I really really like this article. I resonate with it. Key takeaway, and then go read:
Constance, I have been s blessed to run across this amazing blogger…he could definitely sit around the same side of the campfire as me! So far he has rung the bell solid and true each and every time. Best of all? I sense that he would embrace the vision I sign off with: Do Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly
Faith is a journey, a Pilgrim’s Progress filled with mistakes, learning, humble interactions, and life-changing events. Here are a few things I would do differently if I could go back and start over:
1. I wouldn’t worry about having the right answers.
There’s a misconception that the Bible is the Ultimate Answer Book and Christianity is a divine encyclopedia presenting the solutions to life’s biggest questions. In reality, the Christian faith is about a relationship with Christ instead of an academic collection of right or wrong doctrines.
Rather than wasting time, energy, and resources on superficial theological issues — I would focus more of getting to know Jesus. Never let a desire for “being right” obstruct your love for Christ.
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Constance, this interview has left me wrung out…this woman is such an inspiration to me, her faith and dedication and love of God. And her story honestly terrifies me too…the rejection she endured, the judgement and transphobia…only Mama knows the grace she received to keep on going in the face of all.
Constance, even if you aren’t christian, her faith and determination will inspire you.
Constance…have you ever been disappointed?
“Yeah, riiiiggghhhht, ‘Rissa!” you are prolly thinking! “Who hasn’t!!?”
And that leads me to my topic. See…lately I have been experiencing a lot of disappointment…plans made with loved ones and deeply anticipated, only to find that they have changed so the loved one can serve someone else…understandable…but disappointing.
Or trying hard to nail down an appointment, only to get no reply regarding which of a number of dates would be best…and then worse, feeling like I am making a pest of myself in seeking to simply get this thing scheduled…wondering if I am being avoided, if I have been intrusive or over-bearing…and yeah, disappointment.
We all experience it, but here is a secret: disappointment can be a crucial and pivotal agent of transformation in your life…or rather, the way that you handle it will lead to radical transformation.
I think the most crucial thing to grasp is this: Disappointment is divinely planned to result in death. Think about it…frequently when we are disappointed, something inside us dies–a dream, a desire, a hope, a plan…but as has so often been the case for me, the death of those things opens the gateways for the resurrection of those things in some far more pure and properly motivated form.
It is a tool that is similar to a surgeon’s blade. It is wielded with great skill by the Ones who love us best. But there is a team aspect to passing thru the death of disappointment and int the realms of resurrection! Like so many things, what is most crucial is not what happened, but rather how we choose to respond. The power to choose is what separates the Mandala’s from the Mansons!
Generally, we tend to deal with disappointment in one of two ways:
#1: Fear. I know that I am guilty a lot of being so confused when I get disappointed, and then to think, and react in fear…fear that I am being rejected, fear that I am unloved, fear that I have driven someone away with a careless word or mis-timed joke, fear of pain or sorrow.
#2. Faith. Faith that love bears all things, and never fails, and Joy will always find a way. When we are able to faithfully continue to the person we wish to be, to keep our eyes on the vision and keep them off ourselves, it is miraculous how disappointment becomes the catalyst for the transformation we so deeply desire.
I am struck by a series of contrasts in the lives of several Bible characters, and please, remember that the things in the Bible contain truths that we are privileged to suss out in our day and age. It is possible to learn from the truth of the stories without necessarily subscribing to a specifically Christian position or theology.
I see a vast difference in the lives of 2 men, who at one time were very close, who both were destined to rule as king, who both endured disappointment and sorrow…and yet one of these men we have heard nothing from or about other than the things recorded about in in the Bible, and the other of the men wrote poetry and prayers that are still to this day echoing in the highways and byways of the human heart and soul! I am talking about Saul, and David…one walked with fear, and one walked with faith.
Saul is said to have encountered a big disappointment when the prophet Samuel did not show up when Saul had planned for him to. Samuel told him to wait…wait until Samuel arrived! But Samuel delayed several days…and then the people began to grumble, began to demand that their king take action…and Saul’s disappointment became infected by fear, and he began to move and think and decide from a basis of fear.
