Have you forgotten who you are?
Carolyn Arends loves to tell the story of St. John of Kronstadt, a Russian Orthodox priest of the late 19th century who would -- in a time of great political and social upheaval and devastating poverty in Russia, when most priests would stay separate from the masses and wait for the lost to find them -- walk the streets of the slums and approach the destitute living in filth and despair. As Carolyn tells it, he would cup his hand under their chins, look into their eyes and tell them, "This is beneath you. Do you not know that you were created to house the fullness of God?" Everywhere he went, revival broke out.
I was reminded of this beautiful story recently at Barnabas, when I heard Carolyn speaking again about "Resting in God." Blessed was I to have heard this before, when Carolyn came to our church to speak at a Women's Retreat last November. Blessed was I to hear it again. Really, it is a subject about which you cannot hear too much. "Come to Me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest," said Jesus. And yet, in this age of leisure and pleasure unknown to any other generation, we find real rest so rarely. So, the first part of her presentation was looking at what steals our rest. And the first part of that is the issue of identity -- who we are.
We are such forgetful creatures. No wonder that, throughout the Bible, God implores us to remember, remember, remember. We forget who God is, what He has done, and who we are in Him. How can you find rest if you do not know who you are? We work and strive to make ourselves acceptable, and then -- exhausted, stressed, at the end of our ropes -- we find that we were already accepted from the first. Because of who He is, we are made who we are -- the only earthly beings to house the breath of God within us.
Carolyn uses stories and songs to illustrate her teachings. One song she used was her own "Who You Are" from the album Under the Gaze. One of the stories she used in depth was the "Woman at the Well" from John 4. In that story is contained our great fear and desire to be known. After examining the story from the Bible, Carolyn showed this brilliant and emotionally-charged clip:
While I sat and watched that video, I thought about the recent excellent production of Man of La Mancha by Taproot Theatre that I had seen just before leaving for Barnabas. Man of La Mancha is a musical based upon Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote. I am reading Don Quixote now, and it is quite different in style from the musical. The musical is unabashedly romantic -- not only in the sense of highlighting the love story, but in the genre sense of portraying reality through the lens of the ideal -- and paradoxical. Cervantes, in the musical, is entertaining inmates in a prison while awaiting interrogation under the Inquisition by fabricating a vision of a man whose madness makes him the most sane, or at least most humane, character of the play. Don Quixote (Jeff Berryman) bursts forth on stage as impoverished gentry turned knight-errant. He acquires sidekick and squire, Sancho Panza (Don Darryl Rivera), and sets forth to battle giants (tilt at windmills) and seek lodging in country castles (a rustic inn). At the inn, he encounters tavern whore Aldonza (Candace Vance), in whom he finds the gracious and pure lady on whom he can lavish his chaste and chivalric vision of love. He renames her "Dulcinea" -- Sweet One.
At first, Aldonza is confounded and bemused by his courtly overtures to her. Then, she slowly starts to share his vision of her -- to see herself in a new way, as a beautiful and beloved woman. Then -- oh how it tears at my soul -- Aldonza is brutally raped. When she next sees Don Quixote, she directs all her anger and disillusionment and heartache at him. He had given her a hope that had been murdered in the most violent way. She tells him who she is, that she is Aldonza. He says she is Dulcinea. She screams at him and flies at him in rage, "Look at me! Look at me! I am Aldonza!" He stares back at her in bewilderment and says, simply, "You are Dulcinea. You are my lady."
This video of a powerful, lyrical retelling of the Samaritan woman at the well repeats over and over: To be known is to be loved; to be loved is to be known. We think we know ourselves well -- every nasty, sinful detail of our failings and our not-even-tryings are the ones we turn over and over in our minds during those wretched, sleepless 3 AM's. And maybe, maybe when the tsunami of Christ's overarching love first washed over our lives and silenced in the awe of His sacrifice our doubts and our fears, we began to believe that we were His sweet ones. And then, we fall and fall and fall again. So, we yell and scream at the Maker of the Heavens and the Earth to look at us -- look at us. And He does. And, because nobody knows us like He does, nobody loves us so well; we are still His Dulcineas.
And, because embedding YouTube videos is fun, here are Carolyn Arends and Steve Bell singing "Who You Are":
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