I was listening to a Q and A with the great theologian and historian Dominic Crossan. A person questioned whether there were texts of Jesus’ birth that didn’t exist. Crossan noted, “nobody was watching… except maybe for a few animals” he added with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
I’ve heard this said of another academic and theological historian Fr. Jerome Murphy O’Connor who said that at Jesus’ crucifixion it was just another day of death in a provincial town in the Roman Empire or words to that effect.
Crossan went on to mention that when Gandhi was taken off the train at Pietermaritzburg no one was watching, either. This is the moment that defined Gandhi and his quest for truth in civil disobedience. “The great historic moments that changed the world, no one was watching.”
In every person’s life there is an event that shapes him and forms his identity in a profound way, which in turn may shape the events of history and “no one is watching”. I thought about how true that statement is. How often do we stop to think about the moments that helped to transform us? How often do we stop and think that if I didn’t have that struggle, I may not have had the blessings that I enjoy right now?
At John McCain’s funeral, his daughter Meghan mentioned that McCain recited a poem titled “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and an Alaskan prospector who welcomes his death due to the cold. She told the audience that this was a poem he learned from a cellmate who tapped it letter by letter on the wall to help keep their minds occupied when in captivity in Vietnam. McCain recited that poem to his wife Cindy on their first date as a test to see if she would continue to see him. IF she thought it was too weird, she wouldn’t see him again. As fate would have it, she did see him again. They would marry, have children and stay together until his death.
Another moment that defined McCain was when a prisoner of war loosened the “too tight ropes on his wrists” in a merciful act during Christmas. When his shift was over he tightened them again so as to not be caught. McCain viewed this as a charitable deed that allowed him to maintain his faith in the decency of humanity. It helped him to see that there were those who could still be compassionate even in a time of war.
When I was studying theater in college, I read the work of Bernard Beckerman who wrote about the power of an “iconic moment” on stage that leaves a lasting impression on the audience. It is the moment that stays with an audience member – a sacred moment that nestles in the mind and inspires deeper reflection on how it relates to us.
This concept of the “iconic moment” stayed with me, and as “life is a stage”, I am able to apply it to the story and through line of my own life.
I think about a time in my life where a love that was lost struck me deeply. I was engaged to married but the relationship fell apart, leaving me sad and questioning among other things what my life meant without the love of my life.
The person who helped me through that time helped me through seeming desperation. This man was a stranger I would come to know as a dear friend. I met him while I was in sales and knocking on doors trying to get business. He would become for me a very important part of my life. That time he helped me out of this desperate quandary was a defining moment that strengthened me.
Ironically, that person who helped me recently moved away the same week the person I loved came back. I ran into her at a Target while buying “thank you” notes. I thought the poetry of that situation was interesting. The two people who meant the most to me during that period of time were entering and leaving the physical proximity of my life in interesting ways. For me, the iconic moments of the past can point to a poetic expression of growth in the future.
Many of the iconic moments of Jesus’ life were captured in scripture. There are those stories that are shared in multiple gospels. I wonder about the thoughts of Jesus and if he were alive, what would be the iconic moment that struck him?
I’d like to think he shared that with his disciples and the world. I’d like to think that we know Jesus well enough to know that his humanity is on full display for us through Scripture. While dying on the cross he had doubt saying, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”
As Christians we believe the doubt that overshadowed him was reclaimed in some way that helped him rally and helped inspire his resurrection. There was one thought that captured his imagination and inspired him to rise above his desperation to reclaim his divinity.
Theologically speaking, we know that it is his oneness with the Father. His attunement to the all-encompassing nature of Divinity and his knowledge of God’s universal love that brought him beyond this world.
As I look back at those iconic moments in my life and the moments that shaped my understanding, I realize that it is this understanding that rallies me. It is the understanding of Oneness with God’s creation that inspires me to see the world beyond the scope of the wretched nature of humanity and to rise above the inclination of sin and wrap myself in the powerful, all encompassing nature of the arms of love.
What is the “iconic moment” of your life that helps to shape your understanding? Where does that moment take you?