Thursday, May 7, 2009

Addendum to Imitation

On the imitation theme, from an old newsletter article...

O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the Spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
From The Book of Common Prayer, p125.

My wife is a terrible challenge to me.

Let me explain.

Today I write from the Mustang Island Episcopal Conference Center, at a program for newly ordained clergy of the diocese. That, anyway, is my professional explanation for how, some seven hours ago, I found myself walking the beach, just a tad before sunset, dabbling at my photography hobby, and singing songs through the air to our God. Birds danced around me; sunlight burned the sand a gentle orange--which only made the waters seem more blue. It was not just peaceful; it was peace.

But then, as I turned to walk the just-more-than a half-mile back to camp, a single piece of sand-covered trash--litter--caught my eye. No sooner did I register the thought and I was three steps past it. “If only I had seen it two steps sooner,” I began to rationalize. And then, by way of hypothetical observation and cerebral instinct, I thought too, “You know, if Rebekah were here--even now, eight steps beyond it--she’d turn back. She’d pick it up.” And so I did; before my brain had time to think my lived response, I turned back for the trash.

I was--am--humbled, without resentment. It’s funny, in that moment, guilt was not my motivation; now, as I tell it, pride is not my satisfaction. (Indeed, after that moment of reflective action, I abruptly realized that I had committed myself to the other trash around me, too--my walk became much longer.) Instead, that vesper instant joined me to the person--the living witness--of one whose love undid me. Stripped of every thought save thankfulness and love, the words of Scripture filled me: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

It is said (by St. Paul, among others) that we learn the Kingdom of our God by imitation. But listen close, also, to a second paraphrase of Paul: we cannot imitate the virtues of the Kingdom and remain apart from love. That is, you and I, we do not imitate at distances, hoping, as it were, that we might somehow get, acquire, the qualities we covet in God’s saints. No, the objects of our imitation are not so self-contained--but they exude the love of Christ.

Repeatedly, I have known--been challenged by--this love in the person of my wife--but not only in her person. You, also--each of you, and together--consistently make demands on my imagination for Christ-like-ness. You challenge me when you remember the homeless on days I’d forgotten; when your joy in our worship re-inspires my own; when you model forgiveness and, on other days, seek it; when, as in Bethlehem, you walk out into visions you can’t yet perceive--and do so with joy, that our joy might be shared.

I wonder: how has imitation shaped you in this place? Do you find the holy friends whose imitation draws you closer both to God and one another? When, in our common life, do you feel the clenched fists of the lives we control held out flat, opened wide, to the Spirit of God in our midst? How, here, has loved shaped you, even beyond your own desire to be shaped?

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