Saturday, December 18, 2010

The terminal

We're feeling antsy today.  Our Finnish niece, Northern Lights (not really her name, but that's her blog's name, so I thought it'd be a good pseudonym for her), was supposed to have landed at SeaTac this afternoon.  However, her layover was at Heathrow.  And I'm sure you all know what's going on at Heathrow.  Oh, you don't?  You aren't conversant in weather the world over?  Me neither, except on days such as this.  But Heathrow is closed, due to snow on the runways.  So Northern Lights on her very first trans-global solo (which means without a parent) flight is stuck in an airport.  Stuck with a dying cell-phone and a charger carefully packed in her suitcase, which is somewhere in the bowels of the airport.  That's a rookie mistake, Beve observed.  But the rest of it, who could have guessed.  So we wait on tenderhooks, check the Heathrow International Airport site periodically to see if anything is opened yet. 

And for some reason, I keep thinking of the movie, "The Terminal."  Tom Hanks (who is a good enough actor that I actually forgot it was him with that heavy accent!) gets stuck in an airport when his country stages a coup, rendering his passport invalid.  He creates his own community from among a dissimilar band of workers.  Provides services to them, lives out a very full life, while all the time both being completely visible to those who are always watching him (the security department) and totally invisible to the hundreds and thousands of people who move through the terminal all the time. He extends charity toward all he comes in contact with--from those he befriends to those he antagonizes.  It's really quite remarkable.

And what's actually interesting is that I was thinking about these exact qualities this morning.  I've mentioned recently that I've been reading Cost of Discipleship.  This morning's chapter (14) was "The Hidden Righteousness" and focuses on the section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus speaks of the nature of a disciple's righteousness. "Do not do your acts of righteousness before people, in order to be seen by them." (Matt 6: 1-4) Now, I realize I might be a slow learner, but until this morning, the paradox of Jesus' words about lights not being hidden under a bushel from the section immediately following the Beatitudes and these words struck hard.  How can Jesus mean both?  Bonhoeffer, however, asks this question--'how can the same life be visible and hidden?'

It may be difficult to answer for each of us, though answer it we must.  I remember once having a conversation with a pastor about my sense that I felt the hidden life was the best one.  He said, "But you (meaning anyone, not me personally) can share Christ with so many more people if you have more 'fame'."   But my healthy fear of 'fame' has been clarified by this chapter of Bonheoffer, I think.  What he says is that our activity must be visible but not for the sake of OUR being visible (see page 176).  Our responsibility is to follow Christ and if He puts us in the light, it will shine.

It's like Tom Hanks in "The Terminal."  He was offered many incentives to turn around and go home, or to disappear out of the terminal, so that he would stop being so visible to the chief security officer, who didn't want the headache.  But Tom knew what he'd been called to do.  He wasn't looked for celebrity or fortune.  He simply intended to obey the task he was on.  If he'd gotten distracted from that and left because it was simpler, he'd have lost everything that counted to him.  That hidden purpose meant everything to him.

Get it?  Hidden and visible all at once.  Jesus knew what he was talking about.  Sometimes we even have to hide our good works--or that light!--from ourselves.  I get this.  There are times when I get positively bloated by the things that I've written, the conversations I've had.  As if it had really been me!  Those are the moments when I am certain that what I told my pastor all those years ago was right.  Fame is dangerous for me.  Others might be able to handle it.  Me?  I'm just too full of me on my best days.  Any good that I do is Him.  ANY good--in word or deed.  No, the hidden, ordinary life.  And He makes that hidden life glow with His light, and that ordinary life extraordinary by His presence, and often (more than I can ask or think) He speaks and acts and works through me.   As Dietrich Bonheoffer says, "Hiddenness has its counterpart in manifestation.  It's up to God to reveal.  There is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed."  (page 177-178)

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