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10 December 2008

This morning our men’s study group spent yet more time in Philippians 3, considering together what it might mean in contemporary terms to “share in [Jesus’] suffering.”  It is something that goes far beyond income classes.  Jesus somehow felt right at home in the presence of, and in conversation with, people of all kinds.  Paradigmatic is Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar (John 4), a man’s plaything, a woman who woke up every morning knowing that just as she was yesterday, today she will be as well, a woman who could not make a man love her as she was, a woman who could not get it right even after five and now six tries, a woman trapped in her own identity and shackled by an inescapable story of failure and abuse and indignity.

Was she snaggle-toothed with ‘80s hair, trailer-park garbage, a chain-smoker driving a Buick with fading paint and three hubcaps, tooling back and forth to her next trick, waking up to a man with nothing but contempt for what she was and why?  Was she wrinkled and aged beyond her years, angry and bitter at the hand she was now playing?  Did she go to sleep each night convinced that she had nothing of value to offer the world, no children, no posterity, no gifts unique to her, so that if she did not wake again it would be no great loss?  Would Samaria miss her if she were gone?


The conversation was not all that long; Jesus went right to the point.  There is no glossing over the truth.  He brought to her a prophetic word.  He was, after all, just passing through, and he would have no way of knowing that her current live-in was her sixth.  Except that he was Jesus.  

And then he vanished over the horizon, leaving a strange and lovely aroma where he had once sat, on the edge of a dusty cistern in Samaria.  We get the impression that he would miss her.  So, apparently, did she.


It reminds me now of Paul, who is alleged to have said of himself and his companions:

Thanks be to God, who always leads us in his triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of him in every place.  For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.

II Corinthians 2:14-16


These conversations on Tuesday mornings and Sunday evenings and with the PTC are so rich, so evocative.  They are not the melody, they are not the keynote, and they are not the rhythm.  They are a wandering counterpoint that somehow amplifies what is really going on, brings the melody into sharper relief.  Because of my friends in Christ and the authors I am growing to love, I am more attentive to the movements of grace. 



I’m on an airplane this evening, circling a political maelstrom known to us as Chicago.  Today Governor Blagojevich has been arrested, arraigned, and released on bond for a range of corruptions whose breadth and brazenness take the breath away.  Shortly, if the snow squalls permit, we will touch down at ORD, one of the world’s busiest.  The captain just came on the intercom to tell us that we may end up having to bail out to STL.  No matter; I am away from my family and friends.  Platinum or no platinum, all hotels look the same to me.


We have a flight attendant who is tall, fifty-ish, with a dignified beauty.  Not a seductive beauty, not a stunning one, not a flawless one.  Simple, lovely, imperfect.  She was checking on the folks around row twelve when a woman passed me down the aisle, returning to her seat toward the front of the coach cabin.  The flight attendant smiled, shifted into the space next to her, and gently laid her hand on the woman’s shoulder as she squeezed past.  Just like that.


Maybe discipleship to Jesus is primarily a matter of aroma.  It is not the persistent stench of a department store where the beautiful people come to spend their riches becoming more beautiful, a cocktail of seductions and poses, vanillas and rosewoods, siennas and corals and gloss.  No, it’s a fleeting sense of the holy, a sense that defies microscopes and theory and description.  The spiritual fathers called it the “numinous,” a glory that could only be appreciated out of the corner of one’s eye, and only if one were paying attention. 

Not a mirage.  It’s real water.  But it does not seem to appear squarely in my field of view, for very long at least.

But it’s not a hurricane or a thunderclap or a wildfire, either.  It is the sound of a gentle breeze blowing, a puff of glory that brushes me from behind, rustles my hair, and leaves me different.


We’re cleared to land at ORD.  Maybe God has one more fragrance to wave over my life tonight.  We’ll see.


One Comment leave one →
  1. 11 December 2008 2:36 pm


    Again, from Eliot’s “Four Quartets”:

    The moments of happiness—not the sense of well-being,
    Fruition, fulfilment, security or affection,
    Or even a very good dinner, but the sudden illumination—
    We had the experience but missed the meaning,
    And approach to the meaning restores the experience
    In a different form, beyond any meaning
    We can assign to happiness.

    For a wonderful stay in Chicago, try the Drake Hotel. (At least it was wonderful the last time I stayed–almost thirty years ago. )


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