I find God in unexpected place. Trust the Process.
I was thinking about a reflection on who inspires us and a friend of mine sent me a series of photos from a book she was reading on inspiration. Then a teacher of mine posted about Keep Good Company Meetings she was offering. That’s something that has been in the back of my mind for a while. The ways that we come together to inspire one another.
Keep good company. It’s one of my favorite quotes.
There’s a saying that we are made up of the five people we spend the most time with. By choosing good company of people who embody the qualities we want, we learn to cultivate those qualities. (and I like to remind us that sometimes the company inspires us and sometimes WE are the inspiration, so it is not an exclusionary practice).
I was thinking about people. Who inspires me?
Jesus is the obvious answer—for the good, the compassion, the example of how to be truly present in the world (in the midst of challenge—how to be grateful and good when things are HARD—it’s easy to be good when it’s easy). For me, also Mary Magdalene—now, I’m not sure what to believe of her history, there’s much that’s conflicting in the oral tradition, the bible, and new documents. The story of the redeemed prostitute is inspiring. And if that wasn’t her story, that just makes her all the more interesting and inspiring. She shows us how to be faithful. She embodies deep deep devotion and love.
It’s why we have these stories as our heritage, for people to emulate. How to be. It’s why Jesus is human. To remind us the we have the ability to be Good People. To be an inspiration to those around us. To be Christ like. This is the quote my friend sent me from the Yoga Sutras: “We steady the mind by focusing upon someone who is peaceful and virtuous”. We calm our minds by focusing on someone who carries the characteristics we are trying to achieve. We can keep good company with someone who is not longer alive. This is Sunday worship, coming together with the best company. Bringing our attention back to Jesus each week.
There was a time I was very disheartened by the Christian faith. No, not the Christian faith, but people who claimed to be Christian and were, well, just plain mean. That if I wasn’t sure, or didn’t believe then I wasn’t part of the tribe and if I wasn’t going to covert right then and there (instant gratification), then it was OK to mean. Complete strangers felt that it was OK to tell me that I wasn’t good enough, in the name of Jesus. I never could understand being mean in the name of Jesus.
It was a gift. It opened doors to explore other ways of finding God and Grace. I think I might have left Christianity to the meanies forever, if it wasn’t for a couple of things.
Number one is Jesus himself. I couldn’t completely desert such a good person because his words and actions have been twisted. Or…in a more kind way…simply misunderstood or understood in a way that doesn’t serve me. We’ve all been there: misunderstood, judged, our words and actions misunderstood.
The other thing that stuck with me was, literature. Novels. I am inspired by the stories I read, whether memoirs, fiction, mythology, spiritual literature. But one novel in particular really inspired me. It was life changing with lessons in good company and instructions in the meaning of Christian faith.
Les Miserables and I mean, the book.
Have any of you read it? It’s really long. If you read the abridged version it starts about 100 pages in from the unabridged. And those first hundred pages has one of my favorite characters in all of literature. The Bishop Myriel.
The Bishop lives in a small house with his sisters. He visits every person in his parish. Every person: the rich, the poor, the good, the bad. He gives all that he has away. Food, money, niceties. He has a roof over his head because it doesn’t belong to him. He rides over over the mountains, through storms and dens of thieves, to visit the sick and dying. The sick that people say aren’t worth him visiting. People who aren’t worth his visiting. To point out the other side, it is dangerous to cross the mountains, their Bishop could come to harm. It is unsafe to ride out in inclement weather, their Bishop could fall ill. It would not have been out of line to not make the long, dangerous trek.
The Bishop visits them.
He does everything that a true man of God is supposed to do. Open his door to strangers (even at his own peril). He gives away all of his worldly goods and trusts in God. He does this.
The Bishop makes the abridged when Jean Valjean comes into play. And Jean Valjean is a really bad guy at this point. Awful. Sure, he started out simply stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, but 19 years on the chain gang has made him hard. Really hard. And bad. He is not a good man, at all (don’t believe to the musical—the POINT is his redemption from being a bad man).
Valjean steals the Bishops silver and leaves. When the Bishop’s sisters tell him it’s gone, the Bishop is not upset. He says (paraphrasing): I did wrong, it belongs to him as much as me. More so, for I was supposed to give up my worldly good for God and I didn’t. I kept those pieces out of my own vanity.
When the police bring back Jean Valjean, the Bishop says that the silver did belong to Jean Valjean. And he believes it. He tells Valjean that the silver is his. It has bought his soul for God and good.
What makes the book so good is that you have this Bishop and this truly terrible man, Jean Valjean. Even after he is absolved by the bishop, he leaves the town thinking: no, no, no. I don’t believe in God. God has forsaken me. I don’t believe in the bishop. He’s a fool. He doesn’t WANT to believe in God. It’s too hard. There are too many expectations. He must change. Valjean is still a desperate man. He steals coin from a boy, not because he needs it, but because he has become bad.
As the child runs away, the bells of the church ring in the distance. He is transformed. Terribly, wrenchingly transformed. Seeing God only at that moment. Hearing the Bishop’s words only at that moment.
The Bishop inspires me. The Bishop risks his life for God. He truly gives as he is meant to give in the service of God. He truly does what he is meant to do in the service of God. He sacrifices everything for God, lives poorly and taking all under his wing—he excludes no one. It’s his job, as a true man of God, to be good and kind and to gently teach. It is God’s job to judge, not his.
Jean Valjean is the transformative power of god. Redemption out of the worst life. He will spend the rest of his life in the service of God—and we’ll see later, he also, must risk his life for the greater good of God and Truth. Because the Bishop bought his soul for God. His whole life is transformed into a life of good from bad.
I carried that story around like a Bible. For a long time, it was what I thought of as my Bible. It was the story that truly brought to life, for me, the word of God. The way of living as a Christian in the world. Forgiveness even in the midst of struggle. The really hard choices that make it more challenging to be Christ-like or God-like.
It’s easy to say: oh well, not my tribe and shut the door and exclude or even be mean.
It’s a lot harder to feel: Hmm, they don’t think or act the way I do? Yikes, he’s a little bit scary, I’m not so sure about this? But to choose compassion and love anyway. To choose acceptance and kindness anyway.
Jesus wouldn’t turn away and be mean. He didn’t. God asks us to take risks and trust. For goodness and truth. To gently teach and to continue to learn. To be open to change and to surrender to Grace.
Inspiration appears in the most unexpected of places.
Who inspires you? What inspires you?