t matter, that the power of an individuals spiritual life doesn’t touch the life of the common body.
But, as Paul writes elsewhere, If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, part of the body of Christ, a member of the church. And that means seeing a difference, seeing a different world with different relationships between people, with different values, different visions, different voices to listen to; living in a world where everyone is conceivably a member of Christ’s body the church, a different kind of body, and that means waking up into a new world.
Simeon the New Theologian writes this a little over a thousand years ago.
We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.
I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).
I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightening.
Do my words seem blasphemous? - Then
Open your heart to Him
and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him
We wake up inside Christ’s body.
where our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and he makes us, utterly, real,
and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed
and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in his light
we awaken as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.
(Symeon the New Theologian [949-1022] translated by Stephen Mitchell)
But what does it mean to be wakened, found, seen, found out, called by God to live a new life, and, more importantly, if God calls us to be born into this new life of the baptized, of the body of Christ, how do we live out that calling, live into that new vision and vocation, live with that new constellation of caring and community called forth by Christ?
Here are three very tentative answers that I sometimes find helpful.
First, look at everything as if you’ve never seen it before, asking, what is this? What if everyday was the first day for the rest of your life? What if God was giving you just one day, one moment, one instant of your life to live, day by day, moment by moment, now by now? Could you learn to look at everything like you’d never seen it before, like you’d never see it again? Could you learn to love the questions even before you learned to move towards the answers, knowing that God was in the questions as well as the answers? Could you look at everything as if it might be a gift from God, a gift to God, that was waiting to be discovered, uncovered, right now?
Second, can you learn to look at everything with the question, “What is this to love?” As if the world were full of hidden icons, gift-wrapped mysteries, secret sacraments that might open up, uncover, everywhere? Can you allow the hopeful question; “What is this to love?” with every possibility, every way you spend time and money, passion and purpose, every way you can live and give your life, everyone you like or love or look upon. At each open opportunity to spend your life, can you look to see, to ask, What is this to love? How would love look on this moment? What would Jesus see here?”
And finally, can you tell the truth of the good news of how God sees you, where God has found you, how Christ has called you? Under whatever particular fig tree you were loving or looking or loafing when Jesus was looking upon you and calling you by name, calling you to be who you are, calling you to live in his love and live out his life in the world he creates and redeems and breathes love into every day? How can you tell that story in all your live, in everything you do, everything you are, to everyone you know? How can you, as St Francis puts it: “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary using words!” To look to it all with the question, what is this to love in the life of the body of Christ, and to live that out from here on to the end.
W. H. Auden writes this as the end of his great Christmas Oratorio, “For the Time Being”
He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.
He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.
He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.
So Jesus says that Nathaniel will “see greater things than these... Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Just like Jacob that dreamer and schemer, who wrestles with God in all the intricacies of his life, the good and bad, the lost and found, that whole holy mess and mass of it; just like Samuel, who will learn to speak peace and justice, to love his neighbor and the stranger and to make the world a better place; just like Paul, who will learn that the law is a schoolmaster to lead us to the love and freedom of Christ, to be a new creation waking up in his graceful body. Nathaniel will follow Christ into being another unknown disciple, apostle, witness, seeing the Lord in places he would have never thought to look.