Recently, a clergyperson announced that there were rules in her denomination that excluded some people from full participation in the community and she could no longer abide those rules. She articulated that her understanding of her baptism was at odds with the way the church had organized itself and she couldn’t live with the dissonance any longer. The result of her public announcement was her removal from leadership positions within her denomination. She remains clergy, but no longer will sit on committees where decisions are made.
There are many ways to approach a life in Christ. Some people define themselves around the things they will or will not do. They set boundaries around a list of rules about the kinds of behaviors they will or will not engage, the types of people with which they will or will not associate. That is one way to approach life, but it does not define goals or dreams. Rules do not help us understand who we are or who we were created to be.
There are certain things we know we must do because they are innate to who we are and who God made us to be. Musicians come alive when they make music. Painters must paint. Computer programmers must code. There are things that bring us to life and awaken us to who we are and whose we are. The pursuit of this type of experience is an active participation in God’s creative and redemptive work.
When I hear this scripture, I remember how I was once a young person who surprised the adults in my life by my career choices, school preferences, friends or romantic partners. I think about how parents come to understand and appreciate the identities in their children that they hadn’t anticipated, the surprise of how the potential of that tiny infant explodes into adulthood.
As a parent myself, I now wonder how the identities of Jesus’s parents changed in the moment that they found their twelve year old son in the temple. Operating on auto-pilot, they had completed their traditional Passover celebration, and probably expected to go back to their everyday lives after returning to their home, but those plans are upended by the surprise that Jesus is not exactly the boy they thought he was. Did they grieve the loss of the son they thought they had? Did they celebrate the son they found in the temple? Did they praise him for his understanding? Did they scold him for the scare? Did they know their lives would never be quite the same again?
We punctuate our lives with feast days and celebrations, gently rocking our adult sensibilities to sleep with the worn patterns of ritual and tradition. We think we know what to expect in our lives, but what if we approached our expectations with a search for something, or someone, we thought we’d lost? What if we followed our anxiety to wonder at what we really needed? Who would we learn that we are? What would we find?
There are moments in our lives when we emerge from the slumber of “going through the motions” to realize we thought we knew what to expect for so long that we forgot to stop and wonder at what started our search. When we look up, we realize we’re not in the place we thought we’d be, and we’ve lost track of the people we thought we were with. We become anxious, and when we trace the root of our anxiety we renew the search for the truth we need. We come a little closer to knowing who we are. We come a little closer to knowing God. Tugging on these threads is like pulling on the heartstrings that lead to God, who gave you the spark that brought you to life and has known what would bring you joy before anyone else knew who you were. Trace that line. Find that song. Go on that journey. Be that person.