This Advent season I'll be sharing some thoughts on transformation, beginning today with excerpts from a homily delivered recently at the Spirit of St. Stephen's Catholic Community by my friend Cathy Heying.
Jesus tells us that if we are steadfast in love and faithful to his life of reconciliation and peace, we will not only survive, but we will thrive. We must be willing to stay with it, to not panic, to trust in Jesus. By doing so, not only we, but our world, will be transformed.
And, that, really is the hard part—being transformed. Change is difficult for most of us. Mark Twain once said that the only person in the world who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper! It is certainly true for me. One of the things I have been trying to work on about myself is my tendency to live life from a place of fear—I am often stuck in indecision because I'm afraid of the outcome and what the change will mean. I'm afraid that I won't be able to control whatever comes next or that I will regret the decision and have to live with consequences. I'm afraid that I will have to sacrifice things that I don't want to give up. Mostly this is on an extremely personal level, but it is true on a macro level as well.
Take, for instance, the work of dismantling racism. I'm a beneficiary of white privilege. I don't worry that when I go to a store that clerks will immediately suspect I'm there to steal. I don't worry that I'll be unjustly treated by the justice system. And, quite frankly, I like that. Who wouldn't? So for a long time I wondered if I could truly work to dismantle racism if that meant that I would have to give up my privileges that come with being white. Who on earth would want to do that? And then I realized that I was operating out of a place of scarcity, as if there was only so much justice and equality to go around. But the truth is, demanding racial justice for all people means that ALL people get the privilege and not just some, depending on their skin color. And so it is with God's love…it is abundant and rich and there is plenty for all of us. And we are all equally deserving of it.
Not only is the fear of the potential outcome of changing difficult for me, but so is the courage of endurance through the transformation process. In Greek, the word for end can mean either the destruction of something or its perfection. I believe that Jesus, in these end time scriptures, is calling us to perfection. But like many processes of perfection, it requires going through the fire. This summer I was on a motorcycle trip by myself. One night I found myself in Wyoming at a campsite in front of a fire. I was meditating and praying to be open to being changed. In the midst of that prayer, I opened my eyes and stared right at the burning log and it became clear that God was speaking to me in that moment. The log was in the process of transformation…It was light, warmth, color and sound—nothing like the rough piece of wood I laid in the fire circle. It was moving to a new form, the form of coal and ash. It had to go through the fire to get there and I heard God loud and clear saying, "You want to be open to change? Ok, this is what's required; be careful what you ask for!"
A few months ago, I decided that I also wanted to work on changing my body and so I have been doing a workout video almost every day. It has definitely been an experience of "be careful what you ask for"! Jillian Michaels is a fierce, intense trainer who cuts you no slack whatsoever. Most days I think she is the devil but she must be Jesus because I keep enduring with her! Her whole premise is that you have to push your body beyond what it is capable of doing—in essence you are retraining your muscles to be different. I believe it is like that with our spiritual lives too…we must push ourselves beyond what we believe we are capable of—it is the only way we will be transformed and therefore more whole, more holy, more healthy.
Jillian, in one of her sets, says, "I want you to feel like you're going to die." No problem there. But in essence I think this is what Jesus asks of us: I want you to live so justly, so Christian-like that you are persecuted to the point of feeling like you are going to die. It is the only way our bodies/souls/hearts/minds will change . . . by pushing ourselves so hard and so authentically that we are in pain, life is perilous, and we are pushed to our limit. And in the end, we are transformed into these spiritually fit, strong, unbending workers for justice and for the poor.
See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Jesus: Trail-Blazer of Radical Transformation
In the Garden of Spirituality – Eckhart Tolle
Image: "Transformation." (Artist unknown).