In the midst of the crucible of disappointment, Saul fearfully decided that he could not rely on or trust anyone else, so he chose to embrace self-reliance, in a twisted way. And within a few chapters he is in the grip of self-deception, which bore the bitter fruits of despair and ultimately destruction…and we see this cycle of disappointment/deception/despair/destruction repeated in Saul’s life over and over again.
By the end of his days, Saul is alone and finds himself in the house of a witch, seeking dark and sinister remedies for disappointment. A few days later, Saul commits suicide, and the life of a talented and promising human being came to a tragic and futile end.
David, on the other hand, found himself in the crucible of disappointment over and over again just like Saul…but instead of responding with fear, he responded with faith. He made a choice, to delight himself in whatsoever was true, good, noble and worthy. He spoke of his choices to do this, to trust, to have faith. He wrote about them, and about the Ones with the power to deliver him according to Their riches and mercies. David declared over and over again that even in the midst of disappointment, God is good.
And ultimately, David experienced deliverance from that crucible and resurrection into a more yielded and humble vessel.
Disappointment met in fear=> deception=>despair=>destruction=>death. The root force behind this whole path is self-reliance, in its unbalanced and unhealthy form. The soundtrack to this path is the song “What about me? Me, me, meeee!!” Tragically, death here is the ultimate and final end.
Disappointment met in faith=>delight in what’s right=>declaring what’s true=>deliverance=>resurrection and life! The root force behind this whole path is a yielded spirit. The soundtrack to this path is the song “I Surrender All”. Miraculously, death here is the gateway to life, and is just a new beginning!
There are many other contrasts available for your examination…consider the man of fear (Samson) vs the man of faith (Samuel), and how each one dealt with disappointment, how each one walked a road that was determined by their choice of fear/faith, and the fruit that came from their lives by the end…
…or consider Judas and Peter (who aren’t that much different! After all, both men betrayed the Lord in His hour of travail!). Judas encountered such disappointment that the Messiah was not setting up a physical kingdom in which he would be an important governor, but was instead setting up a kingdom that was not made from wealth and fame, but from love and sacrifice and kindness…and so he stole things (out of fear), and justified it to himself to betray Jesus (deception), and then when he saw that every attempt he made to force Jesus to show His power physically and save Himself had failed, he wept bitterly (despair), and then hung himself.
Peter, on the other hand, entered into the same crucible, and was guilty of the same things, having taken up a sword and cut off the ear of another person (it took the touch of Jesus to heal that person!)
And as an aside, have you ever noticed that before? When Peter got militant and angry and attempted to bring the Kingdom in by human strength, he effectively rendered another person incapable of hearing! Ask yourself: how many times have YOU with the best of intentions but firmly ensconced in your own strength and agenda taken your sword and hurt someone, deafened them to the very message you so deeply wish to communicate? I think we need to take a hard look at ourselves, and consider hard the lesson Peter learned here!
So when Peter did this, he was rebuked by the Lord, and got disappointed, and even more so when Jesus allowed Himself to be taken away…and then he walked in fear, which led to deception that he would be safe from harm if he just kept quiet…which led to his denial of Jesus vehemently…which led to his despair as he saw His friend and Lord taken and tortured…
…but Peter then found the space and the grace to hold on, and a few days later, the Risen Lord appeared on the shores of the sea and called to Peter who in faith took action! He dove into the sea and swam to the Lord, and there in faith he let disappointment be turned into resurrection as he found his way through delighting in the Lord, declaring Who He is, and thus being delivered into new life.
Constance…I encourage you to take a ramble thru these stories. Whether you have a Bible or just use aan online tool like Bible Gateway…whether you consider the Bible authoritative in your life, or a collection of wise spiritual stories…do not lose the opportunity to glean some wisdom and a skill set to assist you in dealing with a very common assailant in our lives here in this time and place.
