Isaiah 42:1-4, 6-7 or 40:1-5, 9-11
Acts 10:34-38 or Titus 2:11-14; 3:4-7
Luke 3:15-16, 21-22
When I was much younger, I remember being told that I have a compassionate way of being with people in pain. Yet it took a long time before I realized there is something deep within me that is named "healer", that I cannot be who I am without helping people heal. Then it took even longer before I figured out how to concretely make that happen, how to live out the identity God bestowed upon me.
I’ve often noticed similarities when vowed and ordained religious tell me their life stories. Almost inevitably, others pointed out their gifts or raised the possibility of a religious vocation long before they appropriated that calling as their own, and then they discerned the specifics of how to enflesh it.
This growth process is encapsulated in the Christmas season. We begin with the birth of the infant whose distinctive nature is proclaimed by heaven and earth through stars, angels, shepherds, and astronomers from afar. This extended epiphany comes to an end when, 30 years later, Jesus takes the first tentative steps toward the fulfillment of that calling, publicly claiming the identity that was announced so long ago.
I imagine it was an emotional moment. What courage did it take for him to leave Mary and his home in Nazareth to set out on public ministry? What doubts and fears co-existed with his excitement and ever- growing passion to shine a light on the world? How sure was he of the path, or even of the next step? Was that voice from heaven meant primarily for those around Jesus, or was it equally intended as a necessary "push", offering him the reassurance he needed to embark on this journey? When Jesus encountered the depths of pain, betrayal, and suffering that living out his "Beloved Son-ness" entailed, how often did he return to the memory of that day, to the dove from heaven and the voice of one so familiar, in order to sustain him?
These are questions I ponder, for it is much easier to have a sense of my calling than it is to publicly proclaim that calling and discern the specific actions required. It is easier to know I want to write a book than it is to determine the particular focus and actually write one. It is easier to know my kids need to be free to make their own way than it is to wholeheartedly send my son off to New Zealand. It is easier to recognize I am at a transition point in my life than it is to determine where I am heading, to know what I want to be doing a year or five years from now, and it is always difficult to know whether I am on the right track.
Sometimes, especially in the midst of pain, when I don’t understand and my world seems covered in darkness, it is hard to rest on God’s promises. Can I trust? Do I want to claim and live out a baptism that leads inevitably to the cross? Can I continue to cling to my belief that God has grasped me by the hand and claimed me as a beloved daughter when I am clinging to it with my fingernails as I hang over the precipice?
Baptism is not easy. Discipleship and authentic Christian living test me to the core and at times exhaust me. Can I keep returning to that reassuring voice? Perhaps just for today I can stand with Jesus in the waters of the Jordan, unsure of where I’m going and what my ministry will entail and yet open to hearing and gratefully accepting the everlasting love and faithfulness of the God who formed me, loves me, and will never leave me to face my trials alone. Perhaps I can once again claim my identity as a beloved child guided by the Spirit. Perhaps if I can do that, just for today, it will give me the courage I need to take the next step.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.