When I was a child images of hell were used to frighten me into “good” behavior. The threat eventually had the opposite effect of what was intended. I was naturally a kind and loving child, if a bit spacy, but I became convinced that no matter how good I was I was going to wind up in hell. This froze me into an inability to be honestly present. I could not give of myself without second guessing my true intent.
I had a client once with a similar conviction. It’s hard to make any progress against this belief, because those who hold it harbor the suspicion that anybody who speaks against it is a pawn of Satan.
To get out of the trap, one has to explode one’s understanding of God. Unchaining God from that petty judgment stuff finally allowed me to take an unfettered breath. God is bigger than we can ever hope to imagine, more complex, more ambiguous and ever changing.
And so our best contribution to the state of the world is not necessarily anything that we have planned. God uses us for God’s purposes. In fact, God created each one of us to be a particular, unique instrument of love, joy, and beauty, just as we are. All we have to do to find what God calls us to be in the world is to figure out what, most deeply, we are.
In my studio is a rack of pens of many colors, shapes and sizes. I love them all. I can use each to make a very specific line or shape. These I can manipulate in many ways, blending, blotting, cross hatching, cutting away. If the pen in my hand were conscious and self-judging, it would make absolutely no difference to its usefulness in my hand unless, somehow, the self-judgment could stop the ink from flowing properly down the barrel of the pen. That would be a great tragedy, extremely frustrating to me, the artist.
My client now calls themself non-binary. They have found that one of their spiritual gifts is to explore deeply and live fully into being non-binary. They have accepted the trueness of their orientation and all it means for their unique understanding of the world. And they have challenged me to think of God as non-binary – an exercise that is joyful and liberating. The barrel of ink that is their core flows freely in the hand of the artist God.
When I reflect on the passage from Corinthians that is our second lesson for the day, I imagine a Body of Christ that is so diverse that every single one of us has a place in it, just as we are. Our spiritual gifts include not just the named functions like preaching and praying, but also the unnamed ones, like the way each of us responds to what gives us joy, and the creative ways in which we love one another in fully reciprocal relationships. To keep our barrels clean and the ink of our souls flowing, we need to keep learning about ourselves, allowing ourselves, and fighting for ourselves. We need to do the same for one another.
O Holy Incarnate God, present in all things, delighting in all beings, open our hearts to a full appreciation of ourselves and one another. In your Name we pray. Amen.