Jesus in disguise.

Mother Theresa suggests that we try to see Jesus in every person. She said that it was her privilege to wash Jesus’ festering wounds and to feed him as a tiny abandoned child with AIDS. Essentially, we should serve each person as if they are Jesus in disguise.

I’ve tried this for the past few years at work and it is pretty amazing, and yet very difficult. Every now and then I want to say, hey, Jesus, can you stop being so weird?

It isn’t all weird. Mostly, there is a lot of good in this practice. Because I have changed how I approach people, they have changed towards me. I used to have a lot of people yell at me. They would come in already loaded up with problems, and they were ready to share. Anything and nothing would set them off. It always seemed random when a person would yell, and I began to get very hesitant around everyone. I expected to get randomly yelled at, and they would read my fear and oblige me.

So I tried Mother Theresa’s approach, with a little bit of “The Dog Whisperer” thrown in. Work with me here. People are animals. We are civilized animals, mostly, but we are still animals. We forget this. We respond to the same cues that animals respond to. So showing calm, positive energy is going to result in better results than showing fear.

Being interested in and calm around every single person I help is honestly overwhelming to do for hours at a time. I am a huge introvert. I like people and am constantly fascinated by them, and I like serving them. But I need a lot of quiet and calm to recharge after a day at work.

The difference in patron’s reactions to me is amazing, though, so it is worth it. It is as if I’m playing a “hide and seek” game. I’m looking really hard for the good, the light. I’m trying to see their soul, the spark of God that is within them. They respond to my curiosity by opening up. Their light may be buried under years of abuse or self-hatred or illness, but it is always there. Where there is life, there is light. Just searching for it can bring it out and make it brighter.

Jesus in disguise can be really overwhelming, however. Gender and age are illusions. She can be lonely and I’m the only person she’s got to talk to. He can be a new widower and on the brink of tears while he is signing up for his library card. He can be really smelly because he walked to the library on a Tennessee summer day because his car broke down and he doesn’t have air conditioning at home. She can be a young mother with more children than she has patience for.

Jesus can be a real pain when he is like this. I want to say, hey, Jesus, can’t you show me your nice side sometimes? Why do you have to be cranky and smelly and mean? Can’t you just be normal for a change?

And then I pray again. I ask him to show himself to me again. I ask him to work through me. I ask that my words be what this cranky, smelly, mean person needs to hear. I ask that I’m able to offer them a bit of healing in the time we are together. I try to be mindful and fully present.

It is hard. But it is everything. It is what each of us is made for, this reality, this presence, this moment when we stop being machines and we start being human. It is beautiful and real and aching and sad and overwhelming and everything we need to make this place we call Earth a home. Because ultimately it is all about a connection between people. It is about incarnate love, this love made real and tender and fragile and beautiful.

But it sure would be nice if Jesus would take a bath and use a breath mint every now and then.

Sanctified 2 (uncovering grief)

I see a lot of people at my job. There are people from all walks of life who come in every day. In general I enjoy interacting with people who are so different and interesting. The people I see are old, young, poor, eccentric. They are pleasant, creepy, and wonderful. But every now and then I have a really bad reaction to certain people and I’ve worked on what my problem is. I like one of the “Rules for being human” that states that every person is mirror of you – whatever you love or hate in someone else is whatever you love or hate in yourself. So I’ve been thinking about that.

I’ve noticed that I have a terrible reaction to those who reek of cigarettes and those who are morbidly obese, as well as people who are alcoholics. I’ve wondered why I seem to have a visceral reaction to them. I get angry when I see them. I’ve prayed about this. I’ve journaled about this. I’ve finally followed my spiritual director’s advice and asked Jesus into this feeling to help me understand it.

I certainly noticed those who smell of alcohol and get only movies. It has become a cliché. They drink so much and so often that even if they aren’t currently drunk they still smell of alcohol. It is escaping from their pores in the way that any poison does.

With all these situations, I have seen a connection. With the people who smoke, who overeat, who are alcoholics, each is a person who has no self control.

