Waking Up, Growing Up
I do some spiritual direction in the diocese, meeting one to one with a number of folks who want to be more intentional about their spiritual journey and growth. Mainly I just listen, and sometimes I ask questions, and together we try to see where the Holy Spirit is working in that person’s life. Often I gain as much as my directees do by virtue of hearing and witnessing what God is up to in their lives.
In a recent spiritual direction session the person with me mentioned a school of psychology he was familiar with called integral psychology, where the client focuses on four areas summarized by the terms Wake Up, Clean Up, Grow up and Show Up. And as we talked he commented on how often in the Bible people start by not understanding what’s happening, but it turns out to be a transformational experience.
I think in today’s gospel reading both those themes are at play: initial lack of comprehension, and then a waking up, cleaning up, growing up and showing up. And I think that directly connects with our lives and spiritual journeys. Let me explain.
John the Baptist was related to Jesus. Their mothers are described as kinswomen, and Mary went to visit Elisabeth when both of them were pregnant. So the two children, born only a few months apart, must have known each other, seen each other at family gatherings, grown up relatively close. Yet John says of Jesus, “I did not know him.” Twice. He points Jesus out as the Lamb of God, but says he didn’t know him.
Clearly that can’t mean he didn’t know Jesus as a person, a relative. He must have. But he’s saying he didn’t know Jesus’s identity as God’s beloved, the one promised, the one whose way he, John, was preparing. He says it was only when he saw the Holy Spirit descend and stay on Jesus that he knew who Jesus really was – the Son of God.
It must have been a pivotal moment for John. He’d been preaching the coming of God’s kingdom, calling people to repent and be baptized, preparing them for the coming of the Son of God, the Christ, and waiting waiting waiting for that promised one to come. And then one day, there he is - Jesus, John’s cousin, coming to be baptized, and he’s the one!
“I didn’t know it at first, but this is the Lamb of God… the Son of God.” And John points Jesus out to whoever is around, to wake them up to this reality as well.
Enter Andrew. He’s been a disciple of John’s up to this point. When he sees John point to Jesus and say that he’s the Lamb of God, he’s intrigued and starts to follow Jesus, literally. I imagine him walking hesitantly but curiously along a little way behind Jesus to see what this man’s going to do. And Jesus notices this, and asks, “What are you looking for?” It’s almost comical.
But it’s a good question: what’s Andrew looking for? A new teacher? A miracle worker? Someone who’ll rescue his people from their oppression?
Andrew’s answer sounds a bit lame: “Teacher, where are you staying?” But there’s the clue to what Andrew’s looking for: a teacher, someone whose feet he can sit at and learn from. He’s seeking wisdom, learning, perhaps leadership. And Jesus invites him to come and see where he’s staying. So he goes with Jesus, and on the way he goes and brings his brother Simon, telling him, “We’ve found the Messiah!” And their lives are going to be changed forever as they follow this teacher.
The epiphany in this story is the realization of exactly who Jesus is; the waking up to the presence of the Messiah right there, the one sent by God, beloved by God, who will take away the sin of the world - lift the burden of sin off our shoulders and our hearts; show us a way out; open a path to life and forgiveness; reveal the love of God to us.
It’s an electric, transformative waking up. And it has to be followed by cleaning up, growing up and showing up.
We know the gospel stories of that: people who turned their lives around and cleaned them up, whether they were notorious rascals like Zacchaeus the corrupt tax collector, or repeated failures like Simon Peter who kept on trying, God love him.
And people who grew up in their faith, understanding, compassion, wisdom – like Mary Magdalene who came to love Jesus intensely, and found healing, and was courageous enough to stay with him right to the crucifixion.
And there are many stories of the disciples of Jesus showing up, especially after his death and resurrection, when they were gifted with the power of the Holy Spirit that enabled them to go out into the streets and tell the Jesus story, go before the authorities, face imprisonment and death, and live out the gospel that they had come to know and trust.
St Paul is the classic example of waking up, cleaning up, growing up and showing up. His awakening was sudden and abrupt with his conversion experience, and then he spent a period blind and dependent on others to help and teach him, as he turned his life around 180 degrees and came to an understanding of the infinite grace and mercy of God. All his subsequent missionary travels and writings were him growing up and showing up, putting his faith into practice, deepening his total immersion on Christ, putting his life on the line until it ended under a Roman sword.
And what about us? Has there been a waking up experience in your life already? Does it still lie ahead? Are you looking and waiting? And what do we need to clean up in our lives? What holds us back and drags us down? What changes do we know we need to make to how we’re living? What grace do we need to pray earnestly for, for that to be possible? And are we growing up? Is our faith a Sunday school one that resists change, or has it matured and deepened? (One way to tell is to see if it’s black and white, and tends to nudge us into judgmentalism and anger, or if it’s multi-hued and leads us to greater compassion and kindness.) And finally, are we showing up – are we walking the talk, putting our money where our mouths are? If we were accused of being Jesus followers, would there be enough evidence in our daily lives to convict us?
Wherever you are on this spiritual journey, you can be sure God isn’t finished with you yet.