In our daily prayers God was every manner of image and metaphor and meaning, and always, "God the Father." We never ever prayed to "God our Mother." What were women in the economy of God? The answer was only too painful: We were invisible. I had given my life to a God who did not see me, did not include me, did not touch my nature with God's own....Joan Chittister, "Called to Question"

Saturday, March 17, 2012

You are God's Work of Art

A reflection on the readings for Lent 4 Year B:   Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21 by the Rev. Margaret Rose

My daughter, Miriam is reading a book called Gifts of Imperfection and suggested I read it too.  She downloaded it on our common Kindle reader so I had no excuse.  I thought, “I am far too aware of my imperfections and so far I have yet to claim them as a gift!”   The book was written by Brene Brown, a social scientist whose research was on resilience.  That is, discovering those qualities which allowed people to bounce back after a loss, great struggle, disappointment or pain.  What she discovered, most profoundly, was that those who could let go of the need to be perfect, who could admit they were afraid and vulnerable, who knew how to say no or were sometimes okay with less than 100% were actually happier!     Brown, herself, had a spiritual awakening as she began to realize this in her own life, letting go of the need to please, saying no, living what she called a wholehearted and authentic life.  She suggested that those who respond to disappointment or pain from a place of worthiness were able to cultivate compassion and connection and usually had the courage to overcome obstacles.  Start from a place of worthiness.  Hmm.

    Worthiness. Worthy.  Not a word we often use in religious or church circles.  More often we remind ourselves of how UNWORTHY we are.  How IMPERFECT we are.    Perhaps that is human nature.  We forget the Creation story where God surveys the work of seven days and sees that it is good; where human beings are made in the very image of God.  And again in the text from the letter to the Ephesians in today’s scripture:  

  “God who is rich in mercy, out of great love, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.  It is by grace you are saved through faith; it is not your own doing.  It is God’s gift, not a reward for work done.  We are God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus for the life of good deeds which God designed for us.  “Or as the Jerusalem Bible translates so marvelously....”You are God’s work of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had meant us to live it.”

“You are God’s work of art.”  Wow.  What if we started with that each day, imagining and claiming ourselves as God’s work of art. Too often we start with the end of that text: “Made for good deeds”, and recount the ways we have not measured up. We start writing the to do list, note the flaws and what we consider to be imperfections: too short, sagging chin, not smart enough, not educated enough, not religious enough, didn’t work hard enough; not compassionate or generous enough, don’t pray enough.

 What if we simply began with the fact that we are beloved of God.  And go from there.  Begin with the fullness of God’s love, not from our inability to live up to our own or an imagined idea of what God expects of us.  God’s perfection is not our own.  That is why we have Grace!  Too often we start measuring.    Though we hear those words about grace, we still get out the yardstick,   “If I have enough faith, I will be rewarded with God’sgrace.  If I am good enough then God will really love me.. How many good deeds does it take for salvation.” 

“You are saved because God is in charge of you.” ( And the whole community of the Ephesians for that matter)   You are God’s work of art, not your own. 

The Gospel from John reiterates:  For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that all who believe would be saved.  The WORLD-- the salvation of the world happened with that Good Friday and Easter.  Our work is to recognize and claim it.  Fortunately, we are reminded of this at every baptism.  Writer Caroline Westerhoff invites us to “live into our baptism”.  The marvelous prayer for the baptized says it best: “Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”  Joy and wonder in all God’s works-- including ourselves.     Baptism is not the beginning of the  individual spiritual TO DO list.  Okay, I am baptized, or that child is baptized and we promise to make sure that she is good and then the baptism will take.  Well Baptism is not a vaccination.  It is a proclamation of our salvation not of our perfection! All by God’s grace. 

      The moment we accept this gift of grace, this life in Christ Jesus,  which declares that it is wonderful to be who we are, with all our imperfections,  is also the moment of our freedomand of our responsibility.  That is when the deeds come in.  . Freed to ACT.

Sometimes it may seem easier to strive to attain the goal of salvation. For as long as we are not quite there we will have the incentive to work.  As long as we live with the concept of merited salvation, of a controlling and controllable God who is all powerful, who punishes us when we are bad and rewards us when we are good, then we do not really have to be responsible for ourselves. God’s report card does it for us. As long as salvation is a goal then we can map out our objectives and identify the tasks which will enable us to reach it.  Maybe it is simpler to think that if we follow a certain set of rules and regulations, the way will be clear and salvation’s attained.  WE are in control.  It is sort of like climbing a mountain or preparing for vacation.  It is sometimes  easier to do the climbing than to know what to do when we finally arrive.     Ephesians proclaims that we have arrived. God’s work of art, the work of God’s hands,  not that of our own self improvement system--or even that of the feel good, look young and beautiful market.   Knowing this does not make us passive recipients of God’s omnipotent will, but rather gives us a place of goodness from which to to act.---walking in the Way as Paul says--that is the place from which good works begin.  A God of grace tells us that as God’s work of art we have arrived and are invited to live wholeheartedly, free to be ourselves and God’s beloved.     Amen.   

The Rev. Margaret Rose


It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

~ Mary Oliver ~



Fran said...

Beautiful - and the Mary Oliver poem is just a brilliant touch.

Jacqueline Schmitt said...

quite good, Margaret. Thank you. It makes me want to read the book on Resilience!