Place, Personhood, and the Weight of Glory
I am describing the same phenomenon discussed in the short video-blog interaction between myself and Travis Reed posted a couple of weeks back. In that second conversation, Travis asks me to reflect on what I believe are the most important aspects of leadership. I suggest that the most important aspects of leadership are presence, engagement, and the creativity that flows from the interaction of those things.
Being present is one of the most challenging tasks any human being faces. The temptation is always to be somewhere else - which is another way of saying somewhere other than here. We live regretfully in unchangeable pasts. We live projecting ourselves anxiously into unknown futures. We live mesmerized by that which is mediated to us on screens. We live anesthetized by what we consume. We are always seeking somewhere, somewhen, someone, somehow, or something else. We struggle to be present to ourselves, each other, or God. Here. Now.
This phenomenon exists not only on a personal level, as I am describing it, but also on communal levels, too. We live in communities that are rarely present to the world in which they exist. If you look around, you will find groups of every size and kind - churches, denominations, businesses, governments - seeking somewhere, somewhen, someone, somehow, or something else. That kind of forward movement is not necessarily bad, by the way. In fact, I believe it is a good sign that we are part of a story that is going (or leading) somewhere. The irony is that when our desire for outcomes (teleology) eclipses our practice of being (ontology), such an orientation precludes the possibility of ever actually realizing such desires. Paradoxically, I believe that the only way to move forward is to let go of the desire to do so and to live with conscious attention to the present. Easier said than done. But it is done, at least by a few.
Have you ever been around a person who feels substantial? I don't necessarily mean charismatic - though they might be that, too. I mean that when you are with them, you sense that there is a weight to their being. Their souls are heavy. Such people draw others to themselves like magnets draw metal shavings. Why? I think the answer is, in part, because they are there, alive in their place and time. There is weight to their presence that attracts the way gravity pulls objects to the ground. Gravitas. I think such people have cultivated their souls by their practice of presence. They are becoming human beings. The result of this is that they gained ontological weight. This can be especially, though not exclusively, true of people who have encountered, and continue to encounter, God as revealed in Christ - the incarnate One.
Perhaps a surprising way to describe such a person is glorious. What comes to mind when you read that word - glory? Rays of shining light, perhaps? The Hebrew word for glory is kabod. The literal meaning of the word kabod is "weightiness," or "heaviness." To talk about God's glory is to describe his weighty or heavy presence. When the Bible tells stories of human beings who find themselves in God's presence, invariably each account portrays people falling down on their faces. It's almost as if God's glory, or weight, presses down on them. God is Substantial. Present. Real. Here. Now. God's Person and Presence invites our person and presence into an encounter that transforms our being. We become more real, more human when we live our lives in relation to God, his people, and his ways. People who spend their lives cultivating their souls add weight to their being by borrowing some of God's weight. Another way of saying this is that they reflect God's presence and glory the way Moses did when he came down from the mountain, God's glory shining on his face...
What does all this have to do with the Hauerwas memoir?
In Hauerwas' story, and thought, you get a sense of a soul that has wrestled deeply with God, people, and place. You encounter a human being who has suffered and has caused suffering, who has forgiven and been forgiven. Most significantly, you witness a life gradually shaped by the cross of Jesus Christ (the only way it ever happens). I believe it is because we are so averse to suffering that we constantly jettison ourselves out of the present reality and into an alternate and ideal reality fabricated from our fantasies. In so doing, we reject the cross - and the possibility of resurrection! What a tragedy. There is nothing more glorious, or weighty, than a cruciform life lived passionately in the hope of resurrection.
Alas, such lives are only forged in the crucible of specific relationships with people whom we generally take for granted. And such potentially glorious relationships? They, too, are available only in the specific places and times we too often long to escape. When we look beyond our place and our time, we miss that which God would use to shape us into the glorious likeness of his Son. And we become less substantial...weighty...glorious. The Son's glory comes by virtue of his willingness to suffer in humility for the sake of those whom he loves. Our "glory" usually comes as a result of our significance and success.
Can such upside-down, kingdom realities ever be adequately described? I doubt it. We must witness such things first-hand. As John writes: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life" (1John 1:1). If this is the case, then perhaps a memoir is not a bad place to start. But it would be a poor place to end. Why? Because Hauerwas' memoir is not just about theology, but about the relationships that have made him the man he has become. After reading Hauerwas' theology for years, seeing it worked out in the story of his life is a gift that instructs me in the living of my own life. More than that, his story models the relational reality that I am trying to describe.
If we are ever to become what God has made us to be, we must live deeply in relationship to one another. We must pay attention to one another and live attentively, looking for people whose lives show us what it means to know and follow Christ in these times and places. If Hauerwas' memoir were nothing else, it would at least be a testament to the power of friendship to shape a life. That it is virtually impossible to make it through a page without Hauerwas naming a person and describing the influence of that person on his life and/or thought is the most significant thing I will take away from this "book." Which brings me to the following quote. In it, Hauerwas relates his experience having joined the faculty of the religion department at Notre Dame. There he finds people who show him something of the God he seeks in his theological work.
"There is no substitute for learning to be a Christian by being in the presence of significant lives made significant by being Christian...'Significance' can, of course, be a misleading description of the lives that got my attention. Significance suggests importance. It suggests lives that make a difference and that demand acknowledgement. But the lives of significance that I began to notice were not significant in any of those ways. Rather, they were lives of quiet serenity, capable of attending with love to the everyday without the need to be recognized as 'making a difference.'"
To what are we paying attention? To whom are we present? If we never learn to be here, now, then we will miss the many small, "insignificant" gifts that God gives to lead us into the present and unfolding reality of his kingdom - to show us...no, to make us his glory.