“As we hang beneath the heavens; And we hover over hell; Our hearts become the instruments we learn to play so well.”
From Nexus, by Dan Fogelberg
I thought of this verse as I was meditating on Richard Rohr’s book The Naked Now which is my current morning devotional book. He was talking about how we don’t really pray TO Christ. We pray THROUGH Christ, or better yet, he says, “Christ prays through us.” Then he added this lovely description, “We are always and forever the conduits, the instruments, the tuning forks, the receiver stations.”
Of course, I immediately thought of Fogelberg’s words about how our heart is the instrument that guides us as we float somewhere between heaven and hell, between that which is and that which is not yet, between life as it is and the kingdom as it will be. I wonder if our heart, more than our actions, is the bridge between the two.
When I was younger I was constantly trying to shape my life into something better, more mature, closer to the image of Christ. The assumption was that there was standard of perfection that existed somewhere outside of me and, if I could just see it, then I could discipline myself to become more perfected. Another way of saying it is that if I could name my personal pathologies I could also name the cure. If I could see what was wrong with me, then I could come up with a plan to make myself right.
I can’t tell exactly when that changed, but if my recollection is correct, I think it is when I began working with a spiritual director in my late 30’s. I remember being a little uncomfortable with it at first. My spiritual director refused to see my current behaviors, thoughts and feelings as a pathology. He treated everything that emerged from my heart–beautiful and ugly–as a gift. “It’s all good stuff,” he would say.
I spent three years with him and I fell in love with my own heart. I learned to love my fears, my anxieties, my passions, my desires, my hopes, and my despair. I learned to love my imperfections just as much as those areas where I had perfected life (okay, it was a very short list!). I learned to let Christ pray through my life and my craziness and my beauty and my ugliness and my every imperfection. I learned to let the honesty of my heart to become the instrument to which God had easiest access.
It was a wonderful revelation to discover that God loved this imperfect vessel just as much as God loved the image of perfection that I read in the Bible or carried in my head. “Just as I am without one plea,” became one of my favorite old timey hymns.
If this only applied to our individual lives, I really should leave it up to our congregational pastors to do that work. I should not assume that I am responsible for the spiritual lives of all 14,000 Presbytery of the Cascades members. That is more of a burden than I want to bear. I do feel some sense of responsibility, but this level of spiritual nurture is not really my task. My task is to work with our 96 congregations and support our pastors as they work with our individual members.
But I have been wondering if my discovery twenty years ago where I learned to address my challenges not through the language of pathology, but through the language of the heart, has as much to teach our congregations as it does each of us individually. I wonder if my personal lesson about seeing all the contradictions and complexity of my life as gifts rather than deficits has a lesson for our congregations too.
- What if all of our churches were already imperfectly perfect just as we are?
- What if we don’t have to become anything different than what we already are?
- What if we don’t have to become more Christ-like; we only have to let Christ work through our imperfect selves?
- What if God was as interested in our lack of faith as the presence of our unshakeable faith?
- What if our churches don’t need a cure from that which ails us, but only need to be loved for who we are today?
- What if “Just as I am without one plea” was not just a lovely hymn, but a whole orientation toward life?
I look back over the last forty years of my adult life (yes, I am that old!) and marvel at how much a difference it has made to view my life not through the language of pathology, but through the belief that I am okay “just as I am” right now.
One might worry that such radical self-acceptance would lead toward complacency, laziness and a laissez faire attitude. “Why work on self-improvement if I am already okay as I am,” we might ask. But I have noticed something—the more I believe that I am okay “just as I am” the more that God seems to set in motion the miracle of transformation.
I wonder if this is what Richard Rohr is referring to when he says, “We don’t pray to Christ” to make us better humans, “We allow Christ to pray through us.”
I am fine “just as I am.” We are all good “just as we are.”
Accept that and marvel at how much God transforms us into something else!
Besides being a very interesting article, Brian, I am impressed that you picked up on the absence of Malin’s church photo in the Omnibus. That feels good to me! ♥
I think it was Pema Chodron who said that the whole idea of self improvement was self abuse, or maybe she called it violence against ourselves. Perhaps “judge not” starts at home.