Recently, my son and I have been watching the recent BBC version of Sherlock together (it’s become a bit of a family tradition: we did the same with my daughter a few years back). It’s just excellent in so many ways: innovative directing and camera work, great storytelling, impeccable acting, and enough “Easter eggs” and clever references to keep us all entertained.
In the “old school” Sherlock stories, whenever the detective sprang into action he would declare to Dr. Watson that “the game is afoot!” The modern version updates that phrase to “the game is on!”, and whenever Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) exclaims it, the action always takes a great leap forward and the characters move into the story, the mystery, and in a variety of ways proceed to confront villains, solve problems, and in a general way bring some justice and resolution to the storyline. It’s a great time, and thoroughly enjoyable.
A few years ago, I was reading Thomas Merton’s autobiography when I ran across an exchange that gave me a pretty significant pause. Merton is talking with his friend Robert Lax. Lax asks Merton what he wants to be, and after Merton replies that he wants to be a “good Catholic,” Lax tells him pointedly, “What you should say is that you want to be a saint.”
Merton protests, declaring, “I can’t be a saint, I can’t be a saint.”
But Lax drives the point home: “Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”
Does that strike you as much as it struck me?
(For the record, Merton bounces Lax’s idea off of another wise, monk, who verifies the truth of it.”
Forgot all the challenging traditions and baggage you might know and feel about “saints”: the occasional over-emphasis on relics and veneration; the supposed miracles that are associated with old bones and mystical visions. Set all that aside for just a minute and think about what (or who) a saint actually is.
What images come up?
What names come up?
Francis? Mother Theresa? Paul? Peter? John?
“The Apostle Paul” – Rembrandt (courtesy Wikimedia)
Maybe there are some unofficial, modern ones as well: Martin Luther King Jr.?
I always think of “saints” as men and women who had essentially learned to live out of the radical reality of God’s love.
They had grown beyond the masks and identity traps that we fall into, and simply grasped the simple fact that they were/are “The Beloved” of God (just like Jesus).
After that, they just started to work out the implications of that reality in their own context…
“If I truly AM the Beloved…
… Then I am free to live in poverty
… Then I am free to fearlessly look at my “shadow side”
… Then I no longer need to hype God up, or scare people into the Kingdom of God
… Then I am free to speak truth to power
… Then I am free to see people the way God sees ME: as broken-but-beautiful; cracked-but-precious
… Then I am free to be compassionate to all
… Then I am free from the fear of death
… Then I am safest in the arms of my Father in heaven. I have nothing to fear.
(A note about one of those implications: I used to think that being a “saint” somehow meant that you somehow floated above life, and you no longer had to worry about things like “brokenness” or “sin.” However, the more I learn about the men and women who have achieved sainthood—officially or unofficially—the more I learn that they were actually incredibly in touch with their own limitations and brokenness. However, they were able to relentlessly place those limitations in the context of their Beloved-ness, and therefore resist the guilt and shame that plagues most of us. Rather, that awareness helped to unlock new levels of gratitude, appreciation and understanding of God’s free gift of grace, which in turn spills over into ever-increasing compassionate love for and service to the world that God loves so much.)
So now, think about that: God wants to make a saint out of you (no matter what Mick Jagger might say).
Now, make no mistake: when Robert Lax tells Merton, “All you have to do is desire it,” there is an awful lot packed into that phrase.
Because if we are honest with ourselves and each other, we desire an awful lot before we desire sainthood.
Here’s just a short list of my “desires”:
chips and salsa
quality music releases
a richly satisfying marriage
safety and maturity for my children
a secure retirement
a good vacation this summer
a healthy church
better leadership out of myself
a better workout habit
a richer prayer life
grass that mows itself
a teenage son that cleans up after himself
a book project that effortlessly writes itself
3 more hours in my day to be productive
3 more hours in my day to sleep
a 24 hour, free, soccer channel
comedy specials that actually make me laugh
a community that governs itself
(… and all that is BEFORE 9AM!)
But make no mistake: there is something that stirs in my heart sometimes, that gnaws at me, and that just sticks with me constantly.
Maybe it’s the growing desire to be MORE. It’s the growing desire to let God “make what me what He created me to be.”
And that thought has begun to stir my soul. It gets me out of bed in the morning (or rather, HE gets me out of bed in the morning), and into the presence of this God, this Love, this mystical and mysterious Presence that wants to grow me into something that He always intended me to be.
So I pursue prayer.
I pursue worship.
I pursue confession.
I pursue submission to a spiritual director.
I pursue service.
I pursue community.
I pursue study.
I pursue meditation.
Yep, as Sherlock would say it, “The game—of growth, of maturity, of spiritual evolution, of transcendence—is on.”
Where are you at with your spiritual growth? Do you believe—and trust—that God wants you to be a “saint”?
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Under the mercy.