Of narrow gates and mustard seed

From architect John Pawson, "Plain Space"

This week, the New York Times ran an article called “No Room for Mistakes: Design Perfectionists at Home.” It describes people for whom the goal of home is not comfort nor shelter nor family, but a particular type of aesthetic perfection. One man, who lived “for years…in a nearly empty apartment,” lent it to a friend, who brought in some furniture and painted everything white. Everything. Except the windows and the TV screen. When the owner came home and saw what had happened, he loved it. The white-painted appliances no longer work, but he keeps them anyway.

Another homeowner had decorated his apartment entirely in neatly-stacked articles in shades of gray and silver, like so many repeating cells in a strip of movie film.

What is your image of spiritual perfection? Do you aim to have everything in your soul in its place, all vices eliminated, each virtue pruned to perfection? Do you believe there are rules that must be honored perfectly, a narrow gate through which you must enter? Does your image of sanctity seem a bit more like a stained glass window than like a living human being?

One of the things that is so challenging about Jesus is that his images of holiness are so messy. Yes, he did talk about the narrow gate and pruning our vines, but he also compared the kingdom of heaven to mustard plants and lilies and errant children sobbing on their father’s shoulder. Christ’s images are bursting with life; they spill over the boundaries we try to create, defy neat categories, suggest that any rock can turn into a Jacob’s pillow from which we see angels ascending and descending on our lives.

The Law of God had given the Hebrew people a template: live your life within these boundaries, practicing these practices, and you will live with God. Jesus pushed back: yes, God is there, but God is elsewhere, too. God is with the penitent who weeps, with the woman stigmatized as unclean, with the foreigner and the stranger weeping for their dead.  He never annulled the value of the law, but he drew our attention to the jagged places in our lives as so many doors through which the grace of God might stream. The law, he seemed to suggest, is one starting place among many, and the goal is not static perfection, but abundant life.

In the end, of course, we need both structure and creativity, order and life. The structure we choose is the Way of Christ, and we freely elect to live our relationships with God and with one another according to the way we have chosen. But the life is what makes it personal: each individual’s unique passion and vision, poured within those constraints, reveals the love of God in a new way, helps those around us see what we would not have seen alone. For we were created, each one of us, to give God glory, each one of us as only we can give it. Amen.

Mustard plants in a vineyard in spring

(To read the Times article or view the attached slides, go to http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/26/garden/design-perfectionists-at-home.html?_r=1&hpw)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Of narrow gates and mustard seed

  1. Noell Sottile says:

    Amen, indeed! Thanks. Lovely. –Noell S.

  2. Jo says:

    For those who think Christianity is for people who want to be given all the easy answers and have things tidy — this is wonderful. Mustard plants are crazy weeds and uncontrollable, as sometimes is our life in faith. It is Who is with us and what we do that is of faith. I like the image of “jagged places” right after Carol’s “thin places” in yesterday’s Cup; indeed, they are often the same.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s