Sunday, January 16, 2005

A Laywoman's Lectionary: Come and See - For the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time (1/16/05)

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, "Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel."

And John testified, "I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God."

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, "What are you looking for?" They said to him, "Rabbi" (which translated means Teacher), "where are you staying?" He said to them, "Come and see." They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon.

One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter). (John 1:29-42) [NRSV]

Come and see.

We have to move, at least mentally, if not physically, to where Jesus is. Come.

We have to pay attention. And see.

Action and discernment.

I wish I had read this passage when I first joined my first church. As I've written before, I took that step without much forethought or understanding. Something moved me to suggest to my husband that we start attending a church, we chose one and went, and a month later were full-fledged members. It was kind of like joining a social club or organization. Nothing much was demanded, or even expected, of us.

Later, I felt critical of both myself and the church for that situation. As we were drawn into the life of the church, became part of a small group of like-minded church neighbors, served on committees and pursued educational offerings, I began to see that we were part of something huge. Something well beyond our understanding. Something to which nothing, so far as I could remember, in our brief membership classes, had even alluded. And so I was critical of myself for jumping in with both feet, and of the church for welcoming people with little knowledge of who they were or preparation for whom they were to become.
I took a long break from church. A really long break. Years. And when I returned, it was to a different church in a different denomination and, in reality, I was still taking a long break. I saw myself as engaged in a process of discernment, of spiritual awakening -- reading and writing and listening but not acting. I sat in the back, volunteered a little here and there, but mostly kept my own counsel and shied away from committment.

And then, one day, I had had enough of that and started taking the steps necessary to transfer my membership and become an active and engaged participant once again. And sure enough, as I realized to my chagrin somewhat later, I did exactly what I had done before: jumped in up to my waist without really paying attention.

In fact, I had paid so little attention to what I was doing that last fall I became highly critical of someone who had done the same thing. I was taking a graduate class on Spiritual Autobiography and one of our texts was Dorotny Day's The Long Loneliness. Dorothy Day is famous for her service to society's poor and discarded and her implacable pacifism. I didn't find much to like in Dorothy Day -- she struck me as a great lady, but not a friendly one. And I especially didn't like the way in which she converted to Catholicism, throwing herself blindly into it on the basis of a few masses and some tutoring by a nun, becoming confirmed in the church before she knew even a single Catholic layperson. My reasoning and lawyerly mind stiffened against the idea of an intelligent and insightful woman making such an impulsive and ill-informed leap into a life of faith.

Until I realized that I had done exactly the same thing.

(Not, I hasten to add, that I am comparing myself in any other way to Dorothy Day. I recognize genius when I see it and I'm not too worried that I have any hope of measuring up to hers.)
"Come," says Jesus. He doesn't "Think about it" or "Figure it out" or "Get a doctorate in theology first." He just says, "Come."

Quite and entirely by accident, both times I ahd joined a church, I had done exactly that. I had just come along, no differently than any of Jesus' orginal disciples. I had just come to where he seemed to be.

"And see." Once you get there, you have to be attentive to what you find.

And what is that, exactly? I'm stumped -- I don't know how to explain this. But when you begin to see with the eyes of Christ, things start to take on a different hue.

Don't get me wrong. I am no saint. In Catholic school we used to gossip about who was "holy" -- and I'm a realist, so I never had to contemplate being included in that group. As an adult church member, I know a lot of people who do a lot of good things for religious reasons, helping the poor, school children, the homeless. I know people who give away a lot of money. I know people who are active in politics -- in protests against the war, in the election, on behalf of gay rights -- as a result of their religious beliefs. I'm not any of those people. I am a totally average, overscheduled and overwhelmed suburban mom and teacher who can't manage to get either the Mastercard bill paid off or the kitchen floor washed. I have my fantasies about joing the Peace Corps when my children's college degrees are completed and their bills are paid, but I don't harbor illusions about experiencing a sudden infusion of energy and efficiency ten years from now any more than I expect it to happen this afternoon. So I can't talk about "doing" or "achieving." But I can talk a little bit about seeing.

Many years ago, I was out on a Christmas shopping marathon, charging down the aisles of a big-box chain toy store looking for gifts for unknown children, soon-to-be recipients of church largesse. Aisle after aisle of toy guns, military action figures, enough gear to outfit an entire National Guard Unit in plastic camoflauge and weaponry. That store looked very different to me as I contemplated celebrating the birthday of the Prince of Peace than it would have a few years earlier when Christmas was simply a major secular holiday for me. It felt like a poor place for me to be spending my money.

I have had to dig deep down into unknown territories to find a place of peace and forgiveness with respect to certain matters. (Actually, I'm lying. I'm not there yet. But I'm working on it.) Yesterday I was in a workshop in which we participants were asked to identify our favorite New Testament passage. I had no idea what mine might be and I was flipping through a Bible when it practically leaped from the page. "And Jesus said, 'There was a man who had two sons.' " The story of the Prodigal Son, the ultimate story of human forgiveness. Of course. When that story, or one like it, has come completely alive for you and you begin to understand what Jesus really meant by by mercy and forgiveness, you see things differently. Not comfortably, but differently.

As anyone who reads my other journal knows, my stepmother is very ill. Her battle against cancer has raised questions not uncommon in our society, questions having to do with quality of life, technology, and choice. Almost every person with whom I have discussed those issues describes one set of choices as "giving up." I don't see the decision to forego treatment that way at all. And I don't think that you have to have a specific religion or spirituality to conclude that the end of life, wherever it may lead, is a transition and that you are not "giving up" by coming to terms with that. You just need to see things differently. Not, perhaps, comfortably, but differently.

So, as it turns out, I was wrong to be critical of my former church for welcoming the delusionally innocent. I was wrong to think that Dorothy Day had moved too fast. I was wrong to think that you need to work out your faith before you get moving on it. You do not begin to see differently until you are in the midst of texts and preachers and friends who share that vision, until you are in a place where you can begin to practice it for yourself. Jesus know that; that's why he issued the invitation to follow him before offering a college course on exactly what that would entail. We begin simply by responding to the invitation.

Come. And see.

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