The contrasts between the two ways of dealing with disappointment are stark and meaningfully salient:
Fear seeks to escape…Faith seeks to embrace.
If you have chosen a lifestyle that is fear based, this is sort of attempting to save yourself by yourself, and essentially that is tantamount to spiritual suicide eventually. Ultimately, none of us is big enough to bear all our burdens all by ourselves! We need each other, and in my own world view, we need They who love us utterly and completely!
But if you choose to take the risk of responding in faith to disappointment, and to embrace your life rather than attempt to flee, then you will find the peace and relief in laying down your life into Their loving hands…trusting Them that you can be who you really are with Them, and that They will be who They really are with you!. You take your eyes off of the fires, off of the hurts, and you fix your eyes on the promised prize waiting on the other side…waiting thru the crucible of disappointment.
Disappointment: it brings us to the crossroads…and we can travel to that cross, and then thru that cross and into new life and deeper peace and joy.
Thank you so much for reading, and may you be blessed this day with oodles of grace, and boodles of joy, and blankets of peace.
In 1985 I got very sick with a kidney disease called Nephritis. There was no cause that could be found, but there was a prognosis of immediate dialysis, followed by transplant at the first available organ.
For 9 months before this manifested on October the 4th, 1985, I had been getting a specific biblical reference virtually every morning during my prayer time. It was Lamentations chapter 3. This is a famous passage where the prophet Jeremiah is vicariously repenting to the Lord on behalf of the nation of Israel, and also lamenting his own personal hardship. The verses that stood out, as if in flames to me, were 12-13…
“He has bent His bow and set me up as a target for the arrow. He has caused the arrows of His quiver to pierce my kidneys…”
Of course they were a huge puzzle for me, and I delved into the chapter, and had fruitful study for months, but could not for the life of me figure out what was so significant about those fiery words…
So there I was, in the doctor’s office while they laid out my future for me, and by then, I knew the meaning of those words, in all their dread. I knew that this was some sort of trial/discipline/classroom/reproach/something that was from God, and only God would be able to help me. I had a deep certainty that I was going to survive this (and I was not very happy about that, to be frank. It was during this time that I tasted gun oil on a barrel, if you get my drift), and I decided before things got too far, that I was going to seek Them and beseech Them for mercy and see what happened…why it happened…what was happening.
I refused the options they laid out. The doctors told me I was crazy…but I didn’t care. When they asked me what I was planning, I simply told them the verses, what God had been putting in me for 9 months, and that this was something divine that had to be dealt with on that level. Of course they ridiculed me, sought to belittle and demean me for my stupidity.
It was rough to take. I knew how it looked…Jesus Freak outta his mind etc etc.
But I was firm in my understanding, and knew that anything else they did would be futile, so instead I sought help through natural means and prayer and repentance. I did intense research and found several herbs that had verifiable healing qualities for kidneys. I prayed a ton.
And I had to work during this time. I had no time off available, and my new wife and baby needed to eat, right? So I went out to my very physical job picking up trash in our town, and I slogged zombie-like through the days. I had a constant 101 degree fever. My muscles constantly ached like the worst flu you have had. I felt so sick, so full of toxins, and so absolutely alone.
Imagine the silence, after virtually everyday for 9 months there had been active voice in my spirit from Them.
Imagine the horror and lonely realization that I was literally dying, and I had chosen to either live or die by Their intervention, and They were not talking.
It was bleak…for real.
But in a few weeks, I began to hear stirrings, and eventually They established dialogue again with me, and then came weeks of gentle revelation to me of my own carnal dependence on religion, theology, and the word itself. They showed me that I basically worshiped the Bible instead of Them. I could quote the word 9 ways to Sunday, but I didn’t properly care for Their down-trodden and weak and lost sheep. I was self-righteous, boasting in my credentials, my position as a life-long christian, and my status as a “good person”. They showed me my dependence on my own abilities and gifts (which THEY gave me, btw), and finally, how I had put my trust in an ethic of law and right behaviour, instead of trusting Them in relationship, with an ethic coming from righteousness equaling right relationship with Them.
