For whatever reason, I have been thinking a lot about power and authority, and leadership, in recent weeks. These are probably not untimely thoughts for the Advent season, either, as the whole church turns its attention to the meaning of its messianic expectation. We can’t separate that expectation from our thoughts about the nature of community, and the organization of the community, or from our thoughts about blessedness and its content, or from our desires, for ourselves and our loved ones, our neighbors and our world.
So here is Paul, or more likely pseudo-Paul, praying for the Ephesians, who could perhaps also represent us:
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. (Ephesians 1:17-19)
Where to begin?
How about with our believing, according to the working of his great power – that is, it seems, that we believe because of this energy that is at work – most visibly in Christ, but most immediately perceptible by us in us, in its effect of our belief. We believe according to the working of God’s great power. It ought to remind us not to imagine that our faith represents some kind of personal achievement (which pseudo-Paul will emphasize a little later, in 2:8).
But the more to the point, how about that spirit of wisdom and revelation that grows into the enlightenment of the heart – the seat of mind, will, emotion, desire – as our enfaithed selves come to know Christ, and the God of Christ – that is, maybe … that will to wisdom, that will to greater and greater understanding, that will to desire what Christ desires, that intuition for what Christ and the God of Christ loves, and the love of that …
I remember shopping at Akron with my mother, when I was a little girl, which was sort of a home goods store, and pointing out things in the store that I liked, and listening to her tell me whether she also liked them, or didn’t, and if she didn’t why, and if she did why. I remember wanting unbearably much to be “on her wavelength,” to see what she saw in things, to be able to point out to her things that, when she saw them, she would say “Oh, yes, that’s nice!” or “Yes, that’s very pretty” – until, over time, I knew, or felt I knew, what she would love. Later, I never had any trouble buying a Christmas present for my mom. I knew her taste. For a long time, her taste was my taste – until time and distance and the kinds of things that happen between mothers and daughters happened to us, and what I wanted diverged from what she wanted for herself and for me, at some points less, at others a lot more.
It was only after that divergence that I felt that I would have had to give something up, to submit to some alien imperative, to please my mother in certain ways – to “do what Mom wanted.” I don’t think it was a sin that I developed a taste and a spirit different from my mom’s; but I think that when people say “sin is separation from God,” they are probably talking about something a lot like that. And this, it seems to me, is relevant to any thoughts about the “all rule and authority and power and dominion” that the Messiah surpasses.
When we pray for the eschaton, as Jesus taught us, saying that we hope – as we have been called to hope – for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, which I suppose means “in the way that it is done in heaven,” which I imagine, when I think about it, to mean immediately, cheerfully, enthusiastically, and without any suffering – are we not in that prayer praying for a condition in which our desires have been so shaped by our love for Christ, and the God of Christ, that they have come to be identical? But then, presumably we trust that the desires of Christ, and the God of Christ, and their Spirit, are so definitive of the Good that, if we only knew what we really wanted, what God wills would be identical to what we would will, what we would surely want to will, too.
This happy identity, I think, is the hope to which we have been called. The hope for a condition in which “Jesus is Lord” is not a statement of opposition, a prescription of setting aside or subordinating our impulses and desires and wills and spirits to that bigger, stronger, but sterner and more punitive one, but that condition in which “Jesus is Lord” is an exclamation of delight and love and “two hearts that beat as one” with not a single trace of anything like coercion or domination & submission.
This happy identity, I think, is what we get to hold out hope for, and to hold out for, in Advent. Messianic expectation is our warrant to “accept no substitutes” for the real thing, the Christ Pantocrator who is nothing like the Big Eye in the Sky, but is rather the one who knows and loves us the way he knows and loves his own body, and for whom we feel the same way.
That’s what I catch a glimpse of from time to time, and what I’m waiting for – because as my no doubt still-to-be-enlightened heart sees it at this point, it is all that is worth waiting for.