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“I got in a fight with a wall and lost.”
Last Sunday, Mother’s Day, I had to stand up in front of my congregation and explain my black eye. And that’s what I told them! I hope they believe it. At the indoor climbing centre where I regularly work out, I was moving along a route with all red holds. I hopped left, trying to grab one just out of my reach—and slammed my face into a big black feature.
Other climbers might not make the same mistake, but all our bodies bear witness to our pursuit. Scars and scabs on legs. Callouses on fingers. Bruises just about anywhere on a body. Whatever it is, our bodies bear witness to the pain of the pursuit — but it’s the joy that keeps us coming back.
Farmers (who don’t shave their legs) lose a ring of hair where the tops of their boots always rub. The front of my grandfather’s hair was stained a brownish yellow from a life leaning over lit cigarettes. Mother Teresa’s feet were deformed because she always picked the worst of shoe donations for herself, saving a better pair to someone else. Artists never quite get all the paint off. Mothers inherit stomach stretch marks from their children.
Agoraphobic poet Emily Dickinson’s poems, though beautiful, are marked by her sadness and solitude. Shortly after moving house, never to leave her property again, she wrote to a friend, “I am out with lanterns looking for myself.” From mundane to canonized lives, whatever and whoever we are devoted to, our bodies bear witness.
Our hyper-individualism, perversely, funnels us to external pursuits, distracting us from our inner selves. It grows our distrust of institutions, piling more pressure on us as individuals, adding more weight to tense shoulders. We are searching and suspicious, anxiously swinging lanterns in the dark. We feel shame because we cannot find ourselves, let alone witness to God. So couples get divorced after kids go to college; gamblers play to lose, and churches focus on adding new programs. The lie is that these will help us find ourselves; help us “succeed”; the truth is we are merely punishing ourselves for past failures. Unwilling to face the marks we bear from life in our broken world.
Imagine the apostle Paul: “This is the scar from when I fell off the horse. And here are the lash marks — you can count all 39.” Like climbers, farmers, artists, and mothers, Paul’s life, his body, and even his death bore witness to his joy — the joy of God’s strong love for his people and resurrection life with his people.
Paul says, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:10) The Christ who has given us his death to carry around is not surprised by the marks we have received from this world, nor is he repulsed by the depth of our shame.
Baring our weakness, weariness, and anxiety — the marks of living in our broken world — may be the only signal to weary and anxious neighbours that our God welcomes these things too. If we do not bear witness and if they do not see, we will both join Emily, swinging a lamp in the dark, trying fruitlessly to find ourselves. Yet those who do so will surely lose their lives, Jesus says; “but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39).
To give up our life and our will is the greatest challenge, but to do it second is easier. The secret to giving up our life and our will is that we already carry around the death of Jesus in our bodies. It does no more good to proclaim “Jesus is risen” than to proclaim, “Vesuvius erupted!” if his death is not evident in us. Most will never travel to northern Italy to see the buried city. We will not pick up a piece of long-cooled lava and put it in our pocket. But we do carry around the death of Jesus. Where are your marks?
By the mark where the nails have been.
I appreciate this blog, Adrian. There are ugly marks that are truly beautiful. May we be Christlike in this way!
This really resonated with me Adrian – thank you! I have been struggling with this issue for quite some time.
How do we testify to God’s presence in our lives? I believe, as you do, that “Baring our weakness, weariness, and anxiety — the marks of living in our broken world — may be the only signal to weary and anxious neighbours that our God welcomes these things too.” But that is not the message that I’ve heard practically my whole Christian life (and I’ve been a Christian now for almost 50 years – yikes!), and it’s hard to believe otherwise. If you’d like to read something that I’ve written on the topic, you can find it here:
I would love to dialog with you more – if you read and have any thoughts, please leave a comment. Blessings, Maureen Brown aka emotionallyrich