If we are willing to do it, daring to look at ourselves reveals what God sees and has always seen; our internal gazing makes us understand divine patience and the gift of grace in new and profound ways.
Some people live full lives, but far too many people merely survive; they get up in the morning and go through a routine, returning home to prepare to do the same thing one more time. The “religion of creation,” a phrase used by Wes Howard Brook to describe what Jesus the Christ brought to this world, encourages us to lean on the arms and the teachings of Jesus, as opposed to acquiescing to the temptation to adopt the ethos of the religion of empire, which demands that we lean on the state. In leaning on the state, we learn to survive because we have to learn that or perish, but in our learning, too many of us forget that God wants us to survive, yes, but to push past the barriers the state and we ourselves put up before us, and thrive, so that we can “taste and see that the Lord is good.” God did not put us here merely to “get by.” God put us here to inhale the beauty of God’s holiness and thus, be inspired to become our best selves, warts, weaknesses, mistakes, and all.
It is risky to thrive; thriving demands that we take chances. It demands that we learn to forgive ourselves and to use our pasts as part of the roadmap for how we move forward. Thriving means we develop a closeness with God that keeps us with our ears and hearts inclined toward God so that we can what and who we really are, and thus accept and cherish grace all the more.
Howard Thurman said that the religion of Jesus is a technique of survival for the oppressed. The presence of Jesus is a lethal weapon against the propaganda that the state wields against the oppressed, propaganda which includes the state’s opinion that those who are oppressed are somehow less than human and thus deserving of the second-class treatment they receive.
When we are in survival mode, we accept the state’s opinion, but something glorious happens when we look inside ourselves, with the Christ guiding us, and see that in spite of our issues, that we truly are fearfully and wonderfully made. At that moment, we can hear the voice of God affirming us, regardless of what the world, our parents or anyone else has said against us. As we hear the divine affirmation of God, we understand that we can and must begin to use who we are and what we are to please God. In so doing, we please our spirits, which yearn to soar above and pass those things, people, and situations which have historically convinced us that we have little to offer.
The late Katie Geneva Cannon wrote “All interactions either encourage wholeness or brokenness. All experiences either nourish religious exposure to truth or snuff it out. Oneness with God progresses from outward life to the inward life, to outward life in community. ”When we take the risk of looking inward, risking being shocked at what we learn about ourselves, we put ourselves to be in the position to be freed from the enslavement of self-hatred and self-doubt. We take risks; we look for the wings within us which God put there at the moment of our creation, and we decide that we are ready to fly.
I sometimes get the feeling that God is waiting – for me, for sure, but also for a lot of people to get out of their canoes, their safe places, in which they have survived for so long. Nobody pleases God by surviving. Nobody even gets to experience the joy of faith by deciding to stay safe. Nobody has the strength to challenge injustice by deciding to stay safe. Deciding to remain safe might be called selfish because we opt to incubate our own insecurity rather than to look beyond ourselves and do what God has gifted us to do to help “the least of these.”
In this current political season, merely surviving is not enough. God needs us to thrive, to try God in a way we never have before. Those who decide to continue to survive will never move from the side of the pool, but those who decide that they want to thrive will jump into the water of life, often so deep that they have to lean on God in ways they have never before. In so doing, they will learn and rejoice at the knowledge that God’s love for us and belief in us did not evaporate because we have fallen short so many times. It is in the decision to thrive that we feel the power of God’s love most acutely.
God is waiting for more of us to jump into the water, to get out of our boats and jump into places and spaces we have feared thus far. God will be there to help us learn to tread water and survive in our new normal, but then God will let us go and watch us as we move forward with the undertow which wants to bring us down and bring the sunshine of newness into our lives, we, who are thriving for the first time. And God will rejoice.
Amen and amen.