From consumption to gentleness
John the Baptist–by all accounts a wild eyed, camel-haired, fire-breathing, proclaimer of the word–is most well known for the words he reserves to those who came to hear him preach. Coming to cleanse themselves in the waters once crossed by their ancestors, on the completion of the journey from Egypt through wilderness.
Coming to lose themselves in the revival of the Spirit energized by the reforming preacher famously living on locusts and honey, while calling for repentance and true contrition. Some among them took the brunt of his ire and bore the marks of his verbal lashing.
“You brood of vipers,”he says, “who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
John, didn’t think much of those who came to be entertained, to take a dip in the Jordan, to pick up a story to share with the folks back home, to lose themselves in the ecstatic fervour of a reformation, revivalist, tent-meeting, only to shudder back into the same skins, the same roles, the same life consumed by consumption.
John expected, called for, and demanded change: ‘Rest not upon your laurels, or those of your ancestors. Don’t tell me what you did yesterday, or plan to do tomorrow. How do you treat your neighbours on this day? How do you make the world a fairer place?’
Those who heard him thought he might be the messiah, the one promised to lead them out of ignominy and back into their rightful ascendancy. John denied it. Told them that one would come after him who would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Who would burn the chaff from the wheat with an unquenchable flame.
And what, I thought, would that be like? To be rid of chaff, to be caught up in the unquenchable flame of transcendence? To be so up-swept and grounded that one’s entire life might be held in the warm loving glow of it? To be one, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, one so full of joy in lived transcendence that everywhere one is known for gentleness.
What would it be like if we spent as much time helping our children find their reason for transcendence as we do trying to shape them into beings that might be selected for a place in the economic system? A system that denies the call of John and Jesus, and Tommy Douglas and Martin Luther King Jr and the 99 percenters and the toilers in the garment factories and the people of Africa or the downtown east-side of Vancouver, or those who scatter around our towns, under bridges, in rooming houses, surfing couches, populating food bank lines.
The bullied and the bullies alike. Amanda Todd and her tormentors, seeking some assurance, some sense of relevance, some place of meaning in the light of the day-to-day that does not rely upon the wealth of billions, squandered at the clay feet of stone-hearted idols. Idols demanding every obeisance, every sacrifice. Emptying lives and hearts, and stealing joy.
What would it be like, if we forgot our egos and found ourselves? If we turned our hopes and dreams and loves and cares out upon a world that saw us as suddenly ‘gentle’ and desired to have more of that inner peaceful presence that we had become?
Would young women and men continue to see themselves as empty, unloved, unloving, unlove-able? Would they end their lives and the lives of others in rage and grief and sorrow and longing? If we knew transcendence in our own hearts and minds, bodies and souls, would they?
Keith Simmonds is a diaconal minister in the Communities in Faith Pastoral Charge serving Beaver Valley, Rossland, Salmo and Trail.