These revelations were in some ways more painful than the physical issues I was dealing with. OOooohhh my pride was sooo stinky and offended! But They were right…They always are.
There was no immediate relief, no instant healing after I got the message and began to pursue repentance…repentance: simply a changing of the mind resulting in traveling the opposite way you were traveling. Metanoia. But there was a coming along side, an empowering while I was so weak, to complete each day, everyday, and slowly but surely embrace the fellowship of His sufferings (sanctification and death to self)…until finally…the day this song was born.
I was working in a neighborhood in our town, and as I was picking up trash, I saw a young woman in her mid twenties come out of her house, and walk to her car. She had been weeping, and was bruised (literally). She was smoking a cigarette, and was somewhat unkempt. And above all, underneath the veneer of hurt, pain, sorrow, and slow hardening of her heart, I saw that she was incredibly beautiful. Now…I think what happened is that They gave me eyes to see her as They see her! And in that moment, the lyrics to the song came into my heart, and the melody out of my mouth, and basically I got the song in about 5 minutes. I quickly pulled around the block and jotted them down, finished the day, and went straight home to the guitar and firmed it up.
I went back to that house a few days later. I intended to sing that song to that woman…but the house was empty. Whatever violence that had occurred had flowered into its bitter and deadly fruit and no one was there any longer. I went back to my car and sat…and cried. I cried for her, for whoever hit her, for the sin and brokenness we were hemmed in by, and I prayed loud and without thought for how I appeared to others or what words I used or how spiritual I sounded or looked…and I begged Them to watch over her, draw her to Themselves, and other things as well.
The tears finally stopped, and I was ready to leave…and I heard Lady Grace speak to me, and She said that what I had just experienced was why They had pierced my kidneys with Their arrows…Their discipline had at last resulted in the good fruit They desired. She basically told me it was the first time I had ever prayed for someone else with a whole heart aware only of the person, and not of my own role as the spiritual champion, warrior, super-christian, etc. etc. And that I was incapable of hearing that song from Them previous to Their scouring and wounding stripes.
I will never, ever forget that…and the lesson of Their Faithfulness. “For I am confident of this very thing: that He who began a good work in you shall be faithful to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ!”
In light of my posts taking a very sharp prophetic stance against misogyny, I think it is timely that I found this song today in the annals of my past…“He Cares” (it is in waltz time in a country gospel style)…
Don’t let the world steal your beauty.
Don’t let the world take your joy.
When you’re too hurt to cry, and your spirit is so dry,
oh don’t let the world steal your beauty.
When you pass thru ferocious deep rivers,
when the water is chilly and cold,
Though the floods be so grey, you will not be swept away,
when you pass thru ferocious deep rivers.
Cause He cares, He cares.
Jesus cares for you.
He will gently lift you up. He will fill your empty cup,
Jesus cares for you.
Don’t let the world steal your victory.
Don’t be defeated by the pain.
When you’re wounded in the fight, when you can’t see any light,
oh don’t let the world steal your victory.
When you walk thru the lonely hot fires,
and dark flames of despair lick your soul.
Do not be concerned, for you will not be burned,
when you walk thru the lonely hot fires.
Do not call to mind what has happened before,
don’t ponder the things of the past.
I will make a broad roadway in the wilderness,
and rivers of life in your deserts.
What My hands hold, none can snatch away.
What I do, none can undo.
By My Blood and My Name, you are fee from all shame,
Oh! I LOVE you, come to Me!
Cause I care, I care!
My people, I care for you!
I will gently lift you up, I will fill your empty cup.
Oh My people I care for you!
Don’t let the world steal your beauty.
Don’t let the world take your joy.
He will gently lift you up…He will fill your empty cup,
So don’t let the world steal your beauty.
