Monday, July 6, 2009

who do you think you are?

There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that
other people won't feel insecure around you.

We were born to make manifest
the GLORY of GOD that is within us.
It is not just in some of us;
it is 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
(Nelson Mandela,
quoting Marianne Williamson in his 1994 Inaugural Speech)

This week we read the story from the Gospel of Mark (6:1-3) about Jesus coming to his to his hometown, and his disciples followed him where he taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath, “and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!’ And they took offense at him.” It’s where we get the classic phrase when Jesus says, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own native place.”

That story reminded me of a similar story in the Gospel of Matthew (8:28), when Jesus was in the country of the Gadarenes. There were two demoniacs and Jesus cured them by sending the demons into a herd of swine. And when the people of the town heard about it, they came out and begged him to leave. What makes this even worse is that this is his hometown, Nazareth of Galilee. They were scandalised by him! They took offense at him here in his native place. The scandal of the Gospel is just how near God comes to us, in our very nature, in our homes, that such authority, such wisdom and power can have been given to a human being. They call him Emmanuel, God-with-us. In the midst of you, John says, is one you do not know. Indeed, in the midst of us, among us, within us, is someone and something we do not recognize.

I think we usually prefer to keep God as far away as possible, distant, behind glass and altar rails, in “some heaven light years away.” When God comes close, when we realize that the divine is close––does the Qur’an say, “closer than your jugular vein”?––it's annoying, because it's so challenging. In a song on U2s new album Bono sings that we treat God “like an old lady who needs help crossing the street.” But when the real power of God comes close it forces us out of our complacency and mediocrity.

It’s as if they were saying to Jesus, “Who do you think you are?” We actually hear that a lot from each other. “Who do you think you are to to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” And we believe it. That voice gets into our head. This is another version of the “glass ceiling.” “The long-stemmed roses are the first to get trimmed,” was a popular saying during my religious formation. Well, Nelson Mandela says instead, “Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God! Your playing small does not serve the world! There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the Glory of God that is within us.” That’s what a real prophet is: someone who makes known the glory of God that is among us, within us. That’s why the say about Jesus in other places: a great prophet has risen among us; God has visited his people.” And that is what we are meant to be for each other. As St Irenaeus says, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” Jesus says, “that my joy may be in you, that your joy may be complete,” and “I came that you may have life, and have it to the fullest.”

Our playing small does not serve the world!

This is the part of Christianity that's so hard for folks to grasp, realize, access, live out: the love of God has been poured directly into our hearts–consciousness of our participation in the divine nature. We carry the glory of God within us, in our very bodies. St Paul tells us and St Peter confirms it: we are temples, we are tabernacles, living breathing walking around tabernacles, vessels of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus was prophet, priest and king, so by virtue of our Baptism, we are priests, royalty, prophets, grafted onto the vine that is Christ.

This is not arrogance, mind you. St. Paul offers a corrective to any hubris we might be tempted to. He reminds us that we carry this treasure in earthen vessels: it would blow us apart if we weren’t careful with it, if we tried to claim it as our own. This is the sad case of Michael Jackson. There was a grace in him: when he was a little boy he already sang like with the maturity of someone twice is age; and Fred Astaire called him the greatest dancer alive. His talent, many people say it, made manifest the glory of God. But what a fragile vessel! What thorns in the flesh! These little things serve as reminders that we unaided can’t do it. Like Jesus, we cannot deem godliness something to grasped at; we empty ourselves and Spirit fills us. This is what this means that our strength is made perfect in weakness. And this, too, is the beginning of worship, to merely recognize that God is God, that there is a power greater than me––it may flow through me and indeed it does––that there is a Source beyond me, and I am not the Source! Aurobindo says, “Within there is a soul and above there is Grace. That’s all you know and that’s all you need to know.” I am only a vehicle, a vessel. When we recognize that we start to grow from within.

And the amazing thing is that, the Nelson Mandela quote continues, “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 don't have to do anything: we are prophets. Our very way of life is a sign, our presence is a sacrament, a light set on a high place. As Mahatma Gandhi said: My life is my message.

But we must be prepared for the cross. The world does not like to be challenged out of its mediocrity and complacency anymore than we ourselves do. This is why prophets are always persecuted, especially among people who know them well, who know their fragile vessels well, who are scandalizes that Divine power, that Grace who actually flow through such a seemingly unworthy vessel and vehicle. We always have to remember that we are prophets not out of arrogance, not because we hate the world. We become prophets when we look around us and see that others are glowing too. We see others carrying the treasure within them, and we call it out of them as we call it out of ourselves. We start to see with God’s eyes and call the deepest truest part out of each other and challenge each other to live the promise. And we look out at the world around us and we do not condemn it, just as Jesus did not come to condemn it. Instead we see the glory of God being made manifest in sight and sound and smell; and we remind the world, that God so loved, of its origin and its end to participate in divinity.

Then they will know that a prophet has arisen among them!