Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Meditation on John 1:29-33

My church is starting a collective bible-study of the book of John this month via the discussion section of our Facebook page, reading one chapter every day and commenting on any verse or section that catches our attention using the acronym SOAP — Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer. I think it’s a nifty idea.

However, when I sat down and started writing, my intended forum post quickly grew into a 1,000-word treatise. (People who know me well are possibly not very surprised by that.) I think that was not really the idea, so … I’ll take up my own space and post my ideas here.

I’m looking at John 1:29-33, primarily because it gave me a serious “buh-whuh??” moment when I read it and what some others commented on it. John says in vv 32-33:

“I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.'”

The thing that brought me up short was remembering that John said to Jesus when he came to be baptized, “wait, isn’t this backwards? I’m the one who needs baptizing here.” I had to look up the reference, it’s in Matthew 3:13-15:

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’

“Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.”

So the apparent sequence of events is that Jesus comes to be baptized; John protests at first, then agrees; Jesus is baptized; then the Spirit comes down to him in the form of a dove; later, John says that he didn’t know who Jesus was until he saw the Spirit come and remain on him. The apparent contradiction in all of this is, why did John protest that Jesus ought to baptize him, unless he knew who Jesus was? If he didn’t really know who Jesus was until the Spirit came down upon him after his baptism, why would he have hesitated when Jesus first came? And especially, why would he have said “no no, I really need to be baptized by you?”

I’m not sure how to crack this one. I can think of some possibilities; we aren’t told the full story here by one person in one narrative, so maybe some of the details have gotten muddled. Maybe the Spirit gave John some kind of advance warning, a premonitory nudge about Jesus’ real identity, but not full-blown knowledge until the baptism happened. Maybe he just respected Jesus as another teacher and preacher, someone who he thought would be better and greater than himself, but not THE GUY, the Messiah. I don’t really get that vibe from the story, though.

The thing that feels the most true to me today, the thing that I really need to absorb for myself, is that there’s a difference between head-knowledge and experiential-knowledge, between knowing a thing is true and actually having it happen to you. Whether or not John knew Jesus personally, he had to have heard the stories of his own birth and Jesus’ birth; his parents believed that Jesus would be the Messiah, so I think he had to have at least head-knowledge of who Jesus was supposed to be. When the man himself came to him, in the flesh, asking to be baptized, I think his head-knowledge would have been enough to prompt his hesitation, to say “wait, no, why are you coming to me for this?” But that’s a very different thing from walking with Jesus into the water and laying him under the surface, from seeing the living Spirit of God fly down out of Heaven and alight on him, from hearing God’s own voice speak His acknowledgement and blessing: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” In living through those moments, John had the chance to learn what he “knew” in an entirely different way, more vivid and real and present than was ever possible before. God in the flesh, right here. Standing in John’s own patch of river, soaked to the skin, with the Father’s voice speaking benediction over him that John was privileged to hear.

The same is true for all of us. It’s important to have head-knowledge in order to know how to respond to God and to events in our lives, but by walking through those events enables us to experience the truth of what we “know” in a much more deep, vivid, present way, a way that can really change what we believe and how we live. That’s what really transforms us, experiencing the truth that we know. And too often, I have to admit I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to experience the things that will transform me, because I know it means facing the hard stuff, the painful things that will provide the deepest lessons and the biggest opportunities for growth. But God knows that; he knows my hesitations and my sometimes-cowardice, better than I do, and he still helps me experience what I need to learn. Sometimes He helps me to be brave; sometimes he just doesn’t give me a choice but to go through what has to happen, brave or not. But he’s always present with whatever help I need in order to get through and learn what I need, and later on I can appreciate what I’ve gained.

Today I’m thinking hard about my own nature and hesitations, and I’m really grateful for being known and understood, down to the bottom, by a living God who wants the absolute best for me, who is always working to make that come about. I’m grateful for the experiential-knowledge I’ve been given so far, and the head-knowledge that helps me to know and trust my Lord, who knows and loves me.

