“I’m not sure I could agree to feed myself to the lions.”
“I think, though, if we choose to die to self little by little by little, we can approach the kind of love Christ models.”
We have been reading the Gospel of John. Today’s lesson included Peter’s denial/betrayal, pointedly contrasting this scene with an earlier one where Peter was all in (“I would die for you!”). Unsurprisingly, we identified with Peter—so much energy, so many good intentions, but then things get scary and intense and we have trouble figuring out what to do… or how/whether our quivering insides are going to let us act on those earlier intentions.
But about this early Christian/lion problem. It was when my friend said, “…feed myself to…” that I started musing.
If what I think I know is correct (so much of this I learned anecdotally, so -!), one would have been rounded up and marched off to prison. There one would stay, with routine beatings, little to no food, etc., adding in occasional “opportunities” to disavow the Christian cult and profess either dubious but more palatable Judaism or upstanding Roman beliefs. At some point—maybe the storage space was too full, maybe the city was low on entertainments, I’m making this up—if one hadn’t disavowed, one would be tossed in with animals to be savaged.
So the only acquiescence would be: recant right now? Or wait?
Which is, I think, an easier task than stepping boldly forward.
Late in That Contract, I had a horrendous twofold meeting with my boss. She cut down my approach and activities during the first, larger-group meeting, then called me back to her office for a ‘post’-meeting to demand, “What did you think you were doing?!” Later, a colleague asked me if I was okay; she said I’d turned white. I recently realized that I likely had nearly fainted from stress and anger; given flight or fight, I’m flight or possum.
Even so, I worked there for another three months, until they ended my contract.
I had been increasingly miserable well before that meeting; I remained increasingly miserable after that meeting. But I had been sure in the contract’s beginning that God’s prints were on it, so I waited for God’s indication that I was free to go. Each morning I would pray, “God, show me what you want me to do. I hurt; I want to stop hurting. Let me know what’s next.” And I would go to work, do the things before me, go home, go to sleep… and repeat as directed.
It is more straightforward than our American individualism might indicate to soldier on by waiting One More Time. Not necessarily easy. But doable, using un-heroic levels of energy.
I couldn’t say that I was dying to myself in that time. My misery and confusion were acute, and even when I’m content I’m always looking inward. I wouldn’t say that I was emulating Christ in my behavior, not in any intentional or conscious way. It was little by little by little, though I don’t see that there was any cumulative aspect to it, the way my other friend implied. Said another way, if I’m more something now than I was before That Contract, I still don’t know what that something is.
But it was little, and then little, and then little. Which may be all we’re able to die to ourselves, anyway.
And I can see a way I might’ve ended up a lion-shredded martyr. One exhausted silence at a time.
While I’m writing this, the public classical station is playing Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E min… there is a theme in, I think, the Largo, that pulls my heart out of my chest every single time I hear it. I even bought a version so I could repeat the effect at will.
This has been a public service announcement; you may return to your regularly scheduled programming.