I believe that living here is a gift. Sometimes the offerings come, like in this case, sheltered in a lush stand of trees in the midst of an ordinary day.
“Since Jesus came into my heart” is a phrase and a song I heard often growing up. Likewise, I was told we are the hands and feet of Christ in the world. The language of my Christian faith oddly seemed to be wrapped up in my physical body and seemed to contradict the evil nature of the human form that I was also taught. I think I never quite believed that the later assertion was really the whole truth.
I took a walk with my friend Liz last week. We turned off Shelbourne Street and onto a path between a large grassy green space and a stream full of winter rain. Liz calls the path through a stand of trees “The Cathedral.”
We have walked this path before in silence, to savour the mystery of this hidden sanctuary. When we walked last week, Liz was telling me about a poem she’d memorized. She asked if I’d mind if she recited the words as we walked. I didn’t mind.
She began, “We awaken in Christ’s body, as Christ awakens our bodies. There I look down…”
She was in front of me a bit and we were keeping our safe distance. I was looking down and as my foot maneuvered the tree roots I heard, “He [Christ] enters my foot and is infinitely me.” I felt tears come and self-consciously willed them away, realizing Christ was in me, not just “with” me, as I often imagine.
The next words I heard were scattered: whole, in His light, the beloved, in every last part.
The hymn, as the poem is called, were written by Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022), a Byzantine Christian monk and mystic, who believed that we have the capacity to experience God’s presence directly. We are being “oned” into our Lord Jesus, as Julian of Norwich also expressed, a few hundred years later. Isn’t that the same union with God that the bible is leading us toward when we say we ask Jesus into our hearts and act as God’s hands and feet in the world?
I’ve been trying to memorize the lines of the hymn myself and wake up to the words I know each morning. I am reminded to open my heart, even though I sometimes close it up by evening. I listen to hear again that everything that is hurt, everything that seems to me dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, or irreparably damaged is in Him transformed, and in Him, recognized as whole.
And that kind of frees up my day.
We awaken in Christ’s body,
As Christ awakens our bodies
There I look down and my poor hand is Christ,
He enters my foot and is infinitely me.
I move my hand and wonderfully
My hand becomes Christ,
Becomes all of Him.
I move my foot and at once
He appears in a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous to you?
—Then open your heart to him.
And let yourself receive the one
Who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
We wake up inside Christ’s body
Where all our body all over,
Every most hidden part of it,
Is realized in joy as Him,
And He makes us utterly real.
And everything that is hurt, everything
That seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
Maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged
Is in Him transformed.
And in Him, recognized as whole, as lovely,
And radiant in His light,
We awaken as the beloved
In every last part of our body.
Saint Symeon the New Theologian