Friday, October 08, 2010

Divine Forgetfulness

My wife's gifts as a dancer have often put me in close proximity to the folks at her studio. I've been made to regard this art form which many from my Baptist upbringing would have, in decades past, declined to acknowledge. Thank God that attitude is changing. At the very least, the wonder in me must concede that the human body is a spectacular work of art in itself, and that is not to mention the dancers' abilities to be poetic with it.

I have the gift of being infinitely squeamish about my own corporeal workings. If I have to go get blood taken or have some part of me "looked at," it turns my mind toward the reality of my own organs. There they are, having worked inside of me all this time. How little attention I've paid to them. But when their existence stares me in the face, I feel a mild dizziness and a strong desire to shiver and think about something else (which, of course, causes me to think of nothing but). Not so with my thoughts of other folks. I can watch you from afar and be amazed at how your lungs and mind and heart keep you moving, mostly without your consent and certainly not according to your oversight. It's quite wonderful to consider, but perhaps my discomfort also deserves some consideration.

Paul's little poem in Philippians chapter 2 has always had something to say to me, but mostly, I am struck by the Divine Forgetfulness that Paul so eloquently paints in the first couplet about Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
   did not consider equality with God
      something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
   taking the very nature of a servant,
   being made in human likeness.

In the Greek, the phrase "to be grasped" almost has a violent, rapacious connotation and is rather ambiguous. The ambiguity translates into the English. It could mean that the Lord did not think himself able to be coequal with the Father. It could also mean, however, that he did not particularly think of his equality with God much at all. Often we read that little opening stanza like this:

"Despite the fact that he was God, Jesus did not consider himself equal with God."

It feels good to us to paint that picture of humility. It's an easy thing (and also inversely comforting) for me to be down on myself all the time. A different reading, though, might go like this:

"Because he was God, and that's the way God is as a man, Jesus did not think of himself much at all."

That one is harder. I am no Greek scholar, and the scholars themselves differ on the meaning of this line, but I feel as if that forgetfulness is closer to the heart of our Lord than the piety of the first reading. And, of course, Paul admonishes us that "our attitudes should be the same" as the Lord's. Forget yourself. Or, to put it another way, Lose yourself. Lose your life. Forget where you put it. Set it aside in lieu of someone else. Greater love hath no man than he who lays it down for a friend.

In getting your mind off of you, it's certainly less apt to make you squeamish.


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