Objective #4: To make people aware that resisting these needs [that is, our human needs to be known and loved] limits our experience of God.
The Christian world looks this week upon the Passion of Christ, revisiting the story in deep meditation leading up to Easter. As the Passion readings are proclaimed, perhaps we will hear some of our themes, perhaps for the first time in this context. It is striking, for instance, to consider how quickly Jesus’ captors accused Him without taking many steps to fully understand Him. It also stands out that His words frightened and angered many, yet they did not permit him dignity even in being difficult to comprehend. Jesus’ accusers could easily have rejected His claims and been done with it, but they left civility and logic far behind as they mocked, ridiculed and physically assaulted Jesus – well before his criminal sentence of scourging and crucifixion was carried out.
This speaks loudly to the need to be loved. What about the need to be known?
The daily Scripture readings leading up to the Passion and Death of Jesus describe numerous encounters Jesus has with critics who become increasingly hostile to the point of threatening violence. Jesus is questioned directly and answers in ways that are tied to Scripture (and are therefore recognizable by scholars of the day) but are not at all straightforward by today’s standards. Furthermore, prior to His final entry into Jerusalem, Jesus repeatedly leaves the assemblies unnoticed, avoiding those who want to seize Him right then and there to have Him killed.
But then, we find ourselves at Palm Sunday, the beginning of the Feast of Passover. As He made His way to Jerusalem, Jesus was recognized and hailed as a hero. He did not hide from the crowd, nor did He make any attempt to diminish His identity. In fact, in Luke 19, Jesus seems to accept the loud cheering as inevitable, as something the crowd needed to do, remarking that if they were to be silenced, the very stones along the roadside would begin cheering – so great was that need to be filled. Jesus knew that He was a public figure and a public target. So, why did He give in and accept the attention being poured out upon Him, when it led exactly where He knew it would: to His public arrest, trial, torture and death?
Although we are skipping the richness of the theology at hand when we use this answer from our Objectives, let us say simply: Resisting being known limits our experience of God.
Better still, we might expound further that resisting being known limits our full potential to experience what God has imagined for us.
Many, many, many people resist being known. We will take a good amount of time to explore this in greater depth over this and the upcoming weeks because it is a condition few realize and to which even fewer give much thought. It is something every person experiences, to some degree, but is a more particular and ongoing struggle for people affected by autism. Social anxiety, sensory overload, misunderstanding behavior and difficulty coping can make anonymity seem like a necessary oasis… but, if we may starkly come back to our Mission, resisting being known limits our experience of God. If we are determined to end spiritual starvation, we must pick up and search for a better way.
Our spiritual role model, Saint Thorlak, lived this struggle. Historical literature candidly describes the holy priest Thorlak as quiet, reluctant to socialize, dreadful of crowds and festive gatherings. Most remarkable is the story of how Thorlak, who had gone from priest to monk to Abbot of the monastery in Þykkvibaer, felt a stirring in his heart to submit his name to the general assembly being called at the Althing whereby the successor to the current bishop would be chosen. He did not like traveling as a rule, and he especially did not like to go where he could be recognized. As it happened, Thorlak attended the assembly largely from the sidelines, watching the two other candidates speak and receive endorsements from important political figures. It was just as well to him, as he had no prominent entourage backing him. Just when he thought he had fulfilled his obedience to the interior call and could return, unnoticed, to his monastery life, someone mentioned his name in the public discussion and the attention turned to this surprising third candidate. A discontented buzz went through the crowd as people began questioning why Thorlak was being considered in the first place, if he had not even stepped forward to introduce himself by name. The wealthy landowner Þorkell Geirason, who had donated the land on which the monastery in Þykkvibaer had been established, spoke up at last: “Thorlak strives to do everything best rather than talk most.”
Shortly thereafter, the sitting bishop chose Thorlak as his successor. Lord Abbot Thorlak became Bishop Thorlak in 1174, and his leadership was so remarkably different than the other bishops of his time that he is still remembered, celebrated and emulated worldwide 844 years later.
Our point is, if Thorlak had remained anonymous, he may have fulfilled the call to present himself to the assembly, but his experience of God’s imagined plan for his life would have been greatly limited – perhaps even thwarted.
Did Thorlak like attention? Not one bit. Did he want his name bandied about? No. Was he happiest when he was unrecognized? Yes. In fact, there are many stories recorded of acts he did in secret because he did not seek praise or notoriety. It pained him to put his name on things – presumably because he saw that the glory should go to God, or should be shared equally with the people he loved serving. Bishop Thorlak benefited more from the company of the poor and the shunned than they benefited from his wealth, and he did not think it fair to be praised when he felt it was he who got the better end of the deal.
We conclude with a paradox that fits seamlessly into the always paradoxical scheme of Saint Thorlak’s ways: Sometimes, voluntary humility requires making your name known rather than hiding behind someone else’s.
Sometimes, voluntary humility requires us to ride in the open toward the plan God has in mind for us.
Hosanna! Lead us, Lord, to deliverance!
Pray: Did you know that “Hosanna,” though a form of praise, means “lead us to deliverance” when literally translated? We repeat, then, this week’s prayer: Hosanna!
Contemplate: Consider how anonymity thwarts God’s fundamental design with these two Scripture verses: Isaiah 43:1, “I have called you each by name, and you are Mine;” and Romans 9:28, “God does not enumerate us, but calls each by name.”
Relate: How often do you call people by name? How often do you identify by your own name? How often do we hide behind a different name (or social media handle, or avatar, or job title…) to conceal our vulnerability?