Gary, Linda, and Aurora (Homily)
November 25, 2007
Christ the King
The other day someone made a comment to me that really got under my skin. I don’t think he meant it to. But I took it as a criticism and it really bothered me and I spent the whole weekend doubting myself and questioning myself.
And at a certain point I stepped back and thought, wow, how easily I fall apart! How much I still care about what other people think, even after all this time!
The next week Jim Dewey shared this quote with me, from Thomas Merton:
“How do you expect to reach your own perfection by leading someone else’s life? You must have the humility to work out your own salvation in a darkness where you are absolutely alone. It takes heroic humility to be yourself and to be nobody but the person that God intended you to be.”
Jim didn’t know about my recent inner struggle. He didn’t know that he was God’s word to me that day. But he was.
And this is my way into the feast of Christ the King and the gospel today. Because whatever else is going on on the cross, whatever else it means, Jesus is leading his own life up there. He is working out his own salvation in a darkness where he is absolutely alone, with a humility that’s finally not just heroic but divine, and he’s doing that entirely ignoring the taunts and the sneers of the people around him, entirely ignoring the thief on his one side.
He’s not living the story that the people want him to live because he knows it’s not real. It’s the story of power, and that’s not his story. The people label him. They call him names. But those names are not his true name and he knows that. He knows who he really is, and who we are, too.
I think of this friend of mine, in my yoga glass, Gary. He’s in his early sixties, a retired bus driver who lives with his mother. And he’s a wonderfully gentle and caring man, the kind of man you just want to be around.
I think of the lady who cuts my hair, Linda. She’s single, too. My age. Just a hair stylist in a little town in Oregon. But she’s full of stories and kindness and insight, full of faith, and she’s a very good hair stylist, too, and like Gary she seems to me to be an example of someone who not only serves others but who is first of all herself. Not what anyone else wants her to be. Herself. That’s where her joy comes from, and her freedom, and you can feel it when you’re around her.
I think of one of the secretaries in the English Department, Aurora. A woman in her early sixties, I guess. She doesn’t have a Ph.D. She never calls attention to herself. She never gets her name in the department newsletter. But she seems to me to be completely at home in her own skin and so open to others when they come to her. She has, again, a gentleness. A kindness. She is, simply, who she is, and because she is, she calms the people around her. She encourages them.
And then there are all these other people out there, all these other people we’re supposed to admire, supposed to think are “kings” or “queens,” the people the media celebrate, football heroes or movie stars or whatever, all the type A’s and all the successes, in any fields, the hard chargers, the alpha males and the alpha females, all the taunting thieves on the wrong side of Jesus, and we let these people get to us, we let this story of power and all this hype about power distract us and co-opt us and tell us who we should be, too. And we ignore the Gary’s and the Linda’s and the Aurora’s, the people we actually might want to be around, the people we should really be like--the humble ones, the caring ones, like the thief on the other side, the one who asks Jesus to take him to paradise.
I guess the question is, which side of the cross do we want to be on? Which thief do we want to be?
Which voice do we want to listen to in our heads? The voice of cynicism and self-doubt, or the voice of confidence and hope?
I know I’ve already talked about this at least once and probably more times. But Anthony DeMello makes this striking analogy. He’s says that we’re all like drug addicts and that the drug we’re addicted to is the drug of approval. What we fear most deeply are the taunts of others, however politely disguised, and we live our lives trying to avoid those taunts, trying to be who other people want us to be.
Think of how happy we are when someone compliments us. They say they like our sweater. They laugh at our joke. And somehow, irrationally, we let that change our whole world, as if the air is different or our task is different or the day is different because of those silly words. As if somehow we are the sweater we’re wearing or the joke we made. As if somehow we don’t matter except in someone else’s eyes.
A good definition of an enlightened person, according to De Mello: “a person who no longer marches to the drums of society, a person who dances to the tune of the music that springs up from within.” That’s Jesus, on the cross. Even on the cross.
At the top of the mountain of Purgatory, purged of all his sins, Dante is “crowned and mitred Lord of himself.” Jesus is crowned and mitred on Calvary.
He is the King of Glory because first of all he is the king of himself. He knows who he is and he is who he is. Which is to say, he knows that God is in charge, not that jeering thief, not the newspapers, not CNN, not the gossip, not the performance review, not the divorce lawyer, not the model with the wavy abs. He is the king because he knows God is the King, the Father is the King, and no one else. And nothing can divert him from this knowledge, nothing can distract him, nothing can discourage him, not even death. Death on a cross.
This winter, as we enter into the darkness, as we approach Advent, let’s take the time to reflect on who we are trying to be, what other person, what hero, what idol, what false image. And then let’s try to let that go. Just let it go. Let’s reflect on the jeering and the taunting we experience, and admit to it, acknowledge how it hurts us and diverts us, and then let’s ask God to lift that burden from our shoulders, to free us from that influence.
Because underneath all of that is our real self, the person we really are, the person God is calling us to be. And it’s his voice that matters. Only his voice. His voice is our voice. Only in Him do we become who we are.
And only by being who we are do we find Him.