Playing the Part 

I remember back when I lived in Virginia I used to go to Blackfriar’s Playhouse pretty frequently because of the amazingly talented actors and authentic rendition of Shakespeare’s many plays. (If that makes me hopelessly nerdy in your eyes so be it!)

One night during a production of the comedy “The Merchant of Venice” I remember being struck by one specific actor. He was not the lead of the play. In fact, he was the opposite. He drew my attention because I realized during the course of the show that he played at least 6 different minor roles each with a different costume and having only a few sentences of lines.

I was especially impressed with his ability to keep up with that many characters because I knew that in his shoes I would have made colossal mistakes. Being a very dramatic adolescent with a lot of insignificant child acting under my belt, I imagine I would have walked on stage in the wrong costume or forgotten when I needed to be on stage or said the wrong line…  In short, I realized that a mistake in that role could have dramatically influenced the flow of the play and the overall quality of the show itself, even though the parts he played we’re deemed so insignificant that they only cast one actor to play them all.

Yet in a moment of theater magic, I was touched by the realization that without every single role in that show, without each minor character to offer a line of transition or deliver a message or provide a moment of comic relief the show would not have been everything it was that night.

We live in a world that has the terrible habit of trying to elevate the best of humanity to Divine heights. We “worship” leading men and leading ladies, the most athletic, the smartest, the richest, most influential, or the best looking. We place them on pedestals and endeavor to be like them, holding them as our models of achievement with our purpose in life tied to the degree of what we attain of that “glory.”

Yet, as often as the pride of humanity is flaunted as the satisfaction of our desires and a vindication of our existence I can’t help but stumble once more over my minor character actor and the nagging truth he pointed me towards. A truth that convicts me that this towering pride blinds to the humble reality of life, that in the quest to exalt the individual self we are blinded to our part in the whole story. Just like the minor characters each had a part to play in order for the show to go on, so too do we.

You and I are absolutely unique. Not only were we made by God we we’re made for a purpose and a glory that we cannot yet know as the story is still unfolding in time.  And I think a lot of joy gets lost in a quest for mere worldly glory for two reasons. First, because worldly glory does not satisfy and leaves one ever restless. Second, because it steals the dignity we inherently have from being made in the image and likeness of God by making that dignity conditional.

But I propose that this set of actors are wiser than our media pundits, celebrities, athletes and other influencers because when the show was over they each came out and took their bow with a smile on their face. While I’m sure they were content in their hard work and dedication to their craft which made the overall performance excellent, I think their true joy was not in being perfect but in knowing that they had been part of something amazing together, something that would not have been possible without each and every person on that stage playing their part exactly as they were meant to.

I think the joy of heaven, and the joy of life on earth, is not in finding ourselves but in finding God and realizing that not only is He perfect love, but He makes each and every one of us a part of that love. That our glory will be not a monument like a towering tombstone but a reflection like a mirror of the love we’ve chased after and at last embraced, the love we became by being loved first by God.

And I’m sure that whether we were a lead or held the door for them, whether we were noted for our poetic musings or for sheepishly cracking a joke, we will be perfectly content with our part once we see it in the light of that final vision and behold the majesty of Heaven, because “eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

 

Advertisements

Limitless

I recently read a really interesting article by R.R. Reno over at First Things talking about “What Mary Teaches” Mary in this instance referring to the Blessed Mother. If I ever endeavored to write an article about the things that Mary taught me I imagine it would quickly cease to be an article and instead become a colossal book. One that I would love to write…

All dreamy tangents aside, R.R. Reno’s essential point is that Mary is a realistic hope of what can be accomplished by God’s love, mercy, and grace. Born without original sin in a dogma Catholics refer to as the Immaculate Conception, Mary is a true masterpiece of God: a creature who perfectly responded to and cooperated perfectly with God’s grace while remaining completely human (not at all divine). She is now in Heaven body and soul as God promises we will one day also be.

This is a wonderful promise one that the author rightly points out gets dimmed in the skepticism and self-centeredness of modernity. However, the thing that struck me most about it was the horrible question that rose in my soul.

