seeing jesus

From the the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

From the the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

It’s been months since Holy Week, and the weeks of ordinary time drag on, very ordinarily, very humanly, with their rhythms of work and food and sleep. The in-breaking kingdom of God feels more like a dream I had, that’s faded, and only sometimes returns to mind. I see ordinary things all around me, like a mossy green 70s recliner, and theology books, and a worn out refrigerator, and ordinary people, like the college students and immigrants with whom I share the sidewalk. And I think, Where is God in all this? Where is Jesus?

Jesus. Several nights in the past few weeks, I’ve lain awake, remembering the glimpse of Jesus I had on Good Friday, and weeping for his return. I knew this day would come, and so I had wept then too. Jesus was then (oh, where have the words fled?) full of sublime compassion, on his knees, beckoning to me. His beauty was wild, wild like the allure of a forest that can be explored without end. His beauty was also love, love like water quenches a fiery thirst, pure water after a long, hot hike, cooling your throat, running down your chin, splashing your clothes, and then like jumping in an icy, frothy creek for the pure joy of cool relief. C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory says, “We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” Yes, to be united with it, with Jesus (Oh, Jesus), is why I wept and I weep. And I knew this day would come, when Holy Week was over and I had lost sight of him again. Now it seems like I’m left with the mossy green 70s recliner and trying to make sense of how it and the refrigerator relate to Jesus.

I’ve often wished that I had lived in the first century, in Palestine, that I was Mary or Martha, or even the woman with the hemorrhage (no, that’s a lie), so that I could at least breathe his air or brush past his clothes.  If only I could spend a day getting covered in his dust. If only I saw his face, I’d finally know him. But would I?

What if Jesus was, after all, human, like the kid next door whom you never thought was anything special? What if you looked into his eyes, and saw love, yes, but human love? What if you looked into his eyes, and couldn’t see God? Maybe this is why thousands of Jews ate his divinely multiplied lunch, and then, just went home. Maybe this is why not even the disciples seemed to know who their Rabbi was. In Matthew’s gospel, chapter 16, Peter finally gets it, finally declares, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” and Jesus says, “Happy, blessed, are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but my Father in the heavens.” Peter’s eyes, it seems, his flesh and blood and brain, weren’t enough to reveal Jesus to him. To see Jesus as he is? That kind of revelation only comes as a gift from the Father.

Whether we are first century Jews brushing past Jesus on a crowded street, or twenty-first century Americans studying him in theology books, to see Jesus, really see him, requires the eyes of faith all the same. Ordinary time, human time, with its ordinary, human things, and ordinary human people, can be for us the sacrament of the kingdom of God, of the presence of God, just as the presence of God came in what we saw to be an ordinary human in first century Palestine. We must pray for an apocalyptic opening of our eyes, for faith, that good gift of revelation from the Father. Jesus says to his disciples, “Ask, and it will be given to you… because if you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him!”

Let us pray, “Let your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” and also for the eyes to see it.


offering issac

The Sacrifice of Isaac, Juan de Valdés Leal

The Sacrifice of Isaac, Juan de Valdés Leal

I’ve always left the doctor’s office discouraged. I haven’t felt good or strong in years, despite getting as much nourishment and rest as I can, and doctors can never figure me out. It’s always something “idiopathic,” which I think means, “All in your head.” Well, I finally met a good doctor, who listened, and told me I was in the wrong place. Find a neurologist, he said. What do neurologists treat? I didn’t know.

They treat Multiple Sclerosis. That one thing that one doctor wanted to test for over three years ago. That was the time that I didn’t listen. Multiple Sclerosis? No, not me. Multiple Sclerosis? Well, it could fit.

So I saw the neurologist, prompted by that week of headaches that never seemed to end, and I filled out her never ending questionnaire. She was a tiny, Chinese woman, with a bright smile, and a cheerful giggle. She tapped my knee with her toy hammer, and giggled. She tapped my knee with her tiny fingers, and giggled harder. My leg shot out like a horse in a derby, and I giggled too. I had never known why doctors play with those toy hammers before now.

I could barely make out “central nervous system,” and I don’t know what else she said, but those two letters, M and S, are still echoing in my mind. “Get an MRI, and if it’s abnormal, you come back to see me, and if not, you’re fine.” She popped out of her chair with an exuberant smile and showed me the door.

The past few weeks had been scary. Weak, tense muscles so that I couldn’t wave my palm branch or stand for the whole liturgy. Tingly patches in a few fingers and toes, and, awkwardly, my butt cheek. The right side of my lips sending electric shocks at a gentle touch. Trembling knees on the stairs. An unnerving twitch down my right side. Ringing in my ear, loss of balance. And those headaches that wouldn’t end. (Not everything at once, of course, lest you think I’m miserable!) Then there was the question: Could this be the rest of my life?

I have this pet imaginary future, in which I climb mountains and wrestle with my kids, and I’m a teacher and I show up to my classes to teach. But who would employ a girl who needs this many sick days?

A few hours after the visit with the neurologist, I was immersed in liturgy. It was Holy Week, and throughout that week, we kept returning to Abraham, climbing the mountain with his precious son and wrestling him onto the altar. God’s promise to Abraham, that son Issac, was Abraham’s future and his very life. When Abraham sunk into Sheol, what would his life mean, if not for Isaac, and then Jacob, and Jacob’s sons? God was asking Abraham to offer up his life.

But Abraham trusted God.

After I had heard the story a few times, I realized that God was asking me, too, to offer up my health, yes, my very life, to him. I said yes. Peace overflowed, and still overflows. It was a moment of faith, and I felt triumphant. I know, however, that my faith is far from complete. Yesterday’s moment of faith asks obedience of the rest of my life. Oh Lord, help me when I say no. Oh Lord, I am always saying no.

James says, “Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”

May my faith, as I face this possible diagnosis, and offer up my physical strength to God day by day, be made complete, too.