at the deepest part of who I am it is joy and hope
About a year ago, some dear friends of mine learned that a good friend of theirs, Brad, had died very suddenly at a very young age. Just nine days before his death, Brad posted this on Facebook:
I am a Christian because fundamentally at the deepest part of who I am it is joy and hope (and yes charity). An excitement about seeing the mystery of God played out in humanity, an embrace of this thing called life that carries us on (sometimes unthinkingly) into rapids that turn us over, kick us out of seminary, redeem us, set our feet on different paths…Love at its root is joy–joy for the other, joy at the magnificent, infinite God…It is joy that saves us. Only joy.
Whether we are given many days to live or too few, we don’t often stop to consider why we are Christians, and where we have seen God at work in our own lives—or even where we still aren’t sure! Why are you a Christian? What is the meaning of your life and how do you make sense of the challenges that are so clearly a part of living?
We are called an Easter people—those who have journeyed with Jesus through death and into resurrection. Too often people today think of resurrection as what happens after we physically die. This concept emerged only after the Roman Empire co-opted Christianity in the 4th century. The Empire had no interest in the ongoing transformation of human beings, for that would have challenged the status quo of power and stability. Exactly as Jesus himself did. So in order to maintain the benefits of State protection, the Church began shifting its understanding of resurrection to something that we hope for after we die, assuming we follow the rules of those in power in the meantime.
That was a far cry from the way Jesus lived and the way the early followers understood resurrection. For roughly three hundred years, Christians understood that following Jesus meant embracing a new way of living this life. It meant continually letting go of things they thought were essential in order to experience the freedom to live this life—in the midst of persecution and hardship—free from fear. And their joy was infectious as many embraced this way of transformation here and now. And through the millennia mystics and saints have continually lifted up this understanding of what it means to be faithful: to follow Jesus’ way means making a commitment to die to our old ways of seeing, and learning to see and understand how to live in new ways.
Richard Rohr refers to this process of ongoing transformation as the search for our True Self. It takes extraordinary courage to let go of our false self and all that it works to protect. Rather than ask,Why is this happening to me? What would happen if we asked, What is happening to me and how do I participate in it as fully as I can? The central question becomes whether we trust in the goodness of God to bring about something life-giving—some resurrection—out of every hardship, every pressure, every failure, every ending. Rohr says what ultimately emerges from this process is who we truly are—Immortal Diamond, in his book of the same name, which I highly recommend.
An important step in the process is learning to reflect on our own lives, noticing where the movement is, where we might see threads of the Holy One leading us to claim our True Selves more and more. Therein we find the Joy. One of my favorite times of the year is when we share in something called Easter People —where members of our community share their stories. Come listen and reflect with Bob, Louise and Jamie on these next three Sundays. And join me in praying this prayer found in the Daily Prayer for All Seasons:
God our Deliverer, by water and the Holy Spirit, we have been buried with Christ and raised to the new life of grace: Give us inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.
Hope to see you on Sunday,