This poem (or is it more just verse?) is attempting to say that if you ever find yourself looking at the outward actions of someone and coming to a conclusion about their motive or heart, it is a dead giveaway that you have unconsciously or consciously begun to trust in your own self as the source of righteousness and goodness, and have poised yourself as the standard of measure…otherwise how would you come to such a conclusion about the person’s heart??
A wise man told me once, “We judge others by their actions, but we judge ourselves by our intentions.”
Wow. So true, right? No, instead, when you are filled with the wonder and majesty of the glorious work Jesus FINISHED when He became our sacrifice and ransom, and when you truly grasp that when you say Yes to Them it is no longer you who live, but Christ in you, and that ALL old things are passed away and you are a brand new never have been creature that is a human being incarnating Very God…well, then…you are free, to simply be Their Ambassador of Love and Mercy and Kindness.
Love, Charissa Grace
Judge me not by the deeds I do, e’en if they tower tall
Or if they glower and echo failure and show all the ways that I fall
Judge me not by my actions, for actions only tell a part,
Judge instead the Deeds of Them whose works show the True Heart.
The True Heart gives, in lavish ways, compassion, joy, and grace,
It knows our frame, that we are dust, and knows we lost our face,
It responsibility takes for every step astray
And makes a way for us lost sheep to run from night to day.
When actions you look only at, you show the god you trust,
Your own soul’s will and naming good, your own judgement…your lust
To at the core be your own captain, commanding your own soul
And God’s Name becomes vanity as you crash on ego’s shoals.
So judge me not, for I will fall beneath your scrutiny
But look instead at Lady Grace, at Jesus, at the sea
Of Love unceasing, perfect and fulfilling all the law
Indwelling life in me…judge Them…and then kneel down in awe.
corrected spelling from bionically to biblically!!! Oh those flying fingers!
Confession time: in the dark years, between the severity of the events of early childhood and the death of my father in 2005, I dwelt in Christendom. Pretty much the down the middle, fairly conservative and fundamentalist, adhering to the Apostles’ Creed variety. We believed that the Bible was God’s inspired word and contained guidance for our lives. We believed it was “literally true”, but well understood the use of literary devices so that often times passages had to be understood metaphorically when context demanded it (literary, cultural, and theological contexts). Example: when Canaan was referred to as a land flowing with milk and honey, it was clearly taught to me that this was a poetic way to speak of it being a place of promise and fruitfulness.
I was taught that the Bible is also an unflinching record of human beings’ tragic brokenness, and how existence for beings created in the Image of God plays out when the vital union with their spirit and God’s is severed.
We believed that Jesus was God Incarnate, come in the flesh to manifest that great transaction of eternity past by which He redeems all things and sets the clock ticking on the final coming Someday when the City of God descends to Earth and the cleansing scours all rot away and we step into that Ever-Morning.
We believed in the Holy Spirit, but denied the power of the Spirit in any way that was considered charismatic.
And we believed that sexuality was sacred and reserved for a monogamous marriage relationship. In that context sex was beautiful and condoned for any purpose the couple mutually agreed on, with the caveat that God be glorified.
I still believe all of those things…with a lot of caveats now, and many adjustments made due to maturity, growth, and encountering God more personally as I grew (and that thanks to THEIR insistence, not some great spirituality of my own!). My understanding of the Bible has increased in depth and scope, and I am far less dogmatically attached to many peripheral teachings that used to get added in as axioms.
I have experienced the Holy Spirit and (Her) ministry in a very personal and profound way. If you read here frequently, you know I am not shy about identifying Her as Mama…She…and come on: God has no gender, God is the source of gender! He has chosen to reveal Himself as Father, and as Son, for reasons that I frankly do not fully understand anymore than I understand that Mama is revealed as feminine. (I know this about Her the same way I know the other about the Father and the Son: the language!)
But this I do understand: Jesus came to break down all dividing walls, to set every captive free, and to remove anyone who exerts power over another from that Throne. Thus, in Him there is no slave or free, no greek nor jew, and no male nor female. This is not a denial that these things exist! Rather it is the repudiation of the inherent positions of privilege and power, putting all on level ground before Him in liberty.
