31 October 2005

The Gospel of Luke

So I got back a week ago from a trip to Minnesota to attend a conference at Luther Seminary. I stayed with my friends Blair (former Associate Rector at my church here in Northern Virginia, current Rector of St. Matthew's Church in urban St. Paul), Dwight (Blair's husband, a doctoral student at Luther and probably the best theological teacher I've ever met), and Luke (their 2 1/2 year old son and the subject of this post).

Luke is without a doubt the happiest child I've ever encountered. Every moment for him seems to be a new delight. He runs around all day long with a huge grin on his face, absolutely convinced that every thing he finds and every person he meets will be the bearer of good news. (And then he sleeps all night, Hallelujah!) :-) A lot of kids that age seem to have learned a little bit of apprehension; they aren't too sure whether what's around the corner might be good news or bad news. If there isn't actual harm in store, it's quite possible that the next thing might be a thwarting of their plans, a limiting of their fun, or just something far, far short of the non-stop party that, ideally, a child's life should be. And many kids seem to wear this apprehension on their faces much of the time, and to spend a good deal of time and energy trying to make sure that their fun quotient remains as high as possible at all times, even if they sometimes have to make themselves and everyone around them miserable to accomplish that. (I write as a non-parent, and I don't hate kids, but admit it. Kids do this.)

But not Luke. It's not that he gets everything he wants, or gets to do everything he wants; it's just that nothing in his life seems to have shaken his confidence that life will consist of one joyous blessing after another. It isn't his job to make sure the blessings keep coming. It doesn't need to be. They just come.

God, grant me that kind of faith! Grant me that kind of joi de vivre! But in all honesty, I have to say that when I reflect on this (as I have since spending time with Luke), I'm overwhelmed by the extent to which that prayer has already been answered in my life since I became a Christian.

OK, minor side trip, which I think is necessitated by my use of the phrase "became a Christian." It raises a bunch of questions. Do I believe in the reality of the experience of being "born again" or "born from above" (Gospel of John, chapter 3)? I truly do. Do I consider myself a "born-again Christian"? Yes, I do. Can I point to a single day or moment when I experienced this new beginning. Nope. Can I point to a year or several-month period during which I became "born again"? Yes, I can, and contrary to much of the theology of my Anglican tradition (and also Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and much of mainline Protestant tradition), I don't believe it was when I was baptized as an infant. It was in early 2003, when I truly began to trust and have confidence in Jesus Christ and to sense the activity of the Holy Spirit in my life.

For Luke, though, maybe it really did happen at baptism, or even in the womb, as he was bathed almost constantly in his mom's prayers. I don't know. But I do know that since I was "born from above", I've become a lot more like Luke. I thought about this as I reflected on the summer that just ended. I remember clearly looking back on waning summers in the '90's and even early 2000's and evaluating them like this: how much fun did I have? Life's short, so it was a good summer if I got to an amusement part at least once, got to the beach and swam, went to a Ren Faire, saw a lot of movies, etc. I was like the average child: the meaning of life, as far as I could discern it, was to make sure I was maximally entertained.

But as I looked back at this summer, I thought: gee, I wanted to get to an amusement park this year. Oh well. I didn't go to the movie theater much this year. Maybe next year. This summer, and indeed most of the last three years, has been marvelous, and not because they've been chock-full of non-stop entertainment. I've been living more like Luke: open eyes, open heart, open arms to embrace whatever life has in store for me next. I'm busy trying to follow the Spirit wherever She leads, and while it's not an endless party, it is wonderful. Literally, this kind of life keeps me, like Luke, in an almost constant state of wonder. I've got a long way to go (Philippians 3:12-14), but I'm really starting to get an idea of what Jesus was talking about in the Gospel of John when he spoke about "eternal life" or "life to the full".

If you ever have the chance to meet Luke, you'll get to see exactly what I'm talking about. Of course, Luke's life won't be all blessings. Nobody's life is. His faith in the universe will be tested. And so will mine. I've experienced some bad things in life (clinical depression chief among them), but I've yet to suffer in my life of faith. The testimony of the Bible and most Christians I know tell me that this is inevitable. I don't really have a lot of confidence in my own ability to weather adversity. But I'm not counting on me. And having spent a few days with Luke, I don't think the negatives he faces in life will break his essential confidence and joy. Bend them, maybe, but not break. It's who he is.

And I really think it's becoming who I am. So when the time comes for me to take up my cross, God, please help me to remember the Gospel of Luke: that life is Good News, life to the full, life eternal, and it's not my job to make it that way if I have confidence in the One who is the source of all blessings. Amen.


Anonymous said...


Well if you are going to talk about Luke you better know I will chime in.

Mike, this is an absolutely delightful description of my little friend and the way he faces the world.

For those who don't know, I had the joy of taking Luke to Sunday services for a bit more that a year -- from Passion Sunday 2004 until Blair, Dwight and Luke left for Minnesota.

Luke LOVED being in church. From the beginning he had an enormous attention span for a less-than-year-old baby. He loved the music, the choir members, the organist, the ensemble. And they responded in kind.

He latched onto the visuals in the church -- the big "Spirit Window", the crucifix over the pulpit, the processional with all the vestments and torches.

When we first started going to church together, I would carry him up in my arms to the altar rail, and he would receive a blessing from the priest serving the bread -- often his mother in her vestments. One day, without warning, she started giving him the bread. Before long he would reach for it, and then, after he started walking, he figured out he should kneel down like everyone else at the altar rail, even though he had to reach up REALLY high to get that Jesus bread. Finally in the last few weeks, he was taking me by the finger and leading me up to take communion!

So often Jesus says to his disciples - "be not afraid." That describes young Luke. I used to have trouble with the significance of Jesus instruction (this is the version in Mark 10):14...“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them."

I used to interpret that as requiring a childlike simple-mindedness. But after spending time with young Luke, I think I'll hear that passage as meaning: receive and strive for the Kingdom like young Luke does -- joyfully, not afraid, for God is with you all the way.

Thanks for this entry, Mike. It brings back such wonderful memories of the times I spent with Luke, and what he taught me.


Mike Croghan said...

Thanks, Eleanor, that's beautiful!