We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you.
- 2 Corinthians 6:11
Writer Anne Lamott recently wrote about a conversation with a stand up comedian friend of hers. He told her that when people meet him, most of the time they are actually meeting his bodyguard.
I'm thinking about that this morning.
The bodyguard is the self in front of the real self. It's the first layer of defense to the vulnerable soft skin of our humanity. Consider bodyguards for a moment. They travel with celebrities, going ahead of them and behind them and making sure that no harm will come to them. But they can also stick too close, making it difficult for authentic interactions with others. The bodyguard gets in the way of vulnerability and creates a barrier to honest, personal connection.
We all have a bodyguard self that walks along with us and comes to the front in different scenarios. We all have moments where our truest self is held back a bit, for protection or ego or comfort or convenience. There are so many reasons. The bodyguard self sometimes sees things in very black and white terms, because the messy gray areas of life are complicated and require more in-depth connection with others. The bodyguard can offer a quick label of, "good or bad" and immediately direct us to treat people accordingly.
I think times of exhaustion and upheaval can change how much our bodyguard shows up in our interactions. In trauma or pain, our bodyguard can move to front and center. It smiles at people, creates small talk, and moves on. And the vulnerable spirit behind is kept unaffected.
But pain and heartache can also break down our bodyguard, sending it away. Our souls have already been laid bare; keeping up appearances is far too much work. In our pain we learn to be at peace with our vulnerability, imperfection, and losses. We let others in.
What has this year done to your bodyguard? The pandemic, the isolation, the addiction to social and news media, and the added stressors of daily life can build up or break down our walls of protection. Is your bodyguard more or less active on this side?
Let's be clear: vulnerability isn't appropriate for every interaction. Not everyone needs to be invited into our interior lives, and there are times that it is healthy to protect ourselves from emotionally unsafe environments. But if that is the constant default, life will be so very exhausting, and we will live at arm's length from others. Jesus invites us into something better.
The Church (or the Society of Jesus as I like to think of it) should be a place where bodyguards are increasingly unnecessary in our lives. If we believe, as Jesus told Paul, that God's grace is sufficient, then the doors of our true selves should be able to open to one another. Imagine a church gathering where everyone has a bodyguard standing in front and behind them. Imagine attempting to love one another well, listen to one another, and encourage one another... when you can't even really see the one you're speaking with. What an unfortunate picture! And yet, the experience of so many is that church is the place where honesty and vulnerability are more dangerous than anywhere else. What a tragic failure in God's family.
When Paul writes to the Corinthian church, he shares with them that he and his companions "opened wide our hearts to you." I find that phrase to be infinitely beautiful, and something to always aspire to.
The more secure we become in how infinitely loved we are, the more we have the ability to open wide our hearts to others. And my goodness, we are loved so infinitely.
It's possible that traveling behind your bodyguard has become your primary way of life. And perhaps, Jesus is inviting you to step forward with others in a new way. Maybe it's just one person, maybe it's a smaller group, or maybe it's learning to interact with a new layer of authenticity with people as a whole.
But to move toward a culture where we have honest, transformational interactions, we have to be a part of establishing it for others as well. Consider the little statements you make, the small assumptions or labels you might use when talking about things. Do your words make others bring out their bodyguards when interacting with you? Today, let's use words of graciousness with hearts wide open, so that those around us can give their bodyguard some time off.
Jesus, help me live in the freedom of your grace today, while truly opening my heart to others as well.
How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures!
You had to know that a cicada post was coming one of these weeks, right?
If you live in the mid-atlantic region like many of us, then chances are you have experienced cicada mania this month. (similar to Beatlemania, but without the great hair). And if you live in a different part of the country, then it's likely you've heard the news stories. Billions of Brood X periodical cicadas have emerged from the ground to take up residence in our... everywheres. They've been underground for nearly two decades, and after 17 years they want to experience all that the above ground world has to offer. And they are getting all up in our business.
They aren't here to hurt you. Some of you are terrified of them (that's ok) and some of you are fascinated by them (that's ok too) and some of you are collecting them in buckets and dying their empty shells blue with berry juice (that's a little excessive, kids). But if you live anywhere near trees or lawns, they're hard to miss. And then there's the sound. A constant humming is always noticeable around the clock right now. Sometimes it's so loud around our house that it sounds like a distant ambulance forgot to turn off its siren. Their music defies labels. It feels like it's always building. There are choruses within the choruses, pulsing in many parts, yet one sound.
They've spent 17 years living underground, just waiting for these 6 weeks of flying, mating, laying eggs.... and singing. If you waited so long to emerge, wouldn't you want to sing around the clock as well?
It's as if the cicadas know that they are fully alive, with a short time to live, and they refuse to live silently.
Socrates was really into cicadas, at least according to the (likely fictionalized) conversations Plato wrote about his former teacher. In Plato's Phaedrus dialogue, Socrates makes a note of the spot that his friend has picked for their conversation: “How lovely and perfectly charming the breeziness of the place is! And it resounds with the shrill summer music of the chorus of cicadas.”
Socrates believed the lore that cicadas were of divine origin. They were once human beings so filled with delight that they sang and sang, neglecting food or water, until they died and returned as these messengers. They continued to sing constantly and bring a report back to the Muses of the most honorable humans who were concerned with divine and noble thoughts and actions. In the above conversation, Socrates is intentional to speak of valuable and honorable things with his partner within earshot of the cicadas so that “perhaps they will be pleased and give us the gift which the gods bestowed on them to give to men.”
That's super weird. I don't believe any of that.
But this idea that the cicadas sang constant praise to (g)od, and bragged about the beauty of other humans... that's interesting to me. What if I heard the cicadas in that spirit? What if it inspired me to do the same?
What if I lived like my time here is brief and valuable and worth making noise in all the right ways?
Though I believe that I will live forever with Jesus at the renewal of all things, I still long for these years of my life, birthed out of the dust and before returning to the dust... to be a resurrection song, much like the cicadas. I want it to be bursting with sound.
I want to be so aware of the fragile gift of life and the sacredness of those around me that I am constantly singing praises to God, and constantly reporting publicly about the beauty that I see in the people as they bear God's image. Why do we have such a tendency to do the opposite of both of those things? Complaints about life and complaints about others can dominate our waking hours.
Far too often, like the story Jesus tells of the seed that fell among thorns, worry and stress rob us of the joy of singing freely. We become distracted and forget the gift of life that we've been given and the gift of salvation we have in Christ. In our stress we become more critical of others instead of more complimentary of the beauty we see in them (there is beauty in everyone). And we remain far too quiet in this brief time we're given, instead of singing our hearts out (note: extroverts and introverts will practice this is vastly different ways).
This may be an odd image for you today. But what would it look like for you to hear the constant hum, or see the cicadas flying around you, or simply notice the abundant sunshine of the approaching summer.... and begin praising God more fully than ever before for the gift of life? How might that transform how you relate to your neighbor, your brother, your child, or your coworker? This week, let's delight that Jesus has given us new life, and let's love accordingly.
Jesus, stir my spirit to rejoice in you and speak in praise of others.