But the biggest area of adjustment: Sexuality and morality.
I confess that I knew nothing about “alternative lifestyles”, as I was taught to classify them, except that they were bad, and that if you loved God, you simply didn’t go there or associate with those who did…unless you were ever so magnanimously showing up to oh so sweetly let them know they were sinning and going to Hell but you would be tickled pink to lead them away from their sinful ways.
Gaaakkk!! I look back on it now, and mourn. I was totally blind to how I came across to others, how judgemental I was a priori, and how deeply I practised “othering” as a lifestyle and even worse evangelism technique!
I think it is this unique history of mine that has positioned me as potentially one who might help others in that ghetto of christendom begin to find the bones and blood of their Faith, and become again the “Little Christs” that we have lost sight of. See…like Paul, I could match my pedigree with any one of you. Educated, saved for 51 years of my 55 here on the planet. Married to a woman who likewise is a believer devoted all her life as well. Educated to a high degree. Decades in Sunday Schools, first as a student, and then as a teacher. Leader, elder, pastor, conference speaker, travelling ministry…I have pretty much done it all, in terms of the categories of “bona fides”.
I had no outside sexual interests…my Beloved is my all, and I was smitten literally in the first instant I saw her. I have lived (by all ways these things were outwardly judged) an acceptable and moral lifestyle. While I have seen pornography (in this age, sadly, who hasn’t?), it has never had a grip or hold on me like it has gained foothold in so many. I never had any sexually deviant habits, practices or thoughts really.
An aside: I am using the term “sexually deviant” referencing the point of view I was brought up in, and the possible point of view for lots of christians who wrongly assume that being transgender is an inherently immoral choice.
In short, what I am trying to say is that in a way similar to the Apostle Paul in Philippians chapter 3, when he sought to give his credentials and qualifications for boasting in the flesh if her were to boast, I too could say that I was a “Hebrew of Hebrews”, in the sense that I am nearly positive that if any of you believers met me then you would have assumed I was a “with-it, has it all together, successful and committed christian!”
Now…that is not a boast!! Because inside that person was this hurting, lonely, fractured and parasuicidal person! Every ounce of spiritual discipline I had was dedicated and devoted to hanging on for dear life to the One who had saved me and brought me thru many waters and fires.
The desolation, the confusion and outright despair were palpable and dark. I went thru counseling, inner healing, let the deliverance bunch have a go at me (though they all agreed I had no demons!! LOLOL!! I find that so funny in light of how immediately I was judged demon possessed by the fearful who had known me 30 years)…it was the faith that Jesus gave me, and the manifold abundant Grace of Mama that kept me alive.
When Dad died, the person I am on the inside somehow “knew” it was now safe to go out, and for the first time in my life since early childhood, I got some women’s clothing and dressed properly! From my perspective, I had cross-dressed as a man for nearly 50 years! So to dress in women’s clothes, from the standpoint of outside judges, would be called cross dressing, but for me it was stopping cross dressing!!
I was open with my darling about it. We walk step by step together, and hand in hand. Her first concern was that it was some weird sexual thing!
It is always that way in those circles, sadly…if we don’t understand it, it must be perverted or sexually immoral!
But she quickly realized that this wasn’t the case whatsoever. It was physically evident to her that I did not get a thrill from this (use your imagination), and she very soon sensed the greater peace, happiness, joy, and bubbly person that I am. She used to lament…”Why are you this amazing person for these short periods and then you get so sad, and you put yourself down so much?”
It’s true…I used to say that I thought nobody loved me, and that I was bad (could never give a reason, I just felt I was bad for existing at all!), that I should be dead, and other horrible things like that. She would ask why, and I simply said, with tears streaming, “I don’t know, Baby, I don’t know, I just should be dead”.
But as time passed, she truly saw the vital and essential nature of who I really am coming forward.
Time passed, and we did more and more reading, and began to be educated as to the difference between gender identity and sexual preference and practice.
