for everyday living
Br. Keith Nelson reveals through his own experience how reading and praying with John’s Gospel can allow each of us to see the ordinary, challenging, and even painful events of our lives as signs imbued with meaning.
BEHOLD WHAT YOU ARE
SEEING JESUS AND OURSELVES IN THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JOHN
He came to center our senses in himself.
In his work On the Incarnation, the church father Athanasius wrote these words about Jesus, to describe one aspect of his cosmic purpose and mission: “He came to center our senses in himself.” It’s a simple and memorable phrase, with a pleasing, rhythmic consonance in English. I first encountered it in a library in my mid-twenties, while writing a paper for a graduate course. At first, it was simply the bright, felicitous thread that connected many conceptual beads into a strand that hung together. But I walked around repeating it over and over. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Nor did I want to. My fingers caressed the beads, as it were, and the thread held. It held much more than I imagined. The words haunted me for days and whispered me to sleep at night. Whatever was happening, this was not about the theology that I thought I knew. God (?!) was apparently happening to me, and in the smoldering depths of my heart.
It armed me with the nerve I needed – a firm resolve with a trembling underbelly – to trundle into the snow on a Sunday morning in Advent of 2007, to find a seat in the back of a monastic chapel. I had come, vulnerably, to center my senses on him. I needed his body, his blood. To find a center for senses flung, dispersed throughout the wide world and home-sick for their Maker. As the moment I’d been waiting for got closer, I got more and more nervous. I thought about how I could make my exit without anyone noticing. But then, as the bread and wine were lifted high, I heard the words from behind the altar:
Behold what you are; may we become what we receive.
I think my mouth literally fell open.
It sounds so painfully earnest to put it this way, but Jesus Christ changed my life that day.
We see in the Gospels that Jesus always calls us by name: Peter, John, Mary. We'd love to know your name.
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