Seminary Senior Envy

Older Homilies (2009-2013)

Preached for Friday in the Fourth Full Week of Lent with the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church.

“God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his eternity, but through the devil’s envy death came into the world, and all who belong to his company experience it.”  I am sad to say that I am absolutely convicted by the reading from the Wisdom of Solomon this morning.  I have reasoned like the ungodly saying, “Come, let us lie in wait for the righteous man, for he is inconvenient to us…” If you had the good fortune of taking a class with Professor Elizabeth Koenig while she was here, you may have read some Rene Girard or James Alison, who both talk about mimetic desire.  Mimesis simply means imitation, and mimetic desire speaks specifically of that feeling we have for someone we imitate in the process of becoming ourselves, a feeling that can be alternately colored by profound devotion and jealous contempt.  In the simplest therms you might think of a pair of brothers.  The younger brother looks up to his older brother and sees the skill he has developed, he can see the love he garners from their parents and the comparative freedom he has.  They might be building leggo towers one day, and the younger brother tries his best to make his leggo tower just like his older brother did, just as big, because its just so good, but his little fingers can’t manage to make one quite the same, and in a fit he smashes his older brother’s tower to the floor.  In terms of the Gospel, mimetic desire is one understanding of the violence we perpetrate against our Christ.  We are faced with the Son of God and we want his goodness so much for ourselves, we want to be beloved as he is, we want to be righteous as he is, and on our best days we love him so much that we want to be taken in to his very body, and on our worst we could simply kill him.

It’s no secret that my own leggo tower right now is a job in the Episcopal Church.  I will confess to you that I have suffered a demon a envy this semester as I’ve sat alone in my room late at night and thought about the job search process we’re in right now.  It’s not even about those of you who have already found them, and really most of us aren’t even applying for the same ones, and I’m even pretty sure that I’m going to end up right where I need to be in the end… but it is about a deep suspicion that I harbor when all the lights are off that I’m simply not good enough for this work.  I envy some of you the security that I so desperately want for myself, that I know I’ll probably get a taste of at some point but simply can’t imagine right now.  I envy some the call to be wanted, to be desired by a congregation, and I probably envy it for all the wrong reasons.  The most terrible thing about this envy when it comes is that it poisons the very thought of some of the most beloved folk I’ve come to know.  I confess this to you because I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way, nor do I think I am the first and will likely not be the last.  What I can witness too, however, is that when I see you face-to-face, you all make it so easy for the whole thing to slip away.  When we gather together in this place, or in the Refectory or pass by on the Close, your goodness in the Lord is so radiant that any thought of envy disappears.  You make it so easy to see the One Body of us that remains to go out into this world for good.  You remind me of how much good we share together, and the lines I’d like to draw between us in my solitude come falling down.  It is a testament to the abundance of Christ who makes room here in our midst when we gather in his name.

In the risen body of our Lord we are invited to behold the hands and feet and side that we have pierced, and in his body of the Church upon the earth we are invited to behold the deep wounds we leave, wounds at times from envy at the dazzling brightness we manifest to one another in God.  The good news is that for as many times as we turn to repent of the sin that enslaves us and turn to God for help, we will be forgiven. The good news is that God is making even now a new body of us here in the image of his Son raised up from the grave, and the devil cannot do a thing to stop him.

6 thoughts on “Seminary Senior Envy

  1. …you are “loved and desired “by the congregation at St. David of Wales. My prayer is that you will realize the gift that God has given you to preach. I am always amazed that you able to share the love of Christ in such a powerful way. You have made and are making a huge difference in more lives than you are aware of. God is going to use you…I believe that and am excited to journey along with you as you continue to seek His will for your life.

    1. Oh thank you Susie, I definitely do feel loved and desired by the folk of St. David’s… and by lots of other folk too, most of the time… but the readings today invited me to share some of my darker moods. 🙂 You’re such a blessing! Thanks for all the positivity you send my way!

      1. My heart weeps with you, dear James, as the “holding pattern” seems unsustainable and questions of the mind indeed rack the spirit with vexation. The recent enjuries I’ve sustained over these past months DO have the markings of the devil’s claws as my quest for “a place in the kindom” is clouded by seeds of doubt, envy…why me, why them, why now, why, why, why is this happening? Am I “aging out” -a term insurance folk give to those who are “aging in” to the medicare system; “Aging out” of a place of service, of being useful, of living out the old old story, of being better or lesser for the job I yearn for. I am reminded and humbled by those whose suffering brings them to the brink of life as they face death and I hear my voice in their deep moaning, shedding sweet poignancy to the sacredness of the journey for which I’m called and of the Christ whose amazing grace continues to overcome the cross. I am learning to lift up the “holding pattern” with a kind of reluctant, stuborn grace, embracing the unique spirit of the cross

        Thank you for your gift of words and honest faithfullnes. God bless you as you so beautifully live out your special journey. We are all in the boat together.

      2. Thanks, K’Anne… I know that you are a remarkable pastor and have been touched by the stories of care you’ve shared with me. You’ve hit the “spirit of the cross” on the head as far as I know it, who wouldn’t approach that with reluctant stubbornness? You’ll be in my prayers as you move forward with Christ, in good and bad. Much love ~James.

  2. James – I know waiting is hard and scary. I turned down a job opportunity this time last year because I knew it would be a most horrible fit. But it meant that I didn’t get the offer for my current job until two days after graduation! What I did during the waiting time was think of all of the people who I knew the year before who had to wait till near the end or even after graduation into the summer till they got a position and how it was that the positions they did get were just perfect for them, for who they were, what they had to offer, and what the positions had to offer. It seemed like such a God thing. It ended up working that way for me too! I wish the same type of wonderful position fit for you, a job made for you in heaven, that brings you joy and growth, whether it comes tomorrow, two days after graduation, or even a month or two later. Blessings! Suzanne LeVesconte

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