Yes, as I was reminded by the author of the universal call to holiness and remembering that a desire for holiness and expectation of God’s abundant graces are not unrealistic nor delusions of grandeur but the fulfillment of the promise of God and His design for humanity, the horrible question rose and it lingered:

What sort of limits do you place on that love? What sort of limits do you place on that grace?

Because here is the horrible truth I was forced to confront. God places no limits on His love for me, but I place many limits on the love I’ll accept. Whereas God is love and longs to lavish His mercy in my own pride and timidity I insist on accepting instead only small graces, more in line with what I feel I deserve which, to be honest, most days isn’t very much. Whereas God calls me to greatness and remarkable feats of holiness, I think of my many weaknesses and the shame of who I’ve been and accept only an ordinary destiny afraid not only to be great but afraid to even think that sort of greatness is possible.

Yet, believe it or not, I’m glad I read the article and even recommend you do too because had I not read it I might still be imagining the limits I was accepting as coming from God instead of coming from me. And what a tragedy it would have been to accept my own forgetfulness, to conform to the image of our material world, to believe that fallen things stay fallen and never rise again, when the limitless love of God stands ready and waiting in every moment to make me new, to make me something great. Because with God greatness is not marked by achievement or fame or fortune but by the thing I’ve always wanted: a complete oneness with perfect Love, an everlasting union with God Himself.

The Surrender

I confess I have a love-hate relationship with my desk at work. It’s very modern: thin, sleek and totally white (think “just had my teeth whitened” white). You can very much tell that it, like all our other office furniture, comes from Ikea.

The advantage is that it really brightens up my tiny office.

The disadvantage is it shows every speck of dirt and for a neat freak like me this is sometimes challenging.

And I realized the weird paradox that some days when I notice that the cleaning crew has neglected to actually clean (this happens a bit we are in the process of replacing them) I wish that my desk was black or gray or wood or some other darker, more standard looking office desk so that I could be blissfully unaware of the dirt because there is only so much I can do with a Clorox wipe (I am totally that person) and now that it’s older, purchased very near my start date almost two years ago,  it almost never looks totally clean to me.

As I’ve been in the midst of the season of Easter I was hoping to coast off the discipline of Lent into Easter joy. However, I’m finding that the same feeling of dogged perseverance as if I stumbled over rather than walked across the finish line continues, namely because my quest for holiness continues. Rather than coast in Easter joy, I’ve been fighting off the temptation of feeling like a lousy return on everything Jesus died to give me (completely overlooking His selflessness which demands no return in the process).

And with a wry and weary smile this afternoon as I was scrubbing the stains off my desk I realized that in a way I’m a lot like my desk because those sins and weaknesses that cling to my soul the way the smudges and other marks cling to my desk don’t blend in. It is clear that when the messiness of life happens both the desk and my soul ought to be restored to their original glory rather than conform to the imperfect state of uncleanliness simply by virtue of how they each were designed to be bright.

In my ongoing quest for holiness, I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like the light of God’s love is so deep within that it’s actually casting out all my weaknesses and making me new. It’s not that this love is transforming me into an unrecognizable person but rather that the more I accept God’s love the more I feel like myself and the more I experience a greater freedom to love the way I desire to love. As hard as this stretching process can be, as much as it sometimes feels like I’m fighting against my own habits and personality, as much as in my impatience I get tempted to rely on my willpower rather than God’s grace I feel like the greatest growth in the spiritual life, at least for me, comes not just from success but in learning how to successfully fail.

Because it is from failing so frequently that I must practice how to gracefully surrender (which is the antithesis of my natural personality in case that wasn’t clear).

I have to surrender my sin and weakness to the mercy and love of God which is humbling, I have to surrender what I can’t control to God’s providence which is hope, I have to surrender my own understanding which is faith, I have to surrender my aspirations and my past in order to live in the present moment which is communion with God.

As much as I sometimes want the challenges that necessitate this surrender to go away, I realize without them there wouldn’t be the same opportunity to surrender to God in order to know His love better, to decrease that He might increase, that I’m trying to embrace it which I admit feels like the strangest, most counter-cultural thing I’ve ever done (and I’m a pretty strange person).

So just like you can tell that my desk comes from Ikea I hope you see from my life, even if it’s just from the struggles and my failures and my poorly titled blog posts about them, that my home is in Heaven and that’s where I hope to return someday.

Until then pray for me!