Rector's Blog: Emergence
I was watching the cicadas in my front yard yesterday and was struck by something. First of all, there are a lot of them. I mean, a lot of them. Dozens of shells of the molted cicada exoskeletons sit in piles around the trunk of our locust tree. Some of those old skins are still attached to the tree itself, and I stood watching as this one cicada was slow-motion bursting out of that old skin and emerging in its new form. I didn’t know something could burst in slow-motion before, but here this little bug was – ploddingly piercing the dead shell that remained glued to the trunk, pushing its head and then body out, oh so gradually leaning back perpendicular to the ground as it gained energy, unfolding and drying its new wings. This process took time. And why shouldn’t it? This little wonder of God’s creation had been sitting in the ground becoming something for 17 years. Why not take a few hours to finish becoming itself?
I won’t pretend it was pretty. But as I watched, I was struck by the tenderness of this little prolonged moment. Life unfolding, developing, and becoming. Life that had long ago buried itself but not died was now emerging for its next chapter. So many things had to converge for this life to occur, to survive, to grow, to change. And even now everything felt tenuous. Would the cicada’s wings develop appropriately? I’ve noticed many don’t. Would a squirrel or a cardinal get it while it sat still? I’ve seen those critters filling up over the last week.
So much uncertainty there, so much risk. But it was met with the simple, careful, pushing forward of the cicada into its new life. That insistence is powerful in its own way. The life that accepts change with all the unpredictability that comes with it is a force to be reckoned with. Gentle and fierce at the same time, tender and powerful. This cicada may not have been pretty. But it was beautiful.
We’ve been reading a lot about the early church lately at Church of the Redeemer. Our Thursday Morning Bible Study has been deep into Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, and all throughout Easter on Sundays we were hearing from the first letter of John. Both of these epistles are letters written to first century churches still trying to grapple with becoming who they were. We witness them trying to build communities and lives based on the realization of what God had done in Jesus Christ. There is tenderness and concern, there is passion and disagreement – it all comes from the deep desire to live into the next chapter of their lives. They are changing and growing into the newness of becoming themselves.
It is always worth remembering that the early church was not made up of people who were trying to change. No, the early church was made up of people who had been changed and were simply trying to live into the reality of that change. They had come to believe in Jesus. They had come to believe that, in Jesus, God had acted irrevocably to save the whole world and draw all of creation up into a reconciled life forever. They weren’t trying to become saved. They believed God had saved them. They weren’t trying to become new. They believed God had made them new.
They believed God had done and was doing something in their lives. The communities they created were founded out of a desire to live more fully into the new reality that was in front of them. The cicada doesn’t decide to grow and become something new. It simply lives into the reality that this is happening. Tenderly, and powerfully, it becomes itself. Likewise, the first Christians didn’t say, “God did this, so we need to change.” They said, “God changed us, and now we have to live into this new reality.”
How can our community reflect the truth of what we’ve become? How can our shared life mirror the new reality that God has made evident?
For almost every person I’ve met, the pandemic has changed our lives, plunged us into a new way of being. We did not ask for this change. But it happened. We are changed. We are not who we were. As our friend and priest Joyce Keeshin wrote recently, “Each of us has been getting more in touch with our own lives, discovering who and what we cherish most dearly, better understanding our deepest longings, and listening more closely to that inner discerning of the choices before us each day.”
And now you are emerging. Bursting forth 14 months later, rather than 17 years, you are emerging. You are in such a tender place. As ready as you are for the next chapter to begin, there is uncertainty. Your grip can feel tenuous. But the powerful inevitability of the new life God has brought forth is palpable. Joyce asks “What changes have we adopted during this past year that have been truly beneficial, life enriching? What do we want to keep?” And I know you are asking yourself these questions too. You are not saying, “Should I change? Should I make things new?” You are asking, “What changes should I cherish? What do I do with my new reality?”
The process of your growth into this new life will not always be pretty. But it will be beautiful. Because, like those cicadas, like those early Christians, you are bursting out of the old skin in slow-motion. You are gentle and fierce at the same time. You are tender and powerful. The life that accepts change with all the unpredictability that comes with it is a force to be reckoned with. Move as slowly as you need to. You’re becoming yourself, after all.
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