Our greatest need is also our greatest fear: Which is to be known, to be known fully as we are.
This insight is courtesy of Frederick Buechner, who is a wonderful religious writer.
We need to be known, we desire to be known, but we also can be terrified of the prospect.
We have the need to be known and to be loved, loved simply as we are. This is a deep need. But what if we are known but not loved? This is the source of our fear, being vulnerable to rejection.
So, we can put a lot of work into avoiding being known for who we truly are. We tend to put up appearances, we tend to find certain roles for us to play that we know play well to our audience, or at least keep our audience at a safe distance from the naked reality behind the mask.
For some of us that safe role is a small role. For some of us that safe role is actually a very big role. Sometimes the most famous people are doing the most running away from themselves, terrified of having their true self be known.
Don’t get me wrong: I say this all without judgment. I’m just trying to describe part of our human predicament.
It’s probably wise to be careful about who we are vulnerable with and how – because people can be terrible, right? Humans put a lot of work into judging each other and can be really vicious about taking advantage. It takes trust to begin to let down our masks.
So, we have a fear of being known.
But I think we also have a fear of knowing others. It can feel safer to keep other people at a distance and not allow their reality into ours. It can feel safe to be self-absorbed. Or, you know, someone else’s vulnerability can remind us of our own in a way we can find uncomfortable.
That’s why if someone is going through a hard time and coming to us for help or support, it can sometimes take discipline to keep the focus on them and their needs, and not shift the focus to ourselves.
“Your partner is dying of cancer. I’m sorry. My goldfish died yesterday, so, yeah, I know.”
That’s just a way of avoiding joining our friend in their heartbreak and fear and tenderness of love, because we’d have to feel our own heartbreak and fear and tenderness. To know and to love another person requires us to ourselves be vulnerable enough to be known and loved.
Regardless of what our experiences have or have not been with being known and being loved with other people – The heart of our faith is that:
Our God, our Creator, the Holy One, Sovereign of the Universe, the Eternal Spirit in which we live and move and have our being –
God knows us for who we are and loves us for who we are.
That’s the heart of our faith.
Sometimes the people who get this the best are people who’ve had the roughest time with other humans.
God knows us for who we are and loves us for who we are.
At the heart of who we are, at the heart of creation itself, is a tremendous dynamo of love. This is because:
Everything comes into creation as an act of being loved into being by the Holy Creative Source of all Being. Existence itself is born of a great Consciousness that knows and loves each individual instance of creation.
Mind-blowing, huh? And I hope heart-blowing as well.
I recently learned something really cool about the beginning of the gospel of John, which is this famous and mysterious hymn to the cosmic meaning of Christ:
“In the beginning was the Word
The Word was with God,
And what God was, the Word was.
The Word was in the beginning with God
Through the Word all things came into being
And nothing came into being apart from the Word.
In it was life,
And this life was the light of humanity.
Light was shining in the darkness
And darkness did not overcome it.”
Alright, so the word “Word” here is the Greek word “logos.”
What does logos mean? What does it mean “in the beginning was the Word”?
What I recently learned is that when scholars were translating the Bible into Latin, in the 4thcentury, there was this argument about how to translate logos.
The argument was whether to translate logos as verbum, which means “word.” Like, any single word.
Or to translate it as sermo, which means “conversation.”
“In the beginning was the sermo – the Conversation”
Not a single word, but the act of communicating itself. Speaking & hearing & sharing – being known.
Sermo, by the way, is how we get the word “sermon.” So maybe this should be more of a conversation than just me sawing away up here. I actually would love to explore that…
Just as I would love to explore what it would be like to really believe that “In the beginning was the conversation.”
Not just Almighty God declaring the world into being, but speaking into being the whole humming commerce of the cosmos.
I think that’s actually a much better way of understanding what logos actually means.
Logos in Greek thought means the basic divine order and activity of creation.
It’s very similar to the Hebrew idea in the Bible of Wisdom – Hochmah. That was our first reading. This female personification of God’s Holy Wisdom shows up every now and again in the Hebrew Scriptures. And she always speaks about this very energetic and dynamic and powerfully loving process of Divine Order giving birth to existence, shaping existence, setting order to existence.
The Divine Order and activity of Creation is at its heart about relationship, things relating to each other.
“In the beginning is the relationship.” – Martin Buber, I and Thou.
The universe was born in the call and response. God said, “Let there be light” and there was light.
There deep traditions within Christianity and Judaism and Islam that say that God creates the universe in order to be able to know and to be known.
That’s a central spiritual insight.
Creation is an extravagant act of love by our Creator.
Then why does it have to be so painful sometimes?
Because none of us are eternal. We are made by God, for God, of God, but we are not God. All of us, from humans to bacteria to quarks, all of creation have limited lives, and we run up against the sharp edges of those limitations. Some creatures are just more conscious of it than others. And some creatures have a knack for going out of our ways to create more suffering for ourselves.
But throughout it all, throughout all that existence brings, our Creator is there with us.
Part of the revelation we find in Christ is that God out of love for creation joins us in the human condition, in all the beauty and all the brutality that the human condition can bring.
Our Creator is with us, drawing us into deeper surrender to the cosmic dance of it all.
We are truly known for who we are, and loved.
That knowing and being known is part of the gift we each have as creature who are endowed deep in our souls with the image of our Creator.
So, we each have the capacity to know each other and to be known, with love.
I’ve heard it said that churches are be “Schools of Love.” (Brian McLairen)
Or that “Churches are laboratories of love.” (Rev. Brooks Berndt, who used to serve a church in Vancouver WA, now is in national ministries in the United Church of Christ focusing on environmental justice).
Schools, laboratories, places where we learn and experiment with love, with knowing and being known as children of God.
Now, being a school or laboratory of love actually doesn’t mean that we’re always doing such a great job of it, of doing love. It means this is a school – we’re committed to the process of getting schooled into love.
Love is a high ideal, it’s hard to measure up to.
So, a school of love needs to also be a school of grace.
Having grace as we learn more about how to enter into the divine process of conversation with God, with ourselves, with each other.
How to hear each other a little more, to see each other, to witness, to behold and to allow ourselves a little more, a little more, to be beheld? How to grow in grace, in curiosity, in generosity?
We are all children of the living God –
Yearning to be known and loved for who we are
Fearing to be known and loved for who we are
Deserving to be known and loved for who we are.
For that I give thanks.
(Delivered Sunday, January 19, 2020, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg at First Congregational Church of Walla Walla, United Church of Christ)