I’m a big fan of fantasy fiction. One reason (out of MANY) is that there is something incredibly appealing about the thought of having magical powers or superhuman abilities. Not only would they make life much more interesting, but they would also make life much more efficient. If only we could teleport from one place to another without wasting the time in a car/plane/walking. If only I could clear up all the mess in the kitchen with one snap of a finger. If only I could super-speed read and devour 100s of books a week. Life would be so much better if things could be accomplished in an instant, if we could skip the time-wasting and get to the good stuff.
In leaving a stressful job to join a peaceful monastic community, I wasn’t signing up for my anxiety problems to rear their ugly heads again – I came here for the good stuff. But surprise surprise, they’re back. And so, over the last few weeks I’ve spent a large portion of my time both wishing and praying that God would stop wasting time and use some of his supernatural powers to efficiently ‘zap’ me, to change me in an instant, to renew my mind in one fell swoop so that I could crack on with other things. Surely the conditions are right for this display of the supernatural – I’m in Lambeth Palace crypt, I’ve been silent A LOT, I’ve read the go-to bible verses, I’m taking part in liturgical worship morning, noon and night and I’m wearing a white alb. Seriously, what more does a girl have to do to get a zapping around here?! It would save both me and God a lot of time.
Whilst we’re on the subject of the inefficiency of God, I’ve often been curious about what was going on when his redemption plan for man-kind was being formulated. I’m 100% down with the idea that some sort of intervention needed to be staged, but was all the drama of the Gospel story really necessary? Surely a good old ‘zapping’ would have been a good idea here too? God could have pointed his genie-like finger, sparks of raw power could spring forth and everything could be sorted out in a moment. God could have dealt with everything with much more efficiency than spending 30+ years on Earth before popping back up to Heaven for a while before he comes again for the final instalment. We’ve all been in meetings where a group brainstorming session got out of hand – was it all just the product of a bad day in the Trinity’s board room?
A large part of me would love to read the Gospels, or to pray and discover Jesus as a superhero, genie or high-wizard type figure that stood apart from humanity and brought transformation in a great magical firework display. Instead I find a man, who lived in real time in a real place. He ate food, went to the loo (like Enid Blyton*, the gospel writers left this out of their narratives, but I think it’s a safe assumption to make), had friends and needed naps. He was God incarnate – rather than standing apart from humanity waving a magic wand, he entered into the brokenness, pain and injustice of the world. He travelled with people whilst teaching them about the Kingdom of God, he held people as he healed them, he was executed alongside criminals. He took the long way round. Romans 14v9 says ‘Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living’. I wonder if here, Paul is expressing that Jesus’ Lordship and therefore his transforming power can only be asserted over the places and people that he visits – or incarnates.
In absence of a quick-fix solution to my own brokenness, I’ve had no other option but to also take the long way round. I’ve had to really look at it. I’ve had to visit feelings, thoughts and events that have contributed to it in some way. But I haven’t been doing this alone. Jesus is taking the long way round with me, also visiting those places, shining his light onto them in order that his Lordship and transforming power can be asserted in them. Jesus, the incarnate God, has entered into my brokenness with me. In a very real sense, I am not alone. The Lamb of God is with me,
This realisation, this incarnation, has helped me to shift focus from wanting to be ‘zapped’ by a genie-like God to wanting to journey with the person of Jesus, the Lamb of God. I want to allow God incarnate to inhabit every part of me and therefore transform it, piece by piece. I’ve realised that God is not interested in efficiency and slap-dash approaches. He cares too much to do a surface-level clean. He desires a transformation of our whole selves – not just the surface level parts we want him to deal with because they’re getting in the way of the ‘good stuff’. Instead of a zapping, Jesus invites us to learn His ‘unforced rhythms of grace’ (Matthew 11, Message translation). Rhythm suggests music and dance – two things that are beautiful to take part in but both require a combination of surrender and learning in order to enter into someone else’s composition. Rhythm implies movement. Biblical imagery of life in God frequently uses rivers and fountains: bodies of water that aren’t static but flowing.
Zapping, life-hacks, instant, efficiency, accomplish. These words speak of the life-draining, task-orientated approach to spirituality that we can get sucked into when we see God as a Dumbledore-esque figure. This road often leads to disappointment, burn out and resentment. Rhythm, music, dance, fountain, river, flow. These words speak of the life-giving voyage of becoming that we are invited to take part in day by day, year by year when we see Jesus as the incarnation as God – dwelling with us in our humanity, transforming us from one degree of glory to another. It’s not efficient, but it is beautiful. This, not the end point, is the good stuff.
Rhythm, music, dance, fountain, river, flow.
*Seriously, anyone who has read the Famous Five will know that there was no mention of a toilet being available on Kirin Island. WHERE DID THEY GO?!