"Your love is lifting me higher
Than I've ever been lifted before
So keep it up, quench my desire
And I'll be at Your side forevermore
You know Your love
Keeps lifting me
Keeps on lifting
Higher, higher, and higher...."
- Jackie Wilson
Okay, so this is another recycled song. But I can't help what springs, like a Broadway musical number, into my head sometimes. And today it was, Jackie Wilson's classic, "Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher." And it happened at the strangest moment.
So, I am sitting in church, well actually not just sitting in church...as in, sitting back and listening to the service...no, I was conducting the service. And even though I had read the scriptural selections, and their correlative passages from Mary Baker Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, more than a dozen times this week, it was the juxtaposition of two, or more, statements that took me by surprise. Almost to the point of needing to stop the service and ask for a moment to recalibrate where I was, and what I was supposed to be doing.
I just wanted to snap my fingers and be able to call up one of those moments you see on television where everything freezes while the main character assesses the situation. But I couldn't. I had to keep reading. But that didn't mean that I could stop thinking, thinking, thinking...or put the musical number inside my head on pause. And the choreography looked alot like this video of the ACM Gospel Choir singing "Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher," on BBC's Last Choir Standing. In hindsight I see that this is, in and of itself, a moment of progress…I no longer heard a mournful dirge when I considered these concepts, but a joyful “hallelujah” of sorts.
But I digress. Here are the citations, from Science and Health that caught in my thought, and wouldn't let me breathe for a moment or two:
"Though entitled to the homage of the world and endorsed pre-eminently by the approval of God, his [Jesus] brief triumphal entry into Jerusalem was followed by the desertion of all save a few friends who sadly followed him to the foot of the cross."
"That he might liberally pour his dear-bought treasures into empty or sin-filled storehouses, was the inspiration of Jesus' intense human sacrifice."
"This was the highest proof he could have offered of divine Love."
"Love enriches the nature, enlarging, purifying, and elevating it."
Words swirled like snow in the dry, cold air of winter...words and phrases like: cross, intense human sacrifice, highest, elevating...Love, Love, Love.
I couldn't help but remember a thought that had startled me some years ago. It had wrested me from a self-congratulatory sense of complacency about my spiritual ambitions. From a false sense of what it meant to go up higher, and it hasn't let go. My steps have been haunted, or encouraged, by it ever since. And just when I think I "get it," I have a moment like the one I had on Sunday. And immediately, that earlier "aha!" moment...which happened years ago...is as clear and riveting as it was that sunny Colorado afternoon. The story goes:
I'd been thinking about this citation from John:
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth,
will draw all men unto me."
While considering its relevance, as a spiritual model for nurturing my young practice of spiritual healing, I'd had an epiphany. Prior to that moment, the mental imagery I'd always entertained, when thinking about this statement, included Jesus going up into a mountain "and when he was set his disciples came unto him" or Jesus feeding the multitudes on a hillside, or speaking from the temple altar, or praying from the bow of a boat "above his fellows".
But imagine my Christ-stricken sense of things..."heart chastened and pride rebuked"...when I realized that the next citation established the context, and the setting, for his delivery of that line:
"This he said, signifying what death he should die."
Oh my gosh, he wasn't talking about being lifted up from earth -- by acclaim, accomplishment, or celebrity -- to the human heights of achievement...a platform, a podium, a pedestal, a soapbox, or a mountaintop. No, he was speaking of the cross...he was saying that all men would be drawn to him, not through the hierarchy of priestly "climbing," but from the summit of the cross. They would be drawn to how he walked through this moment of "intense human suffering" with bleeding footsteps...and a sense of purpose. They would find great spiritual comfort and encouragement for their own journeys, in his having experienced even more agony than they would ever even imagine, and still be inspired and able to express compassion and grace.
