My son Greg can become exasperated with me. As a young adult, he is concerned naturally with social acceptance, and seeks for answers to the problems of his generation in the conventional wisdom brought forth from the past. When he has had enough of my contrary pronouncements, he retorts:
You speak with a great deal of assurance, Dad!
Yes, who am I, to assert that I know better than all these others?
For me, the situation is far more ambiguous. My assurance is necessary to those that I attempt to comfort. To those seeking hope, how else can one speak? They need to believe that you believe in the choices that you are offering them.
But to believe that you represent the truth is far different than believing in one’s own authority.
To those familiar with the Yu Gi Oh cartoon series, I can offer a meaningful image. In the cartoon, the young hero finds himself in conflict with evil, and struggles to the limit of his abilities to overcome it. In the lurch, a larger self – ancient, powerful and wise beyond any human reckoning – comes to the fore.
Thus, to my intimates, I speak of myself variously as a “test particle” or “bait” or “a point of contact” or “a beneficiary of a privileged perspective.” So I’ll be dreaming about a troubled baptist, and suddenly I’ll see the scene as though looking over my shoulder and another presence asks “Is that you, John?” I’ll be driving to the aquatic center and have a cardinal from 400 miles away land on me with shame and grief regarding the priestly pedophilia scandal. I’ll wake up at midnight to a pope announcing “I am your father, and I am going to die and leave all this power to you.” I’ll be listening to the opening lyrics of He Reigns, allowing my mind to wander over the continents, and a Muslim leader shows up to say “Here’s another billion people for you to manage.”
To those that don’t understand the challenges of loving, this might seem all very exciting. Having carried the heavy burden of being blamed for things done in my name, to me it’s far more ambiguous.
There are two great challenges to loving, which is to grant strength to the loved one. The first is when the recipient does not adhere to the constraints of loving. Loving them is thus to empower them to hurt others. In consequence, unconditional love moves through our lives like the tide, peaking higher when we honor its constraints, and ebbing when we violate them. The mechanism of this operation is for love to love all things so that it feels the wrongs we commit, and transfers its ministry to those we have wounded. In seeking to serve ourselves, we are indeed our own worst enemies.
The second challenge is far more painful. It is to find the beloved surrendering themselves to us, becoming merely extensions of our personality rather than beautiful manifestations of infinite possibility. A loving personality is surrounded by grateful recipients of love’s strength, and that gratitude amplifies their influence. Unless such a lover is tender, it can overwhelm the weaker links that bind together the beloved, scattering its elements to the spiritual wind.
It is for these reasons that Jesus proclaimed himself as a servant, and testified as to his humble heart.
As if this wasn’t difficult enough, this little pseudo pod of Christ is wrapped up in hostility. The important work to be done is in “binding” and “loosening” things in the spiritual realm, and my interactions with them are at best tenuous. Thus I dream of the great flocks of birds I knew in my childhood, and finding, upon walking out to the deck, that a ravenous dragon is arising from the spot in the ground from which the birds arise. At an Easter service, I cupped my hands around the sun and spread its influence, only to encounter in the asteroids an echo of the ancient cry of grief “No! Don’t kill him!” I receive a visit by an emissary of the two-dimensional race represented as the eye in the pyramid, asking for assistance to travel across the Milky Way, and am warned six months later that the gift of energy caused the output of the sun to drop by ten percent. Or wake, much as I was waken by the pope, to find myself in the midst of a perfectly spherical personality, only to be guided across a great void to a tiny speck, the “most precious place” in its realm, the “only place where life is found”, and to be told “I want to help, but even the smallest mistake would be disastrous. I need people to guide me.”
When I was introduced to the modern interpretations of Revelation, I was told that the first beast, numbered 666, was man. Man, the creation of the sixth day, believing in his own power and being humbled by failure. But not only man was created on the sixth day: in the morning came the livestock. So the correct category is mammalia. This is also the fourth, greatest beast of Daniel’s dream. It is the intelligence of man in service to the destructive Darwinian instincts of our evolutionary predecessors.
The enemy of the beast is the man with the flashing sword of truth coming from his mouth. The birds are his allies. In Daniel’s dream, he is granted dominion over the power of the “Ancient of Days.”
As when he first came, I recognize that Christ – the human perfected by unconditional love – can only become those things that he is allowed to be by those he serves. While he proclaimed his authority in the earlier era, in this era it will be to each of us to proclaim the authority of love in our lives – and thus to receive him as lord in our hearts. He is not our ruler, he is our example. And he is very, very, very close.
Take comfort. Take heart. None are forgotten, even those held captive by those that take refuge in the darkness. There is no hiding from the glory of the light that he brings.