Niggle’s Leaf part 1

I’ve been reading Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations. (If you follow that link, you can receive daily emails. Doesn’t get any easier than that.) Last week he wrote that Christians don’t typically believe in resurrection all that much. That’s a point I’ve made many times. In class settings or even conversations, I often note Christians describing the afterlife as some disembodied state. Part of the scandal of what Jesus taught is that we get resurrected. Dead people don’t stay dead. And we don’t float around like ghosts. We’re not even like angels, who are spirit-creatures. Humans remain as we are, spiritual/material creatures. In this life and beyond, we experience embodied existence.

But then Rohr took it one step further. He wrote that even if we manage to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, in the concept of resurrection, we still don’t believe in our own resurrection. We show this lack of belief in our resurrection in what we do, in how we spend our time. Ouch. This goes right back to the conversation Matte and I were having across these social media platforms. It’s also the reason I was so dissatisfied with my list. This Rohr thing was already rolling around in my head as I wrote that. Rohr having raised the stakes to their ultimate, my little answers felt small even as I offered them.

Plus, I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. That’s unusual for me. I don’t have a morbid streak. But given what we shared in our last podcast, I have been doing the math and it looks like I need to live and be productive to at least 90 now. We’ll see how that goes but I suspect it means a lot less Pop Tarts.

So, how does paying close attention to my thoughts and feelings or reading widely and sympathetically do anything to address this gap? How does taking time to learn and embed ourselves in the story of Scripture raise our belief in our own resurrections? How can such small measures (I called them experiments the other day) effect such seismic change?

Well, two thoughts. First, this quote from my mentor, one of the many that have a way of staying with you:

The movement that Jesus begins is constituted by people who believe that they have all the time in the world, made possible by God’s patience, to challenge the world’s impatient violence by cross and resurrection. – Hauerwas

To believe in our own resurrection is to believe that we have all the time in the world. We don’t have to hurry. We don’t have to take shortcuts. We don’t have to pretend things (by which I mean ourselves and what we create and identify with) are bigger, better, more spiritual or successful than they are. We can take the time to do things properly. We can take time to focus on the fine details. We can take the time not to leave anyone behind, not to run over people and sacrifice them in order to speed up the process. As Christians, we don’t need to speed up the process. We don’t want to speed up the process. Just the opposite. We have the luxury of slowing things down. We learn from Jesus, the upper room disciples, Paul, and countless others that waiting is a crucial part of this life of following Jesus. If all we do is go go go, we aren’t following Jesus, who did a lot of waiting and instructed his followers to do a lot of waiting. Making disciples is slow work. Spiritual formation can’t be microwaved. All the church growth tricks of speeding things up are lies that kill the church and misdirect people from following Jesus. As Hauerwas said, impatience is always marked by violence. Damage is done when we lose sight that we have all the time in the world.

The second thought comes from dear J. R. R. Tolkien. He wrote a short story called “Leaf by Niggle,” about a painter named Niggle who spends his life painting one massive canvas of a tree with a forest behind it. Niggle was meticulous about the details. He obsessed over every leaf. He was also distracted from his work by many of the mundane things of life. In the end, he fulfilled his duties somewhat begrudgingly and all that remained of his life’s work was a single, perfect leaf displayed in the local museum. I have a good deal more to say about this, about what believing in my resurrection has to do with the slow attention to detail and the relationship between the spiritual and the mundane, but my own duties are calling (yours probably are too). Let’s give attention to the details of this day like we have all the time in the world. More later…