Two weeks ago, I preached a sermon that was the beginning of a new series at church I’m simply calling “The Jesus Lab: Discovering and Practicing the Artful Action of Jesus.” I’m borrowing an idea from the world of acting, wondering out loud what Jesus was doing from moment-to-moment, asking the question the way I would ask an actor about a character. I know what the character is saying, what words he’s using, perhaps even what activity he is involved in. But rarely do those things answer the question of what the character is doing, what action they are involved in. For actors, actions are always verbs and represent what the character is doing to chase after that which they want.
What did Jesus want, and what was he doing to get what he wanted?
The thought came to me to ask the question this way several years ago when I was working on a solo performance piece I called “The Jesus Monologues.” I felt like (and still do) that people just needed to hear his words, what he actually said. But in preparing those words for performance, I had to ask myself who he was talking to, what he was trying to accomplish, and what he was doing. What I knew was that as an actor, I could make many different choices with these words, playing multiple actions that most people hadn’t thought of. Jesus could be in the middle of a healing, but what he might really be doing is scolding or warning. I was a director who kept asking Jesus, “What are you doing?”
As I thought about verbs, and proceeding along the lines that we should be acting the same verbs as Jesus, the first thing that came to mind was a simple one: to see.
Eastern approaches speak of “waking up” and “awareness.” We talk about changing perspectives, using new glasses, seeing with new eyes, re-inventing the way we understand ourselves and those around us, both friend and stranger. Obviously, our soul-sight is far from 20-20, while the assumption is that Jesus saw even the smallest lines on the chart. On that Sunday two weeks ago, we talked about the power of the Imago Dei, that Jesus would have understand that these people were all image-carriers of God, the divine thumb-print embedded in the most foul and the most perfect alike. And knowing that he entrusted himself perfectly to his father, he was free to see the other as they were, broken, unique, utterly savable, utterly worth the self-sacrifice needed to make it happen.
If an actor chose to use that verb for his action, I’m not sure I’d buy it. I’d wonder how to play it, as we like to say. And then we’d wonder about the verbs that lead to seeing. What actions will create the energy that an outside observer would call “seeing?”
To gaze, to meditate, to reach out, to ask, to engage, to pursue, to seek out, to stare, to focus, to…what?
One thing I ask, one thing I seek, to see Your beauty…