Wednesday, April 06, 2005


The Passion of Christ's Follower

I was headed for Grand Central to get a burrito. I'd just crossed 1st Street, going south on Main, and I saw him. Oh, man, what do I do now? I looked down, then started to turn right and walk west on 1st to Spring. I could go south there. But it was too late; I looked up to make sure I was headed the right way, and my eyes locked to his. He knew I was there. Now I know why they call him the Fisher of Men: He just reeled me right in.

What do you say to the one who spoke a word and the universe was made? I sort of hung back, very embarrassed. Dealing with God is a lot easier when you can't see him.

Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?

Simon replied, I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.

You have judged correctly, Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.

Then Jesus said to her, Your sins are forgiven. (Luke 7:41-47 NIV)

In The Chronicles of Narnia, the Narnians always hug Aslan when he comes by. August as he is, they can't resist running their fingers through his glorious mane, standing where they can feel the heat of his body and the beat of his heart. Touching God? How can they?

A Pharisee, one of the lords of the city, invites Jesus to dinner. A woman wanders in, weeping, and her tears wash his feet. Then she wipes them with her hair. Touching God. What is this but worship? And yet it's such a strange idea. I've been well trained. God's in his distant heaven. Not for this woman. She knows he's there and does the only thing she can think of. Is he real? Is he here? I've touched him, she thinks. And he calls her forgiven.

God won't let me call myself names any more. If I start some sort of diatribe, the Holy Spirit steps in and stops it. It's sort of like the theory in self-improvement courses that whatever you call yourself is what you turn into, and there's some truth to it. The problem is in stopping the name.

I was with some friends one day. They've gotten into the habit, when one of them makes a mistake, of the other saying "You suck." After this had happened a couple of times, on Easter Sunday, no less, I said "How about we don't hear that word any more today." One of them responded with "Vunderbar!" and I could see it coming. Now, instead of saying "You suck!" they say "Vunderbar." Different word, same effect. A rose by any other name still has thorns.

There's also the problem that compliments are just as defining as insults. Compliments tend to lead people to do the act again that produced the compliment. Some people define me as a "great sand sculptor," but I prefer to just say that I'm a sand sculptor and leave the rest up to the audience.

Only God really knows who we are, and we're so full of our own names for ourselves that we have a hard time hearing his. It takes time, and discernment.

So, God names me forgiven and everything else comes from there. A friend sent me some encouragement, describing a story from the Gospel of John in which Peter tells Jesus he can't find a fish to save his soul and he'd been trying all night. Jesus tells him to try again, and this time they can hardly pull the net in, it's so full of fish. My friend pointed out that Jesus doesn't look at the past. Just because Peter had failed all night had nothing to do with what he could do after Jesus blessed him.

My life is full of failures that have come to define me in ever stronger terms. Unbreakable, until the Holy Spirit started working on them. Now the problem is getting used to success.

I was lying awake last night, thinking about limits and love. I draw careful circles around my behavior and do only what seems to be acceptable. Certainly wouldn't want to be caught being effusive or demonstrative in love or anything else. And yet another friend calls me "Blow Torch" because of the passion I demonstrate in sand sculpture and other things. Well, those are acceptable places for the demonstration of passion. Safe places. I can pour myself into the sand and no one will squawk.

What would happen if I were in a church, became overwhelmed by God's mercy and love, and started weeping uncontrollably? Best not to find out. What would happen if I met Jesus on the street, wept at the sight, fell on my knees right there in the crowd of an L.A. scene, and started washing his feet with my tears? It would all be justifiable worship, but where is it appropriate? I don't know.

I just don't like showing the effects of emotion. Turns me into a target for either do-gooders who believe that any display of emotion is too much, or those who see it as a problem and want to fix me. Worship has to fit within those safe bounds I've defined. I'm rather tired of that. Maybe I should learn to dance, or maybe sand sculpture is good enough.

The day is coming when I won't recognize myself. As the Holy Spirit continues his Larry Warming plan, the icepack thins and breaks up. Who knows? One of these days maybe I'll be able to tell him I love him, straight out like that. Right now the statement is hedged with logic and definite acts, the ice of knowledge. God made us with passion, and put his passion in us. I think it's coming to me. Watch out, world.

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