Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the life of my cousin Santee, who died very suddenly yesterday. In time I may write more about him here, but for now I just want to say that he was always such a loving, sensitive person. And he had the best smile in the world. He struggled and he kept secrets and he died in a way we as a culture cringe away from and immediately judge: an overdose. An overdose after years of successful rehab and good community and generous support of others. We thought he was through the worst of it, out of the woods as much as one can be. But the Christmas season is hard. And his late mother’s birthday was coming up, and it was an accident. He worked with his hands and gave that gentle love to so many people. The same love that sent him running toward me for a hug and a game when we were kids. My little cousin. We’ll bury him on his birthday beside his father. He’d lost so many and been hurt so deeply. It is so hard to comprehend that his brightness has gone out of the world.
A few weeks ago, I read an introduction to the song “The Gospel According to Mark” by a musician I had yet to encounter: Nick Cave. Indeed, the article seemed to be as much an introduction to the book of the Bible as to the song, which I have repeatedly forgotten to listen to. I’ve since read conflicting reports about Cave’s theology, but his intro sparked a lot of thinking, and therefore a lot of blessings, so I want to share one those.
Cave said of Jesus,
“He enters a wilderness of the soul, where all the outpourings of His brilliant, jewel-like imagination are in turns misunderstood, rebuffed, ignored, mocked and vilified and would eventually be the death of Him.”
I had not considered that Jesus’ words, at times confusing even for those of us who’ve heard dozens of sermons and read countless books on that very phrasing—as well as the rest of the Bible—sprouted from Christ’s imagination rather than a vague sort of above-ness. I considered Jesus to be more divine than usual in his understanding of the world and in his use of metaphors to describe it. And I viewed the people around him dense and hopelessly defined by the cage of their literal minds. Only after Pentecost did I believe those cages flew open and they understood.
I’ve thought of the phrase, “jewel-like imagination,” daily since I read it. Immediately, my brain pulled forward my memories of a friend whose mind I would describe as having a jewel-like imagination. Her brain is wired brilliantly and much differently than all others I have known. When we lived in the same town, I loved to spend time just listening to her interpret whatever inputs surrounded us. We could be on a walk or crafting or driving to get milkshakes or discussing a movie. She once explained to me, in tremendous detail and depth, the personalities and appearances of her and her three sisters, including who got what from which parent, how stress alters the performative actions of each, and in what ways the older ones influenced the younger. She spoke passionately and precisely, as if she’d been studying a specific scientific phenomenon all her life, rather than a unit of individuals to which she also belonged.
I couldn’t follow along. I confused her sisters’ names as well as their traits (none of whom I’d met). I couldn’t keep it all in my head and quickly stopping trying to understand, but simply listened to her and pretended to comprehend. It was all so simple and straightforward to her. She understood and explained it well. But I hadn’t met her family at that point and didn’t have the necessary context to be able to understand and retain. Some years later, once I had spent time with her sisters and parents, I considered asking her to explain their personalities and traits to me again, certain I’d better understand. I chickened out though, not wanting her to know I only remembered the topic of the conversation, and none of the principles or details she’d so painstakingly laid out.
This friend once confided in me that she thought it very rude, even cruel, that Jesus didn’t explain himself to his followers in ways they could understand. Being divine, he ought to know exactly how to do so. Therefore, their lack of understanding must be the result of Jesus’ deliberate choice not to explain it well enough for them. Worse than the choice to leave them uncomprehending, he then grew angry and annoyed with them for it.
Cave acknowledges the disciples’ incomprehension and Jesus’ resulting anger, saying,
“Even His disciples, who we would hope would absorb some of Christ’s brilliance, seem to be in a perpetual fog of misunderstanding, following Christ from scene to scene with little or no comprehension of what is going on. So much of the frustration and anger that seems at times almost to consume Christ is directed at His disciples and it is against their persistent ignorance that Christ’s isolation seems at its most complete.”
My friend’s logic tracks but her conclusions didn’t sit well with me. I suspect they stem from the intense compassion which my friend and my Savior both possess. In truth, I wonder if Jesus isn’t a good bit like my friend. While walking the earth, Jesus interpreted it in ways none of the rest of us had considered, and in ways which seemed perfectly obvious to him. He used elaborate and apt metaphors and images to explain the material and spiritual world to those around him. And though the words were ones the people all understood, they could not all understand. A few with “ears to hear” understood (see Matt 13:16), and the rest did not. None understood all of the time. Even his closest friends and family members didn’t understand his meaning much of the time. We who surround the jeweled imaginations lack the context to comprehend.
If had I had access to the text of my friend’s explanation of her sisters once I did have context, I’m sure I was have managed to understand. Just as, with the help of the Holy Spirit after Pentecost, the disciples suddenly understood all that Jesus had taught them.
How lonely for Christ, to be explaining as well as his humanity and divinity allow and to still be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and frequently abandoned or despised because of it. How lonely for all the wonderfully unique people, driven by compassion for others, who struggle to be understood.
Having now entered Advent, let’s consider the brilliant, creative child who came and the lonely, loving man he became.