The lithe reality of being free

A chipmunk is sitting on the woodpile behind the house trying to grab hold of a long stalk of grass just out of reach. The grass has a wheat look to it so I imagine there are kernels of goodness on the tips which a chipmunk finds delectable. He stand on his hind feet and reaches out, waving his paws above his head, trying to pull the stalk towards his mouth He loses his balance, stumbles a bit, then trips again. There, he’s gotten it. He pulls it close, holds on tight, and nibbles to his heart’s delight.

It’s sad really. I mean a jay would have jumped down, reached over, pulled off a portion and flown back to a safe branch all without a moment’s trouble.

The chipmunk really would be better off as a jay.

I feel sort of the same way. Here I am living in a forest entirely unsuited for it. Forests are made for trees. I’m not a tree. I move around too much. I need to gather together food and water rather than sit and absorbing what is around me. Birds have no interest in making nests on me. I provide little to no shade in the warm sun. I suffer from an immense amount of impatience compared to a tree. Even fully grown I’m only six feet tall. Short, for a tree. What’s the point of my trying to live in the forest?

Chipmunks can’t maneuver or fly as well as a bird, and I can’t stand still like a tree. We’re both entirely unsuited for our goals. God must have gone wrong somewhere in the design process.

I have a friend who feels called to spread the message of Christ on a university campus. Recently she met a guy who feels sure Christianity is a waste while Buddhism is the way.

She feels the weight of having to convince him what is right. She feels the weight of not being an ideal evangelist with all the right answers and logical points to all his weighty questions. She became worried she can’t do what God has called her to do, and began to feel overwhelmed by the pressure and the loss.

Buddhism, of course, is often thought of as the way to profound self-discovery. The adherents seek inner peace through meditation. Christianity is thought of as shallow, empty, demanding. One has to join the hive to be a Christian. Act alike. Speak alike. Think alike. Dress alike. Smile alike. Sing alike. The Buddhist becomes. The Christian conforms. That’s the thought.

To live in the forest I need to learn how to be a tree. To be successful the chipmunk would be best as a bird.

This friend of my friend didn’t make this up. Likely he came to this conclusion because it is the conclusion of many Christians, many churches, many theologies.

This is a struggle because it is so deeply ingrained, even as it is also so deeply wrong. We see others, we want to be like them, or at least appropriate their skilsl which we think are more suited for our realities.

That’s the lie we listen to. That’s the lie I often struggle against.

Christianity is not about conforming. Christianity is the religion of becoming. It is not about becoming alike, it is about becoming unique, becoming truly ourselves, wrapped in the unity of God’s community.

This is for me the great struggle, not to realize this is true but to let it seep into my soul.

In trying to be, in thinking I should be, in the model of another I reject myself, and in doing that I reject the Holy Spirit, and all the Trinity who designed me.

Yes, I am supposed to be as Christ and conform to him. However, he is freedom. The Spirit is creativity and freedom. My conforming to Christ means letting go of all that really isn’t me, such as misplaced ambitions or sin.

This is why the discipline of letting go is so important and so difficult. I want to seize hold of identities and be to the world that which is acceptable, and appropriate, and that which I think I should be. Only I’m not. I’m doing everything wrong and out of order. I’m not living according to the checklists of a well ordered life, and I’m not fitting into the model of an appropriate thirty one year old. I don’t like reading my various alumni magazines because I see who I graduated with, and I see that I am not them, nor doing what they are doing.

I am not a tree in the forest.

God, however, doesn’t care. That’s the crazy thing, the thing which I have such a hard time keeping in mind, and yet my realization of this is the only source of my true peace. God wants my identity to be found in the freedom of being fully who I was created to be, and for me to find that he pulls me through the desert, into the wilderness, covered often in darkness, with only the barest tastes of his fullness to draw me always forward.

It is in the letting go of the constraints of ill conceived notions that I can discover the lithe reality of being free to be me.

This is the heart of all those discussions in Paul on Spiritual gifts and his discussions of virtue and vices.

Be fully who you are, Paul tells us, Jesus allows us, and the Spirit directs us.

The chipmunk is made to be fully a chipmunk. I am made to be fully me. My friend is called not to become someone else in her setting but by being herself, being truly and increasingly who she is, she will be a true conduit of the Spirit in reaching those who need to taste of the Spirit’s freedom.

There is an obvious and simplistic quality to this awareness. Be who you are. I should be who I am. Yet it is, I think, one of the most difficult realities to embrace. Most people, I am convinced, never once in their lives realize who they really are and fewer still let themselves truly be who they have been designed to be. Yet in embracing the truth that God truly made me, and made me as me, and wants me to be more me, I can then be free to dance with the Spirit with utter abandon and contentment.

It sounds like the sort of lesson one might hear Big Bird or Elmo teach. Be yourself. While seeming obvious this is a profound reality of extremely deep spiritual awareness. Letting go that which claims my identity is a daily struggle. Letting go the expectations and the demands and the desires which lead me away from being me is a constant battle. Learning who I actually am is a continual discovery, led by prayer and bolstered by the disciplines.

I each day struggle to embrace who I am, where I am, not in comparison with others but in faith filled expectation of God’s wisdom in creating.

Oriented towards Christ and empowered by the Spirit I can truly discover not only myself but all of creation, taking hold of my reality and embracing the realities of all those who are united by the diverse works of the Spirit. This is true self-discovery, of which a religion like Buddhism can only begin to grasp but can never complete.

So, I press on in learning this Sesame Street lesson. At least along the way I think I have finally learned Grover’s oft emphasized lesson of near and far.

Near is definitely better. Even if it takes a bit of effort to get there.

The chipmunk has finished his bit of grass and now stands on a stump, bathed in the light of the rising sun, swishing his tail, occasionally chirping a good morning to his fellow chipmunks.

I think he’s perfectly suited as a chipmunk. We have enough birds already.

This was written June 15, 2006

A few years ago, Barclay Press invited me to do a two week daily journal for their website. They’ve since changed their online presence so those writings are gone. I was sorting out different files on my computer this evening and happened to run across them. So, I thought, I might as well repost them here. Both to have a record of them, and maybe more so, because these were written in 2006 and 2007. A fair bit of changes have happened in my life since then, so these are records of a time in my life when all I had was faith. I was writing a lot during these journaling times, and it’s curious what came out when I sat down to write. So, mostly for me, but also for anyone whose interested, I’m going to post one of these a day for the next couple of weeks or so.

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