Heart, from a notebook

So. Here I am again, posting after a really dark spell. I’ve changed my mind about this entry, after sitting down to start writing it. I was going to write some clever and urbane thoughts about getting past a bout of depression and how my personality type is interacting with the uncertain period of life I’m swimming in and other stuff that makes me sound smart and analytical and together, like I’ve overcome a challenge and aren’t I grand? Listen to me, because I’ve got important things to say.

I changed my mind. I’m not going to do that.

Last evening I took myself to bed in the early evening, physically and mentally finished (immediately after I posted yesterday’s entry, in fact). I didn’t realize it consciously, but I needed silence and rest, and time to let my heart be what it was and feel what was in there to be felt. After a while, not sleeping but being quiet, I pulled out my scribbledy notebook, my journaling/note-taking/write-stuff-here-whenever notebook, and wrote some stuff. Several pages worth of what was in me to say. I opened it back up this morning, sitting with my computer and getting ready to write, and read what I had written about myself.

The following are direct excerpts from what I wrote in my scribbledy notebook, unedited except for clarity and to protect the innocent (marked with brackets). This isn’t me, clever. It’s me, real. I’m offering it in hopes that it will enable someone else to be themself, real. To maybe not feel as alone in the midst of confusion and depression and hurt. Because someone else has experienced those things too.

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“I’m tired. I don’t know why. I just am. I don’t want to have to justify myself in order to have permission to feel bad.

“I don’t wanna need permission to feel bad. To be depressed. To be sad. I would like for it to be just accepted for what it is and move on. I would like for that to be true of me, for me [toward myself] too. To be able to accept it as a state of being that just is and is temporary and to let it pass through me as long as it needs to and then go. And not to try to cling to it or to push it away and struggle.

“I would like for it not to be a cause for comment among my family and friends — to be able to just ask for help with what I need, and the why not to be dwelt on. And then to be able to give them my thanks and we all just move on.”

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“I don’t want to get stuck here, but I don’t want to have to feel like I have to fight either, like I’m even more wrong if I’m not fighting with my mood. Right now what I want is to rest. Just rest. For it to be legitimate to just rest. To have enough space and grace to rest in. For time to leave me alone for a while.”

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“Do your work, and then you get a rest. Don’t be sad. Just get on with it. Don’t be confused. You should know how to do this. You should see more of the world. You should notice more. You should understand more. You shouldn’t be afraid. At least, not a crippling fear. You should very calmly and rationally work through this and come to a logical conclusion that can be steadily worked at until successful. There might be some problems on the way, but you should be able to work them out if you don’t get upset and keep working at it.

“Yeah. Should. Whatever.”

——————————————————

“I want for there to be a school and a program that I can be really happy in, and for it to be possible to pay to go and pay to live. And not have to lose my whole life to do it. I don’t want to give up taiji or church. I would be really sad if I lost [my massage therapist/body-mind-spirit-connection mentor]. I don’t want to stop working with [my counselor/spiritual director]. I don’t know what a new job or school will do to these things, but they’ve all been really important to me getting as far as I have. I don’t want to lose them, not for lack of time or money.”

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“I don’t know what I’m capable of. I don’t know what’s the right size of challenge to take on next.”

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“I [really badly] want for everything to be settled and decided, so I treat my day to day ideas as The Thing, and present it that way to other people. And then it feels catastrophic when the next piece of information wrecks it. I’m really not okay with living with uncertainty. And it takes so much energy every time I have to wrench my mind/heart onto something different. I feel like an idiot telling people ‘sorry, no, changed my mind. Pay no attention to my OMG CERTAINTY, I was wrong.’ And then do it again and again. I don’t want to do it anymore.”

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“I’m glad to have the chance to write this stuff down…. I feel like I’m going to get my energy back. Like this quieted space is a rest and not doom. I feel my spirits lift as the words flow over the page. My spirit is calmer and lighter. I will move on. For the first time in two days, I feel like I will move on from here.”

Send it back

Waiter, there’s a fly in my life.

I’m so done with uncertainty, and uncertainty so isn’t done with me. I want my reliable life back. I want out from under the pressures of decisions I don’t know what to do with. I’d like someone to please just tell me what the hell to do with my life, already.

Yesterday I had a list of things to take care of myself. Today I can’t be bothered. I’m going back to bed. Maybe I’ll wake up and this stupid phase of life will be over.