John the Baptist

The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Isaiah 49:1-6; Psalm 139; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66, 80

Who intimately knows you?
To whom have you revealed your inner most thoughts?  Your darkest impulses?
Who understands not only what you think but why?
Why you react the way you do to situations?

Who knows the curve of your ear, the feel of your skin, your scent?

After years of marriage, husbands and wives, do you anticipate each other’s responses?  …needs?  Are you in sync with each other?  Two becoming one?

Intimacy involves allowing ourselves to be vulnerable; …naked before others.  We might not be accepted, liked, or loved.  Worse, we might be judged and found wanting.  The person we reveal ourselves to might walk away and leave us, abandon us.  Isn’t presenting a false yet acceptable persona to the world better than the possibility of rejection?

That is why I find it curious that with the abandonment of sexual norms in the 1960s, the so called “sexual revolution” which resulted in the open acceptance of sexual activity outside of marriage, the rise in pornography, and sexually explicit images and situations on television and the web; consider how many people will make themselves physically naked before another person whom they may hardly know and yet will not reveal with full abandon their thoughts, emotions, values and convictions.

This lack of, what I will call, a “nakedness of the heart”, leads us, as sociologist Emile Durkheim diagnosed over 100 years ago, to feel isolated, alone, and unable to discern a purpose in life.   Reflect on the actions of young people, particularly young men from Palestine to ISIS to those who have perpetrated school shootings in our country.  Isolated, alone, and unable to discern a purpose in life.  At the heart of many of our social ills may be a lack of being naked at the level of the heart.

And so we tenaciously cling to our false perceptions of privacy.  We react in anger when we perceive an invasion of that privacy while on the other hand we post our lives on social network sites for the world to see.  We accept the fact that our online purchasing is keeping tabs of our preferences while presupposing intimacy with “friends” we have never met in person.  And so we remain a generation perhaps less known to others then at any point in human history.

Into this confused and disturbed world we hear the poet of Psalm 139 acknowledge, “O Lord, you have probed me and you know me…you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts…my travels and my rest you mark; even before a word is on my tongue…you know it all…”.

This constant presence, is it too much to be known so intimately?  Can we endure such closeness?  A closeness which destroys forever any pretense on our part of trying to live one way before people and another way before God who already knows everything about us?   What has even been the point of pretending?  Intimacy, relationship at a deep level is what we humans crave and yet isn’t intimacy frightening?  Consider for a moment your darkest secret or sin.  God knows it.  What are you most proud of in your life?  God rejoices with you.  What memory, what act causes feelings of guilt and shame to rise in you?  God is aware of it.  Isn’t there some unease?  …anxiety?  …even fear in these thoughts?  The knowledge that God knows each of us so thoroughly?   The psalmist thought so.

Where can I hide…from your presence, where can I flee?  If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in the realm of the dead, you are there too.  If I fly with the wings of dawn; hide in darkness, you are there.  Yet what are we afraid of?  What sense of joy can fill each of us in knowing that such an encompassing life force as God rejoices in our goodness?  …rejoices more in our goodness than reacts to our sin and darkness?

As we mark at the summer solstice the birth of John the Baptist, is there any intimacy more radical then that between an unborn infant and its mother; two persons sharing the same body, breathing the same air, nourished by the same food, hearts beating in sync?  Every movement physically felt in a unique dance, a pas de duex of new and nourishing life.

The psalmist seems to know she is involved in this dance of life.  The psalm opens by acknowledging the past, “Lord, you have probed me, you know me…”.  The psalm struggles with intimacy, questioning where to hide from God.  Yet it concludes with an invitation into a future of deepening intimacy, “Probe me, God, know my heart…”

How might such an intimate relationship affect our prayer life?  To simply sit and be known.

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