This is my body, peeled back, broken open for you.
In my palm blazed Suchness, a torn fragrant crust of What Is So.
Oh, Common One, you are so plain, so familiar, so simple that we miss you in our desire for some other novelty. We seek you in mystery, ritual, knowledge, magic – all the things we hope will take away our pain and imperfection. We think that if we can just become enlightened, then we will be one with you. But here you are, hurrying toward us, loving us so much, broken hearted, risking everything to be with us in our unenlightenment.
Jesus, you are things as they are. Here is where I meet you in such unassuming splendor and fullness. Over and over, as I bump up against imperfection, resistance, and fear I find you -
grinning at me, sanctifying the moment, redeeming in streaming satin rivers of Grace what is so.
When the dancer becomes the dance, the veil lifts. When the pray-er becomes the prayer, when nothing separates us from God – no self to comment, evaluate, compare – then the forms of prayer drop away and the heavenly hosts arrive packing picnic lunches and lawn chairs and settle in to watch the show.
Someone ought to open a School of True Belief where we could learn how to believe until there was nothing in us that was not a believer. Every June we could put on a recital. There we would solo in some show stopping number where we would cease watching what we are doing and just do it in the free spontaneous expression of the passion of our souls.
True believers are rare these days. There are many schools which teach us how to hone deceit and conceit to a fine art. To know nothing but Christ and him crucified, to be wholly available to God as God desires, one must be free of pretense. We cannot be pretending about what is real. Rather we must be full of faith in the context of the essential truths of our life.
Yet we learn by pretending. It may be a necessary step on the journey. Pretending may be evidence of both our unbelief, and our devotion. Through the gift of the ability to make believe we can try out and imagine what seems unimaginable. The foundation of spiritual growth and theological hope lies in the ability to risk into what doesn’t make sense or seem possible. A lot of the time we look like kids traipsing around in mom’s high heels and old prom dress. We smear on lipstick and crouch in the tree house being the squirrel sisters, famous ice skating stars and novelists. We giggle and sip Kool Aid from the stemmed goblets we stole from the kitchen. It is all a sham of course. Pretty soon Karen’s little brother will come around and throw tomatoes at us. But we are practicing the fine and awesome art of becoming our dearest dreams.
I remember the wild longing of age ten when I sat in the sun eating purple grapes, warm and sweet, spitting out the seeds at my brother. Summer was interminable and nothing ever happened except the daily routine of my hopelessly mundane family and Andy Griffith reruns. That longing took me to the cool dim corridors of the public library hunting ecstasy. I would haul home stacks of Nancy Drew mysteries and American Girl magazines and read about other times and places where Nancy motored about the countryside in her roadster and something more interesting than hanging out the wash and canning chili sauce was always happening.
Can we share in the wonder and deep need of the Great Pretenders? Can we cherish our vulnerability and say: “Go for it, pretend your hearts out! Go on. You be the Goddess of the Moon and I’ll be the Wise King. The back porch is our kingdom and the dogs can be our ladies-in-waiting. Here, you can walk on water and I’ll heal the sick.” Pretend and dress up and play until your dreams come true.
And this is how dreams come true. One day when you are playing, the ladies-in-waiting suddenly bolt, trailing their gowns made of old curtains across the lawn, to chase a squirrel. One day the Moon Goddess gets a mean streak and scribbles crayon all over your royal decrees. The castle you made of boxes gets rained on and the whole kingdom disintegrates. On a day like that, when all your pretending is exposed and you are just a little kid filled with an ache for bliss you cannot name, then someone like a Mother or a Father will come to you and pick you up and wipe your nose and tell you that you are beautiful just the way you are. And the wild hunger to be known and honored and loved for the Holy Child you are is at last met by the Holy Child of God.
And all the rules we made up when we were pretending will seem silly and useless. Like how you are supposed to eat your chips in your sack lunch first and save the gummy bears for last. How if you get home before your sister after school that means dad will take us out for a Dairy Queen after supper. How if you pray this way or believe that or wear this totem or light this candle things will turn out okay for you.
And then the very powerlessness and need of childhood that drove us to pretending in the first place, the very unacceptability of ordinary being, that tender vulnerability at the mercy of powers greater than us, and all that we did to impose sense and order – then that unfinished irredeemable self becomes the holy ground of redemption.
I do not know if our pretense amuses or offends God. I do know there is a time for us to stop pretending about what is not and bless what is. For when I stop acting out my fantasies and stay here to drink this cup poured out and eat the bread of this moment, then I meet Jesus, the one who came and keeps on coming into the world just the way it is, not to condemn it, but that it might be saved through him.
This post is adapted from my book Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are
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