Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!


(John the Baptist in the Wilderness, Geertgen tot Sint Jans, 1490, from The Edge of the Enclosure)

John is indeed a forerunner. He precedes without sure and certain knowledge of whom or what he is serving. He may not himself share the immediate experience of the salvation that has become present in Jesus; he longingly foretells it. What he awaits and expects overtakes him without really catching up with him in the sense of his seeing clearly what he was aiming at.

Surely we are all forerunners! We are all pilgrims on the wearisome roads of our life. There is always something ahead of us that we have not yet overtaken. When we do catch up with something, it immediately becomes an injunction to leave it behind us and to go onward. Every end becomes a beginning. There is no resting place or abiding city. Every answer is a new question. Every good fortune is a new longing. Every victory is only the beginning of a defeat.

Aren't we always dispatching messengers from the dungeon of our compulsions and disappointments? We send them to find the real thing, that which is ultimately valid, even though we do not really know where to direct these messengers of our unassuaged longing.

Everywhere, always, we are no more than predecessors. The goal of our journeying seems always to remain far ahead of us, to stay beyond our power and always to fade into new perspectives of distance, even when we think we are approaching it.

-Karl Rahner 1904-1984
Meditations on Hope and Love
Second Sunday in Advent (Year C)
quoted from The Great Church Year

This was the picture we used recently in a Theological Reflection in my online EfM class--a striking one to the ones one usually sees of John the Baptist.  I think it captures a lot of things that are part of what connect me to him.
There's no doubt whatsoever I dearly love John the Baptist.  He and Peter are my two favorite folks in the Bible. John the Baptist appeals to the side of me that loves inner fearlessness--the part of me that attracts me to the voyageurs, the mountain men, the Jedi knights.  These kind of folks have both an earthiness and a connectedness to the world around them that I have admired since childhood.  They are larger than life in some ways.

But what I love about this painting is there is no "larger than life" to John here.  It's clear this is not exactly a picture of John the Baptist.  It's just a picture of John--and it looks a little like he's simply trying to find himself a little bit, away from his legendary status.

I get that, in a very small way.  I have taught medical students for two decades.  There's a small legendary aspect to that.  There's a larger than life side of me than that.  My life has intersected with darn near 3000 students and residents in my career, roughly.  That's a small town.  I imagine many of them think they "know" me.  I have heard them tell me I taught them something or told them something, and when I hear what it was, I am pretty sure some of it, I never taught them that particular thing, or said it that way.  My clergy friends have told me that happens with preaching, too.

There's a place where if a person doesn't really stay in touch with him or herself, one starts trying to live up to the legend, and will always fail at it eventually.  None of us can live up to the larger than life people we make others out to be.

When I was a kid, I was hungry for role models, for various and sundry reasons.  I have always hung the moon and stars on those people.  Some of them were people I'd never meet--people like Lou Brock and Bob Gibson, and other various St. Louis Cardinals, or Katherine Hepburn.  Some of them were dead--like Harry Truman and Amelia Erhart.  Some of them were very real--like my grandpa.  With all of them, one eventually finds they have feet of clay, because, after all, they were human.  It wasn't always easy to deal with that.  I think about how kids are feeling now about Albert Pujols signing with the Los Angeles Angels.  I get their disappointment.  I remember trying to get Stan Musial's autograph once when I was about ten or eleven years old and he was back for an Old Timer's day at Busch Stadium.  So much has been made about what a nice guy and a gentleman he is.  I think I got him on a grouchy day.  I didn't get his autograph.  Didn't even try.  I saw he was getting fed up with the autograph seekers in front of me, so I thought, "Why bother?"  I didn't want to risk the hurt of being groused at by a legend.  That kinda hurt--to see he actually could be crabby.  To this day, when they were showing him on TV attending the 2011 World Series, I still think of that.  Oh, it's no longer a big deal...but I still remember the sadness that realizing one of your favorite baseball legends is really, just a human being...and one who probably gets tired of signing autographs.

I imagine John the Baptist had to deal with some of that, being a charismatic sort of prophet and all.  All of us, at one time or another, have enjoyed our few moments of feeling bigger than life now and then...and then we realize it's easy to let our ego get in the way.  

But look at what else we see in this picture.  Behind and to the left, is the Lamb of God...sitting quietly...waiting patiently.  I like to think, "The Lamb waits patiently for us, even when we're being a horse's ass."  The Lamb will wait for John to get over his consternation of loss of sense of self.  The Lamb will wait for our big egos.  The Lamb will wait for our self-abasing beratement when we realize we've been a little too full of ourselves.  The Lamb waits when our patience is shot.

What's the Lamb waiting on you for these days?



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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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