Part of my reaction is that I’ve been there. I used to be obese. I used to smoke clove cigarettes. I used to smoke pot. I know what it is like to be an addict. I know what it is like to feel trapped in my own body. I remember deciding I didn’t want to smoke pot every day so I wrapped my stash in several plastic bags and put rubber bands around it. I then put it up on a high shelf. It was going to take a lot of effort to get to it.

And then I’d find myself standing on that chair. I’d find myself unwinding the rubber bands. I’d pull out my bong and my supply of buds and I’d smoke. It is as if I was possessed. It was like I saw myself doing these things. I was a puppet, a slave. I didn’t want to smoke pot, and there I was doing it again. It was a terrible feeling. I felt helpless.

At first I thought to celebrate these instances, of every time I’d see something that angered me. I’d see someone who was obese or smell the smoke or alcohol on someone and it would remind me to pray. So that was good. I was praying more often. I would pray for the person and pray for my bad reaction. I hated the feeling I had, but at least it caused me to seek God. This worked for a little while.

Then Grace happened.

I came to understand this was grief.

My Mom died from smoking cigarettes. My Dad died from smoking and from not exercising. He was obese. I was angry at these people who shared their bad habits because I’m still angry at my parents for dying so young. For abandoning me. For leaving me alone to fend against my predatory brother.

There is a lady who comes every day who is retired. She sits and plays games on Facebook for hours. She is so large that she has a hard time walking.

I’m jealous of the time that she has. I’m angry that my Mom died, and doesn’t have any time left at all. I’m angry that this woman is throwing away her time. It is personal. Not only do I want her to use her time better, I want her to understand that there are people who would love to have that much free time. Why does she get to live and my Mom didn’t? Why do I have to shoehorn in my creative activity and she has all this time and blows it?

It is grief. I’m angry at them because I’m sad for myself. I’m angry at my parents for not having any self control, and then dying young. I’m angry at myself when I waste time and I don’t exercise like I should or eat what I know is good for me. My gut reaction lead me to prayer which lead me to understanding the source of my pain.

Pain became a blessing, because from it, I’m beginning to heal.

I offer you these words to tell you that you can do this too. I offer you these words as a voice in the wilderness, calling out, telling you to walk through the thicket, the stickerbushes, the marsh. Walk on. There is hope if you continue to mindfully walk this path. Don’t sit down, keep walking, keep working. There is healing here, in this work.

Sanctified (pain can be a blessing)

Pain can be a blessing. It can let us know something is wrong, so we seek treatment. This is true with physical pain as well as spiritual pain.

Anger, fear, anxiety are all names for spiritual pain. When we notice them, we have an opportunity to seek out a whole different kind of healing than our society usually offers us. Instead of taking a pill for these spiritual pains, we can choose to pray. We can ask God to come into that moment and be with us in our pain and our brokenness.

In this way we sanctify our pain. This is transformative to realize. When we do this, our pain becomes a reminder to seek God. It is like a bell, sounding the time to pray. Our pain becomes a pathway to God.

Of course this is easy to say when we are well. When we are sick, when we have pain or weakness or an unknown diagnosis it is hard to get enlightened. Every thought is about the pain and lack of well being. Everything is focused on the not-well-ness of how we feel. Our entire frame of consciousness is based on how we don’t feel like we think we should.

We have a hard time being objective about our subjective experience.

It is like being in the middle of an argument. It is easy to say that you should back off and not fight, don’t let the person bring you to their level. But when you are in the middle of an argument and the other person is yelling at you, right in your face it is hard to remain calm. All you want to do is yell right back and say what you really feel, free of all the social rules of being nice. This is true whether the fight is with a person or with a disease.

But it is worth trying. Yelling at the other person only makes the fight continue. Freaking out over pain only makes it hurt more.

Certainly, don’t let the other person walk all over you. Certainly, don’t ignore the pain because it might be a sign of something that needs treatment.

But part of being a follower of God is knowing that God is in charge. Even the “bad” stuff is part of the big plan.

We are told that every moment is the guru. Learn from everything, even your pain and suffering and doubt. Learn from the argumentative coworker. Learn from the annoying neighbor. Learn from the busybody aunt. They are all teachers. They are all pathways to God.

Resistance is indeed futile.