I’ve often groaned at having to preach about Thomas on the second Sunday of Eastertide, what is sometimes called a “low” Sunday. We’ve just entered, at last, into the joyful season of resurrected life, and now we must encounter “doubting Thomas”? Bummer! You can feel the wheels of happiness grind to a halt, and a lengthy theological discussion coming on. Oh dear!
However, this year, as I beheld the many paintings of the famously “doubting” saint, I noticed something different about him: his curiosity. He’s getting right in there, actually touching Jesus’ hands and his side, truly encountering, trying to understand and experience Jesus’ wounds. That takes some courage, and even, some creativity.
At the end of March, Shannon, our Parish Administrator, and I went to see Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray Love, when she spoke at the Moore Theater in Seattle. Gilbert talked for over an hour about her newest book, called Big Magic, the topic of which is “living a creative life”. Gilbert does not define “being creative” in narrow terms of achievements, such as winning an academy award or becoming a poet laureate. Rather, she asks the question: “do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?” Last week we began our 50 Great Days of Easter by introducing a practice of gratitude. Today, inspired by Thomas, I’d like to suggest that we also cultivate our curiosity.
When asked the question , “What is creativity?”, Gilbert quotes this answer: “The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration..”. The mysteries of inspiration — that seems to be one of way of describing Church, doesn’t it? We come here each week (or every other week, or each month?) with the hopes of being “inspired”; just what creates inspiration?
The disciples receive their inspiration through Jesus’ gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus breathes on them — just as God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of creation — and gave them the inspiration they needed for ministry, the inspiration to overcome their fear. For they were afraid, all of them, even though Thomas gets the “rap” for “doubting”, none of the disciples believed Mary when she first came to tell them about their risen Lord. They had to see it for themselves!
Fear and joy often go hand in hand; like the illness and the antidote. “Peace be with you,” Jesus says in the Gospel according to John. In the parallel story in the 24th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus asks all of the disciples, not just Thomas, “Why are you afraid? And why do doubts arise in your heart?” Then Jesus invites them, not just Thomas, to come and see — to reach out and touch. Another definition of creativity by Gilbert is “a life that is more strongly driven by curiosity than by fear”. Jesus invites us, then, as disciples, to overcome our fear and to be inspired by our curiosity to experience. To be creative, like God, our Creator!
Our fears can hold us back, can’t they? Now, some fears are reasonable, evolutionary responses. Fear of bungee jumping, for example. Fear of large, furry animals with big teeth. Fear of tall heights or deep waters. Other fears are more subjective: fear of rejection. Fear of embarrassment. Fear of failure. If these fears were to rule our lives, the human race would not get very far.
Fear can become a habit, even across generations. If you were raised during the Great Depression, you may have a reasonable and habitual fear of scarcity. If you grew up with any kind of oppression, you might fear standing out or speaking up. The disciples had learned to fear the religious leaders, and the Roman government, for good reasons. Part of Jesus’ message to them was to teach them to live, not so much without any fear, but to live bravely, boldly rejoicing in the presence of their fears; to believe that the “outcome of their faith, the salvation of (their) souls” would be worth the risk of leaning in to their fears.
Gilbert recounts being such a fearful child that her father called her “Pitiful Pearl”. Thankfully, her mother encouraged her to work against this, and insisted that Elizabeth get out and experience life. What really converted her, though, was realizing that fear was, above all, BORING!; that it sings one song, and the words go like this “STOP! STOP! STOP!” Have you ever heard this song? Have you grown tired of it? Gilbert tells her writing students that “you do not need your fear in the realm of creative expression”. Jesus tells Thomas the same about faith.
The disciples were told that if they had the power to forgive or to retain the sins of others. In this context of fears that limit our lives, I wonder: can these sins be seen as limitations on our potential as full human beings, as children of the Living God? As disciples of Christ, and as friends of one another in ministry, we have that choice as well: we can either help ourselves and others to overcome unreasonable, limiting fears, or we can help to build them up. To join that chorus of “STOP, STOP, STOP!”.
What song shall we sing here at St. James parish? As Easter people, what song shall we sing in the face of our fears — fears about money, about disapproval, about becoming irrelevant and disappearing — what song shall we sing? We may, as Episcopalians, take a clue from the commendation in our burial service, in the face of the greatest, most inevitable fear: All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed are those who — even in their fear — have come to believe; and in believing they have creative, abundant lives in His name.