How We Become Human
By Damaris Zehner
I know, as a tenet of my faith, that Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection somehow have set me free from death and given me new life. I know that God says that he will take away my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh. But I can’t say I understand how that happens or even how it looks in human terms. Recently, though, I may have gotten a glimpse at part of the process.
Our normal pew at church is more than halfway around the Stations of the Cross, which are displayed up and down the side walls. On the other side of the church, bas relief panels show the earliest steps leading up to the Crucifixion, but from where I sit the scenes show Jesus stumbling and falling, wounded and exhausted. I really don’t like looking at them and usually turn my eyes away. Sometimes the depictions make me feel angry, sometimes depressed and disgusted with the whole human race. But on a recent morning, for some reason, my usual defenses were breached. I looked closely at the images of Jesus collapsed and crushed, and I felt pity, overwhelming pity, for – well, for God.
It seemed like hubris, to pity God, as if I were above him somehow and condescending to him. Then I remembered the trial depicted in To Kill a Mockingbird. Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman, was asked why he had approached and interacted with her. “I felt sorry for her,” he said – and we know at that moment that Tom was doomed regardless of the facts of the case. That a black man would dare to feel sorry for a white woman – poor trash or not – was insupportable to the all-white jury. Tom, being black, could not be thought of a human in the same way they were. They could not stand the realization that pity made Tom Robinson truly human in a way that most people in the courtroom weren’t. In that aspect he was like Jesus, who pitied the people who had it in their power to put him to death.
It occurred to me, in the quick glances of the Stations of the Cross that were all I could endure: God gave himself to us partly in order to be pitied. The Maker of the Universe, the Holy, the Almighty, became a baby and a victim of our sin and injustice so that we would pity him. Maybe my pity is the first sign that my heart of stone is turning into flesh. Maybe my new life is not just the result of Christ conquering death, which inspires feelings of gratitude and joy. The new life is also being bought for me daily by his weakness and suffering, which inspire me to pity God himself.
• • •
Photo by Michael Foley on Flickr. Creative Commons License
7 thoughts on “Fridays with Damaris: Another Look – How We Become Human”
Richard Rohr today sez: “There is a deep relationship between the inner revolution of prayer and the transformation of social structures and social consciousness. . . . In so many places, there are signs of the Holy Spirit working at all levels of society. The church might well have done its work as leaven because much of this reform, enlightenment, compassion, and healing is now happening outside the bounds of organized religion. Only God gets the credit.
“The toothpaste is out of the tube. There are enough people who know the big picture of Jesus’ thrilling and alluring vision of the reign of God that this Great Turning cannot be stopped. There are enough people going on solid inner journeys that it is not merely ideological or theoretical anymore. This is a positive, nonviolent reformation from the inside, from the bottom up. The big questions are being answered at a peaceful and foundational level, with no need to oppose, deny, or reject. I sense the urgency of the Holy Spirit, with over seven billion humans on the planet. There is so much to love and so much suffering to share in and heal.”
I can hear someone say, “Pity God? Don’t be ridiculous! How can you pity God?” What you describe belongs to a deeper grasp of Christian experience than ‘Doctrine 101’. It is not the milk but the meat of the word. That’s good mysticism. You’ll never find a quote to back it up in your bible. It’s the vibration between the verses that only gets found out by living it. Forgiving God is another oddball idea.
“The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.”
He punches, shoves, pushes and swears at my John. John looks at him in dismay but never retaliates.
Whom do I pity?
I pray for them both,
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Tom Robinson’s pity for the white woman is expressed and realized by his coming alongside to help her. That’s what makes it meaningful, as well as dangerous to him. Our pity for God, if it’s to be real and realized, with the kind of reality that involves risk, means that we must come alongside God to help; that means that we must come alongside his image in our suffering fellow human beings. If we fail to express its presence in us in some way like this, then it’s just a pious feeling, and not the kind of pity that joins itself to the suffering-with, the compassion, that Tom risked.
The window above our Altar at Church is of Christ praying in the garden
‘Your will, not mine be.done’.
A hard take in any circumstance.
I leave Church with this on my mind but life’s challenges seem to take it out of Divine hands so quickly and into the hurley burley of stuff which confronts us daily.
Big waves and troughs.
I ask is Christ present in the hurley burley or am I wishful thinking?
Tell me where to look.
how long Lord, how soon
I drift between now and then
flight beckons, come now