In His Arms, So Many Prayers ... So Many Prayers Rest
By Enuma Okoro, D’03
Author and Retreat Director
It is the week of Christ the King. This past Sunday marked the first in Advent. The last few days have found me ruminating on the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus found in John’s Gospel 18:33b-37. I read the gospel this week and for the first time in a very long while I can imagine myself as disbelieving as Pilate. Not because I’m at any crux of faith but simply because every now and then, by the mercy of God, I am struck anew by the incredibility of the incarnation. When Jesus says, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews,” I can almost hear how “cuckoo for coco puffs” that would have sounded to anyone, and envision the guards behind Pilate just rolling their eyes thinking, “Here goes another one.”
Yet, it is not lost on me that somehow God has enabled me to believe in the absurdity of it all. And while God’s kingdom is not of this world, it is in the very mundane parameters of this world that I find myself continually caught off guard by the wonder of Christ. He breaks in randomly in the midst of my planning and fretting and hoping and achieving, and reminds me of the reality of an incarnate God, a looming Spirit, a returning Christ.
The most recent inbreaking was while I was on the treadmill running to the music from my iPod. I had set it to shuffle mode and was running my last mile on the highs of Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, the raunchy duets of Akon and Snoop, and the invigorating girl-power of Beyonce. Then my iPod shuffled to “Picture of Jesus” by Ben Harper and as I listened to the words and to the beautiful South African voices harmonizing in the background I was suddenly overwhelmed by the idea of a God who took on flesh for love of creation, and by a God who still cradles the disharmony of a broken world. After the song played out I pressed the back button and found myself practicing the ancient spiritual discipline of Lectio Divinia to a popular funk artist’s tribute to the Lord of heaven and earth. I listened to that song three times for 15 minutes.
A version of Harper's "Picture of Jesus" set to footage of a Brazilian favela.
The picture of Jesus is mirrored to us through the ordinary people and things of this world. Everywhere we look there is the possibility of catching iconic reflections of Christ. There is the possibility of seeing that God’s kingdom though not of this world, is coming. But we have to be willing to be interrupted. We have to be willing to be reminded that even faith and belief is by grace. And adoration, praise, hope, and expectation, those postures are willed responses.
Advent reminds us that God has always been present, even before the visitation. It reminds us that God is accustomed to having arms full of prayers. It reminds us that God does not force God’s self upon us.
During Advent we keep watch for the random inbreakings, for the absurd in the mundane, for the opportunities to remember that belief itself is not of this world, but this is the world in which God has chosen to make God’s self known.
Find some time over the next few days and download the song, “Picture of Jesus” by Ben Harper. Listen to it several times. You might be surprised where it leads you.
“So Let us say a prayer
For every living thing
Walking towards a light
From the cross of a king
We long to be a picture of Jesus
In his arms
In his arms so many prayers rest
I long to be a picture of Jesus
With him we shall be forever blessed”
(Ben Harper, Picture of Jesus, track 13, Diamonds on the Inside Audio CD- 2003)
Enuma Okoro is a 2003 Duke Divinity School graduate. She is a writer and retreat leader living in Raleigh, N.C. Visit her website at www.devoutmind.com and follow her blogs; http://onemoreblackwoman.blogspot.com and http://reluctantpilgrim.wordpress.com