Thus, for us the major hurdle was over…I am not sexually immoral as a transgender person. I am not a transvestite, or any of the other pejoratives that get painted on us.
So what I am trying to say is this: if you are a conservative denizen of christendom, and you automatically assume that transgender people are inherently immoral or bent or deviant, what do you do with me?
(and by the way, I have met and know of several transgender christians who are lovely lovey people and probably better people than I!!)
I can easily keep up biblically with you. I had fabulous bible teachers who taught me hermeneutics and the proper rules of exegesis. I studied the major theologies of christendom. I studied the liberal higher critical models. I read the bible daily and talk openly with God constantly (in fact I am prolly a pest to Mama! “Hey, Mama, whatchya doin?? Huh? Whatchaya doin?? Can I do it too??? etc. etc! 🙂 ).
I counsel others, I pray with the lonely and hurting if they are open. I serve others and delight in kindness…I feel the pleasure of God in my soul!
And I have never ever, by the testimony of my family, friends, and acquaintances, been nicer, or happier, or more content.
No, friend…the morality involved here is on the part of the fearful, who lack the courage to let themselves become informed, and then practice the essence of their faith to love, and love freely and without judgement.
Do us all a favor: read the articles I post. Consider reading other things. Volunteer at the local LGTB center, and hang out with some transgender people. You just might be shocked to discover they are actually regular people just like you and me…and that God loves them.
thanks for reading, and thanks for considering my point of view.
And I sit, pondering today,
tomorrow, but yesterday
Yesteryear looms large.
The shadow cast of those events shines
inverted and bright
Light on Darkness Backdrop.
Crystal clarity and
pure purpose precipitated,
I face fears,
uncertainties and self-centered acts
that will wound and rend.
People of agenda which is
dark on light’s backdrop,
people of ignorance
who assume all things.
My heart quakes,
my bones are water,
my thoughts are anxious acid
that etches my soul.
I pray thee,
Precious Christ Child,
cover me in such a way
that all that is
etched away leaves you
Shining thru me
The Christmas Star.
|Few of us would be able to recollect from our childhoods the moment when self-consciousness first came into being and the process of waking to self began.
For most of us, awareness broke through in pieces. We found ourselves then as we continue to find ourselves now: at times stirringly wakeful to what it means to be human, aware of self and lifetime, and startled by the abruptness of its end. Essayist Annie Dillard articulates the progression of consciousness with stirring lucidity:
“I woke in bits, like all children, piecemeal over the years. I discovered myself and the world, and forgot them, and discovered them again. I woke at intervals until, by that September when Father went down the river, the intervals of waking tipped the scales, and I was more often awake than not. I noticed this process of waking, and predicted with terrifying logic that one of these years not far away I would be awake continuously and never slip back, and never be free of myself again.”(1)
Dillard describes the rousing of self as strangely recognizable—”like people brought back from cardiac arrest or drowning.” There is a familiarity in the midst of the foreignness. We wake to mystery, but so somehow we wake to something known.
We find ourselves jarred awake in a different way to the idea of death, this unsettling notion of forever falling asleep to the life we have known. But even here there is a curious sense of vigilance we carry with us into death.
Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno once observed that human beings are distinguished from other creatures in that we have the unique practice of burying our dead. In our funeral preparations, we make the dead ready for another stage; we make ourselves ready to continue on, our eyes further open to the weight of life.
We stand ceremoniously present; we speak words over the dead body. Professor James Loder points out the rebellion inherent in these preparations: “We will not let death have the last word. This is a mark of the human spirit that something in us knows we can overcome this thing.”(2)
Into this mysterious world of life and death, the Christian voice calls the world to the wakeful awareness of this spirit, to the story reaching beyond self, beyond our lifetimes and our deaths, speaking words where death stings and tears flow: “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken… They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call… when you see all these things, you know that itis near, right at the door” (Matthew 24:29-33).
When Jesus appeared on the scene of a people who had lived with God’s silence for hundreds of years, there were some who were ready and alert and others who had fallen asleep to the possibility of a God who speaks.
