When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, ...They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" -- Luke 4:16, 22
The beginning of Jesus's ministry fascinates me. Jesus is blessed by the Holy Spirit after he is baptized by John. He hears God tell him how much he is loved and favored. He goes into a wilderness and is tempted with power and glory -- the highest of the high. Then he returns to his hometown to begin his ministry, and those who have known him all his life reject his new-found insights into God's Kingdom and his newly discovered purpose in it. They think he's gone off the deep end, and are quite willing to give him the last push. Isn't this so true to life?
I was listening to a CD lecture on perception this week as I drove around town. In it, Professor Dalton Kehoe of York University, said that how we perceive the world around us depends upon three things. Our conscious mind first selects what we see, then organizes that into patterns, then interprets those patterns to give them meaning. Consistency is the driving force at each step. The first part, what we see, depends to a large degree on what is most familiar to us. We then organize this incoming information by comparing it to what we already know. We often ignore altogether, or put into a stereotypical pigeon-hole, that which is different. What we choose to pay attention to is then interpreted by using the schema, or subconscious patterns of thought, that we have built from a lifetime of experience. ("Effective Communication Skills," Lecture 5, The Great Courses) We want things, and people, to fit our molds, to be consistent with the picture we have of them. If someone we have known all our lives does something "out of character," we have difficulty meshing the new with the old. Difficulties like this really bother us, and we have to try to explain them. We are not satisfied until we have developed a new schema about that person that resolves the difficulty. Which is why Jesus's neighbors (and even his own family, according to Mark) thought he must be possessed by the devil.
Just yesterday, I was thinking about my own developing faith. I grew up in a
family that viewed faith as a very private, personal thing. Although my
mother and I went to church every Sunday, outside of that you would not
know we believed in God. We never talked about God. We never said grace before meals. We never
even prayed aloud. We were never overtly religious in any way. This pattern followed me into adulthood. In the early years of our
marriage, though my husband and I went to church together, we almost never
talked to each other about God, we never said grace, we never prayed together. So after twenty years of
marriage, when I began to discover God's Holy Spirit working in my life,
and wanted to talk about it, to friends and family, my husband got a
little worried. Who was this new person? What was going on? He remembered a similar thing happening to a friend of his in high school: the mother found God, and divorced her husband the unbeliever, leaving seven children and the husband spinning. My husband seriously worried that this was about to happen to us.
Part of the reason for his concern was that learning about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit was utterly intoxicating to me. Feeling the Spirit of the Lord upon you for the first time can be like that. It took over my life. In my own "wilderness experience," I was tempted to forget about everything else in my life. I neglected everything -- I even forgot to eat sometimes! Luckily, my family and I survived. I came out of the experience a better and stronger person, but a changed one. The key was actually listening to God's word for me and applying it to my life: Love your neighbor as yourself begins with your own family.
Finding the right balance is still a problem: valuing God's Holy Spirit enough, but not too much; believing it's real, that God's Spirit does guide me personally, but not thinking that I am the next-best-thing-to-Jesus. I am important to God, but I am not the only one. Keeping tuned into God's word, wherever that is found, helps keep me straight. God corrects me when I get too full of myself, and lifts me up when I get too discouraged. I just have to stay tuned.
I came across a metaphor once that helps keep things in perspective. Each one of us is a uniquely colored thread woven into a gigantic tapestry. Each thread is necessary to make the whole image. If we all value our unique God-given gifts, our "threads," and use them according to his will, the tapestry would soon be complete, and God's glory would be revealed.
Dear God, help me to use the gifts you have given me, to be the part of the whole that I am meant to be. Help us all use the gifts we have been given, and be all that we are meant to be, to your great glory. Love always, Pam