The Unfolding Story of Grace
As a kid, I loved playing with legos. I remember how I would continually build a robot using these oversized pieces of legos. I would build it and then tear it apart so that I can start over and build it again. My fascination with legos turned into drawing. But I got stuck to only drawing this three-story dream house of mine. It seemed like every time I had paper in front of me, that was the only thing I could draw.
Over time my interest in legos and drawings turned into computers. When I was 12, I disassembled my dad’s first laptop. I thought it was broken and I wanted to fix it, but I didn’t know how to put it back together. However, I kept going with computers, building and repairing computers, and learning from my mistakes. That eventually led me to web development. I became both the engineer and the architect of websites, which I still do today.
A Common Thread
Even from a young age, I recognized that everything in life starts in pieces. Everything has building blocks. Life has stages of development. You start with a foundation and then you build on top of it.
In college, I took a few courses on Psychology and it was one of my favorite subjects. I wanted to know how the mind works. I remember learning the stages of human development and how they brought clarity about humanity that I’ve never seen before. And just like how I learned how to disassemble legos and computers, I started doing that with myself.
At some point in my early twenties, I hit an existential crisis. I knew something was missing like when a piece of lego is missing or when I didn’t know how to put my dad’s laptop back together, or a code that isn’t working on a client’s website, or you just don’t know what to create. I didn’t know what I was searching for or what I was building towards. I had no blueprint.
I looked for the missing piece in different groups of the community, different friends, different projects I could put my hands on, or hobbies that held my interest. I became a sponge of what everybody else loved while forgetting what I loved for myself. I was looking for belonging externally, only to find out I never really belonged to myself.
I began asking the questions: “Why do I believe what I believe? Why do I act in a particular way in certain situations and not in others? Why do I love certain things and not other things? Why is my personality the way that it is?”
My love of Psychology expanded into a fascination with neuroscience, biology, spirituality, physiology, and genetics, all the while looking at the scriptures hoping to explain this phenomenon called the human experience.
The Search for Belonging
Belonging is first an inside job. I didn’t realize this until the Lord spoke to my heart and said, “Build your internal world to look like My world.” That invitation made me realize that up to that point, my Christianity was more about an external involvement rather than an internal belonging.
I was compensating my need for belonging through involvement because that is what I thought belonging looked like. It didn’t help that I was insecure about who I was, so involvement became a source of validation. But that kind of involvement isn’t the same thing as belonging.
How could I authentically belong to something if I didn’t know how to belong to myself?
Reading this admonition from St. Theresa of Avila brought so much weight to the importance of this,
“I do not know if I have explained this clearly: self-knowledge is so important that, even if you were raised right up to the heavens, I should like you never to relax your cultivation of it; so long as we are on this earth, nothing matters more than humility. And so I repeat that it is a very good thing — excellent, indeed — to begin by entering the room where humility is acquired rather than by flying off to the other rooms.” (Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle)
From there, my moments of deconstruction became more like an unraveling of revelations.
Love the Lord YOUR God
It’s interesting to hear Jesus’ response when the religious people of his day asked what the greatest commandments were in the Old Testament.
You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40
Listen to the emphasis on YOUR.
This scripture is impressing upon us the value of our attachment; that sense of responsibility that comes with ownership. Loving God and loving others begins with you. You don’t get to love God or others through someone else; Not a church, a priest, a king, or any other medium.
It begins with you.
Then with all YOUR heart, soul, and mind. (Luke adds strength to the list.)
It’s interesting how the ancient scribes distinguished the different faculties of our being. It’s as if they knew intuitively, what we now know by science; that each of these actually affects and influences the way we behave and make decisions. Each has their own voice, language, and tone of telling us what they need. And, YOU are that integrated center that aligns all of them to look like His world.
“Guard YOUR heart for out of it flows springs of life.”
“Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
“Where YOUR treasure is, there YOUR heart will be also.”
And when Jesus said that “the Kingdom of God is within YOU” that speaks of ownership. The gospel is about owning your internal world, integrating all the faculties to will one thing; this inner kingdom you’ve been gifted with to mirror His world.
Seeing The Beatitudes as Stages of Spiritual Formation
Jesus starts his famous Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes. In it, he said the pure in heart will see God. According to Søren Kierkegaard, purity of heart is to will one thing, where your attention and intention are focused on that one thing. I wonder if that’s what Jesus meant? That to fully see God, without any distortions or shadows, we cannot be a divided being.
What’s interesting to me is when Jesus shared these words, He was talking to the sinners, to the outcasts, to the rejects, to the oppressed, to the sick, to the unworthy, and to the untouchables of his society. He was inviting them to come to him and rest, but at the same time, empowering them to own what they do have.
For Jesus, the war they thought they were fighting isn’t the war at all. The war is within them.
“Love YOUR enemies…”
“Do not worry about YOUR life…”
“When YOU give to the needy…
“When YOU look at a woman…”
You get the pattern. It’s an internal confrontation of our tendency for self-protection and self-preservation. So Jesus begins the beatitude by blessing those who are poor in spirit, and then those who mourn, and then those who are meek, and then those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, then those who are merciful.
And then those who are pure in heart…
That if we have any hopes of having a purity of heart, we have to go through and acknowledge when we are poor in spirit,
so that we can begin to mourn,
and step into meekness,
so that we can know how to hunger and thirst for righteousness
and be able to show mercy.
You don’t leave one stage without taking the previous stage with you. You take what you went through and you take it to the next. It’s as if the Lord is showing us the building blocks or the pathway to be mature and what it means to be whole and integrated, a different way of being human – a new creation.
After purity of heart comes peacemakers. The Lord knows we needed that then and we need it now more than ever, because how can we ever become peacemakers if we aren’t at peace with ourselves?
So it begins with us and then works itself outside of us.
The Process of Incarnation
Jesus begins the beatitude with blessing the poor in spirit and ends it with blessing those who are persecuted saying, “theirs is the Kingdom of God.” This whole thing is about cultivating an ongoing and increasing ownership and stewardship of the Kingdom that begins inside of us then works itself outside of us..
It’s a cycle. Each with their own seasons.
A Death and a Resurrection.
It’s the process of incarnation where your life becomes an unfolding story of grace.
You start poor, and then you grow. And you keep growing. Until life happens again. You’re weary, betrayed, tired. You’re back to grief. And you feel like you are back to the beginning. But you’ve actually matured. You’ve gained deeper ownership of the Kingdom inside of you. The breaking enters you into a deeper sense of belonging to yourself so that you can integrate all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength to perfect love.
And then the journey starts again because isn’t that the point of the Gospel?
It’s this transformative and generative journey where you are continually conformed into the image of Christ through the work of the Spirit within you so that you can actually take the command to love God and to love others as yourself a step further – to love others as Christ loved you – to be able to lay your life down for one another.
That’s the journey we are invited to join in. That’s the unfolding story of grace.