The story of Christ’s coming, the Incarnation of hope and light, is a reminder that wakefulness is a worthy posture. The one who invites us to “come and see” has come near enough to show us for himself.
Like children waking to consciousness, what if something in us knows that Christ is near, right at the door, longing to show us even now. It is worth being found awake, ready for something new and something we have known all along.
For the Christian, this mystery is our consciousness. Christ has come. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Annie Dillard, An American Childhood (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), 11.
|The Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola is one of the world’s largest maximum-security prisons, an eighteen-thousand acre habitat to people who have committed horrible crimes. It houses roughly five thousand inmates, more than half of which are serving life sentences. Death looms large at Angola; ninety-four percent of inmates who enter are expected to die while incarcerated. The fear of dying alone in prison, coupled with the reality that for many inmates their first encounter with death was committing murder, makes death a weighted subject, often locked up in anger, guilt, and dread.
For a few, however, the Angola Hospice volunteer program has drastically changed this. In 1998, equipped with a variety of staff trustees and inmate volunteers, the LSP hospice opened its doors to its first terminally ill inmate. Today it is recognized as one of the best programs of its kind. Giving inmate volunteers a role in the creation of the hospice and in the primary care during the dying process, inmates find themselves in the position to tangibly affect the lives of others by being present, by giving a hand, by offering dignity to the dying. Reckoning with death as a fate that awaits all of humanity as they care for dying friends and strangers, the men often gradually let go of hardened demeanors. As one man notes, “I’ve seen guys that used to run around Angola, and want to fight and drug up, actually cry and be heartbroken over the patient.”(1) Another describes being present in the lives of the dying and how much this takes from the living. “But it puts a lot in you,” he adds. A third inmate describes how caring for strangers on the brink of death has put an end to his lifelong anger and helped him to confront his guilt with honesty.
It may seem for some an odd story as a means of examining the story of Christmas, but in some ways it is the only story to ever truly introduce the story of Christmas: broken, guilty souls longing for someone to be present. As martyred archbishop Oscar Romero once said, it is only the poor and hungry, those most aware they need someone to come on their behalf, who can celebrate Christmas. For the men at Angola who stare death in the eyes and realize the tender importance of presence, for the child whose mother left and whose father was never there, for the melancholic soul that laments the evils of a fallen world, the Incarnation is the only story that touches every pain, every lost hope, every ounce of our guilt, every joy that ever matters. Where other creeds fail, Christmas, in essence, is about coming poor and weary, guilty and famished to the very scene in history where God reached down and touched the world by stepping into it.
The Incarnation is hard to dismiss out of hand because it so radically comes near our needs. Into the world of living and dying the arrival of Christ as a child turns fears of isolation, weakness, and condemnation on their heads. C.S. Lewis describes the doctrine of the Incarnation as a story that gets under our skin unlike any other creed, religion, or theory. “[The Incarnation] digs beneath the surface, works through the rest of our knowledge by unexpected channels, harmonises best with our deepest apprehensions… and undermines our superficial opinions. It has little to say to the man who is still certain that everything is going to the dogs, or that everything is getting better and better, or that everything is God, or that everything is electricity. Its hour comes when these wholesale creeds have begun to fail us.”(2) Standing over the precipices of the things that matter, nothing matters more than that there is a loving, forgiving, eager God who draws near.
The great hope of the Incarnation is that God comes for us. God is aware and Christ is present, having come in flesh, and it changes everything. “[I]f accepted,” writes Lewis, “[the Incarnation] illuminates and orders all other phenomena, explains both our laughter and our logic, our fear of the dead and our knowledge that it is somehow good to die,…[and] covers what multitudes of separate theories will hardly cover for us if this is rejected.”(3) The coming of Christ as an infant in Bethlehem puts flesh on humanity’s worth and puts God in humanity’s weakness. To the captive, there is no other freedom.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Stephen Kiernan, Last Rights (New York: St Martin’s Press, 2006), 274.