Looking more closely at this high point in his career, we don't see a man who has achieved earthly success. He has actually failed, substantially, to "measure up" according to the religious standards of his time and culture. And I wonder, if we didn't already know the end of his story, how he'd fare under current standards of scrutiny. Consider his record towards the end of his career. He's failed to heal Judas of betrayal, to convince the temple elders of his Messiahship, to gather the religious elders to his ranks, to turn Peter from his path of disloyalty, to liberate himself from Pilate's imprisonment, and horribly unjust sentencing as a criminal among criminals...and ultimately, his crucifixion. And, as Eddy reminds us, "He opened not his mouth in defense of himself." Was he not praying? Why wasn't he inspired with the right words? A well-reasoned argument that would have resulted in a dismissal of his case and release from incarceration? Wouldn't this have been right...a "demonstration" of God's love?
And not only does he fail according to the "world's" measures of success, he is unable to draw any but one of his disciples to this altar of "intense human sacrifice" in those final moments. He is hanging from a cross, in the company of a murderer, a thief, women, and the one who is faithful, and beloved. Why did they follow him...why do we?
He is now broken...shattered by the hatred he did not heal...how much could he hold, accomplish, achieve, accrue, with hands full of holes? How could he think, much less pray - for himself or others - with a crown of thorns around his head? Who would follow a man with holes in his feet...a man, who at best, is now only able to take halting, stumbling, faltering footsteps...how would he walk, much less lead? Perhaps he knows that it is in this moment of broken hands, pierced lungs, throbbing head, and bleeding feet that we finally learn that it really is, always has been, and always will be God that we live, and move, and have our being in. That He is the only "doer," and that it is His prayers that heal, His word that comforts, His footsteps that lead.
Eddy describes this moment in Christian history, and her own relationship to it:
“Pitying friends took down from the cross the fainting form of Jesus, and buried it out of their sight. His disciples, who had not yet drunk of his cup, lost sight of him; they could not behold his immortal being in the form of Godlikeness.
All that I have written, taught, or lived, that is good, flowed through cross-bearing, self-forgetfulness, and my faith in the right.”
She saw that this was his summit, this was his God-crowned height, this was his divine commission.
And what of us? Is this really where he is encouraging, urging, demanding that we "follow" him?
So how do we do it without being filled with terror?
Back to today's heart-stopping moment...
"Love enriches the nature, enlarging, purifying, and elevating it."
-Mary Baker Eddy
Yes, as the song says:
"...Your Love is lifting me higher
Than I've ever been lifted before..."
Jesus said, "take up your cross and follow me..." But, what is my cross? What is it that will begin to crucify the false ego...day-by-day. What is it that will lift me up from that view of myself as "of the earth, earthy" to behold "the Lord of heaven and earth" within my own heart? Only Love can...only Love will...only that unreasonable love which sweeps away the gossamer web of self, and walks mindlessly (but always Mind-fully) into the sickroom, faces the lion in his den, lifts the sinner from the sin, and speaks gently to the frantic child's heart...only this love has the power to impel us in following him as we take up our own cross.
This love that is of God, takes me by surprise and moves me to act well outside of the ego's paradigm...in loving my children, changing my behavior, serving others, allowing the reformation of my own character, putting someone else's needs above my own, focusing light on another's work/accomplishments and letting them shine...it is only this love that could ever even possibly give me, even a modicum of the courage required to follow him. And each time I do, I discover that the view from this summit, is breath-takingly lovely...
To embolden my resolve...and find the inspiration and encouragement that is much needed in order to follow his footsteps each day...I return, over and over again, to Eddy's chapter, "Atonement and Eucharist," in Science and Health, . It is here that she reminds us,
"Our cup is the cross..."
and further promises us,
"If good enough to profit by Jesus' cup of earthly sorrows,
God will sustain us under these sorrows."
These are just two of many remarkable statements she makes about Love-inspired cross-bearing. And this cup that is the cross...it is a good thing. But we can only find the strength to lift it to our lips, and let it lift us, through Love...the inspiration of Love..."the wine our Master drank and commended to his followers."
"So take it up, quench my desire
And I'll be at your side, forevermore..."
Okay, I'm Yours. I will follow and rejoice...I promise...
[above photo: M. Munhall 2009]