Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Thoughts From "Imitation of Christ"

Sometimes on long road trips, Dennis and I read to each other. On the last trip, I read passages from Thomas a'Kempis, "Imitation of Christ". Kempis was a 14th century monk. It's a marvel to me how a follower of Christ back in 13something had written down thoughts about humility, holiness, servanthood, joy and a relationship with God which speak to my heart in 2009.

"Always take the lowest place and the highest will be given you, for the highest cannot exist apart from the lowest. The saints who are greatest before God are those who consider themselves the least, and the more humble they are within themselves, so much the more glorious they are. Since they do not desire vainglory, they are full of truth and heavenly glory. Being established and strengthened in God, they can by no means be proud. They attribute to God whatever good they have received; they seek no glory from one another but only that which comes from God alone. They desire above all things that He be praised in themselves and in all His saints--this is their constant purpose."

Ah, humility. A virtue that challenges me, and living examples of it are scarcer than I care to think about. Have I ever met a truly humble soul? Have I ever been one? The Bible describes God in many ways, but when I read how God is humble, it blows me away. I got a New Testament in fourth grade and loved to read the Gospels. I loved to read anything, and had many favorite heroes. But Jesus stood apart from anyone I had ever met in print. Here, in one story, He touches the untouchable. Next, He welcomes and blesses children, treats women with kindness and respect. There, in another account, He washes His friends' dirty feet. As a kid,like I was at the time, you get a lot of ordering about by adults in charge. But this adult was clearly different. Always in charge, yet, the same time, demonstrating a quality that made me want to know Him. He seemed approachable. He appeared to care a great deal about all kinds of people, and to even a greater degree, His Father in Heaven.

The verse I loved the most back then was "The last shall be first and the first shall be last". In fourth grade, I felt that I was always last. Maybe in reality, I was pretty average. But often, it was a struggle to find one friend and easy to make an enemy for no good reason, from my point of veiw. I was a fan of the comic strip "Peanuts" where I envied Charlie Brown, because no matter what, he had Linus, whether he appreciated it or not. I would've given anything to have a Linus in my life. But the phrase spoke to my heart as a comfort and a warning, that those on the bottom would one day be one top and those on top would experience being on the bottom. One day, justice will come.

As a nine year old, I was already contemplating the consequences of putting others down for my own benefit, which was a sin that I easily fell into whenever I had a chance. Being last can make a girl quite insecure and tempted to play the political games in the schoolyard that would help her climb that social ladder. I just wasn't that good at it. Which now, I'm glad for--thank God. Eventually, I didn't have the heart to join all the other girls and surround and tease Nina to tears on the playground at recess, not because I knew how she felt only a few days before (usually, experience didn't make one empathetic, but all the more cruel because one isn't the butt of the joke when a more vulnerable replacement came along), but because I understood just how futile it was. It was much better, from the Bible verse, to be nice to Nina. Because the least was greatest in God's eyes. If I liked Jesus from the Bible, I wanted to believe that what He said was true. He loved Nina like He loved me. Which is a pretty good place to be afterall.

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