After a busy week of Vacation Bible School, the memories still brimming to the surface are, as you can imagine, working with and relating to the children. What do children teach us? For one thing, they can honestly express their fear. On the other hand, they can celebrate the goodness that they have and are. When one five-year-old boy was told at the last minute he had to be Jesus in a bible skit, he didn’t shy away and express the burden or shame of being Jesus; he didn’t self-reject. Instead, the little one immediately smiled and glowed wide-eyed. He loved being Jesus! And he wanted to do it again!
How would we adults react to such an imposition — if someone told us we had to be Jesus in a play? How often in our adult lives, and how easy it is, to deny the gift of Christ’s presence in our lives. We can deny it. We can run away from it — like Jonah. We can reject it …. and so never reap the benefit and grace of our gift, ultimately to tragic end: hell!
But what can happen when we affirm the love and light of God in our very life? Martin Luther affirmed that we are all “little Christs”. Would we discover the gift has always been there, waiting for us to discover it? Surprise!
How can we access the gift of who we are, truly are? After all, we have been created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). We therefore have the divine imprint on our very lives. In our unique personalities we reflect some aspect of God’s character. But how can we access that part of ourselves that very well may have been squashed by life’s experiences and the compulsions of our ego always getting us into trouble — greed, violence, manipulating, lusting, self-demeaning?
Let’s consider for a moment a group of people for whom we might first think it would be impossible for them to claim the gift they are: the incarcerated, the imprisoned, serving life sentences.
In a workshop I attended at a learning conference recently I heard the presentation of a counsellor who works in some of the largest prisons for men in the United States. She told the stories of men who have lost all hope. These men have come to terms with and have accepted the punishments deserving of their crimes. And now they yearn to find the purpose of their lives, and rediscover the gift of who they truly are. I left the workshop inspired to hear that so many have indeed discovered their true and enduring worth, and found inspiration in the goodness of their lives.
In her workshop, the counsellor cited Marianne Williamson, who writes about our true status as human beings and as children of God:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
We need not be afraid because of the real gift in our lives.
I recently copied one of those chain emails that get forwarded. It is an illustration of laminins — have you seen it? — that are a family of proteins that are an integral part of the structure of our physical bodies. Laminins are, apparently, what hold us together — literally. They are cell adhesion molecules; they are what holds one cell of our bodies to the next cell.
What is truly amazing is that when you look at laminins, they are in the shape of a cross. The author of the email writes that from a very literal standpoint, “we are all held together, one cell to another, by the cross.” We have the very mark of our creator on our beings — not just spiritually, but physically as well.
In worship services, leaders wear the alb (Latin for “white”) — an outer reality reflecting an inner truth. In the Gospel today (Matthew 15) Jesus emphasizes the importance of the inner realities of our lives. And the alb is a symbol of the gift within us, the gift of God’s mercy, forgiveness, grace and love in the spiritual presence of Jesus in our hearts. It is a baptismal gown (Galatians 3) to remind us that in our baptism we “put on Christ”, we are clothed by the redeeming act of God in Christ Jesus. That’s why we put it on in worship. To underscore this salient truth. And we need to be reminded of it.
We have to work at the “giftedness” part of our individual and community lives. It’s easier to focus on the negative, sinful aspects of our existence – we cannot deny them.
But it is often much easier to focus on the dark, than it is on the light. Physiologists have discovered that it takes less than a second to internalize a negative message. Conversely, it takes some 11 seconds to internalize a positive input — a compliment, a supportive, loving statement. I know how that feels — when I take the time to dwell on a positive statement someone makes about me or anyone else — to let that literally sink in. It changes something inside my body for the better. I feel it. We have to be intentional about at least acknowledging the good that is there, the gift. And I believe it will make a difference in our health and well-being in the long run.
“The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). God won’t stop! God is “The Hound of Heaven”. Throughout the bible we are reminded of this truth. In Jeremiah 31:3 — God loved us with an everlasting love. God continues to bless. God’s faithfulness will never end. We might as well go for it and BE the people we are called to be! We will never lose it! The promises of God found throughout the Scriptures – they will always apply to us, always be offered to us.
Therefore we can be bold in being who we are in the world. Like the woman in the Gospel who boldly approached Jesus, we can boldly approach the loving presence of Jesus in our own lives and in the people we meet. No matter what we do or don’t do, in the end, we will always hold the gift in our very life.