2020.4.26 – Renewed Youthfulness of Spirit
When was the last time you felt ‘youthful’? When was the last time you had a ‘playfulness of spirit’ with a sense of freedom, joy, and hope?
We all have childhood memories of youthfulness: Playing in the back yard in a land of make believe; where sticks became weapons, bushes became houses, mud became pies, and the backyard became the expanse of reality. Youthfulness, it seemed, lived in a world bigger than itself, full of hope and promise, where one’s dreams (and one’s fears) became the blueprints of future possibilities.
In the movie the Sandlot those boys didn’t just play baseball. They became the hero’s they dreamed. Their movements were announced by make-believe radio commentators. When they hit the ball, they were always swinging for the fence. And when the ball finally crossed the fence, it didn’t just get slobbered on by a dog – it was buried, like treasure, in the lair of a Beast. And when they saw a girl, they saw the most beautiful woman in the world, for whom no heart had enough capacity to love.
Youthfulness makes life bigger. Youthfulness allows dreams (and fears) to grow to the expanse of the human spirit in which present reality is given a blueprint to a future of possibility. What I mean is this: It wasn’t just that the kids in the Sandlot played baseball with an over-excited imagination. Rather, one of those boys had real skill and became a professional baseball player. Another became a baseball commentator. The ‘Beast’ they had to face, that looming fear, became the source of wisdom and historic knowledge. And the geeky boy, that could never hope to land the girl he loved, married that girl. In short, their youthful dreams and fears were the sketch blueprint of the lightning strike that made dream into reality. What they hoped for drove them to achieve it. What they feared steered them to wise choices that allow them to become what they dreamed.
And for us? When was the last time you felt youthful? Why am I mentioning this? Because our opening prayer today prayed for a “renewed youthfulness of spirit.” Where does this youthfulness come from? And, for some of us perhaps, when did it get lost? On several occasions in my life I have asked myself the question: Self, at what point and time in your life did you go from having to being commanded to ‘quit playing and do your work’ to ‘quit working and do your playing’? Or anther way of saying this: why do we need a Commandment, the 3rd Commandment in fact, to keep holy the Lord’s day by not doing servile work. At what point and time in life did we switch from being youthful in a playful, enormous imagination – to freely choosing the daily grind of production and output. I recently listened to a song by Twenty One Pilots that laments this sad reality. They sing:
I was told when I get older all my fears would shrink / But now I'm insecure and I care what people think. // We used to play pretend, give each other different names / We would build a rocket ship and then we'd fly it far away / Used to dream of outer space but now they're laughing at our face / Saying, "Wake up, you need to make money" // Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days / When our momma sang us to sleep but now we're stressed out.
And as he reflects on this sad reality, the loss of youthfulness and the conquest of stress, he refers to himself with a new name: My name's Blurryface and I care what you think.
So, when was the last time you felt youthful? How do we, once again, savor our youthfulness? I would suggest that it is recipe made of two ingredients: (1) fear overthrown and (2) dreams thrown wide.
Youthful fear and youthful dreams have one common factor about them: they are both blown out of proportion. As for fear: Something is not just dark, it is filled with monsters; something is not big, it is impassible; something is not hard it is simply impossible. Like the first failure: it wasn’t just ‘failure’, but “I myself am a failure.” As for dreams: something is not just desired, it is all consuming; something is not just possible, it is the only possibility; something is not just wanted, it is – that-without-which-I-can-never-exist-or-be-happy. Like the first stirrings of love: that love was THE one love and no other love will ever do.
Today’s Gospel is precisely the message of fear-overthrown and dreams thrown wide. Notice that Jesus pinpointed both the fear and the dream when he approached the disciples. “What are you discussing as you walk along,” he asked, knowing full well that the disciples were grappling with the fear that the death of Jesus threatened their belief in his message. This is why the disciples were “downcast”. They were struggling with the possibility of a dream that has been lost, “We were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel.” Then, after Jesus had the disciples articulate their fear, he then renewed their hope, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.
In terms of youthful disproportion, the fear of the death of Jesus threatened to be the loss of EVERYTHING and the proof that the ENTIRE message of the Gospel was false. As in the Sandlot, this fear turned a dog into a beast. But Jesus, having pinpointed that fear, turned it into a moment of wisdom and historic knowledge. Again, just as in Sandlot, the blind man (Thelonius Mertle), helped the boys see that their fear was a life-lesson and then gave them historic knowledge they did not have. So too, Jesus recalled to the disciple’s everything that referred to him in the scripture, and he interpreted to everything that happened. In short, he replaced fear with Wisdom and historic knowledge.
But he also kept the dream alive and larger-than-life. The spark of the disciple’s dream turned into a fanned flame, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” Jesus didn’t simply give the Apostles the answer, he let them wrestle with it, make it their own, and then he let the answer remain larger-than-life, “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.” Because they “recognized” Jesus, their fear was overthrown. Because Jesus “vanished from their sight” their dream as preserved larger-than-life. And, just as a youthful dreams and fears are the sketch blueprint of the lightning strike that turn dreams into reality; the disciple’s fear drove them to grapple with the message and make it their own; Jesus’ vanishing opened up a future possibility of relationship that is new and larger-than-life.
And so must it be for us. How do we renew our youthfulness of Spirit? We must see in the Resurrection the over-throw of fear and the perseveration of a dream that motivates us. Fear is a matter of focus. If we focus on all the things that can do us harm, then we ourselves will turn a molehill into a mountain, or a dog into a beast. So, the first question is this: what are you focused on? Money? Possessions? “Your own way?” Physical vanity? If this is your focus, your peace is uncertain. A national crisis can take money. A small match can take possessions. Your own way will always conflict with another’s purpose, and physical vanity is one car-accident from absence. But the focus of the resurrection is on different things: eternal life, forgiveness of sin, forgiveness of one’s own self, reconciliation of enemies, the destruction of death, and the restoration of community. These things open a human dream that is bigger than life. These are things, that once given, can never be taken. They are secure, because they have been won for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
So, are you youthful in your spirit? Or, like Twenty One Pilots is you name “Blurryface.” Have you lost sight of yourself? Have you traded your dreams for cash-in-hand? Have your fears become debilitating?
Jesus renews our youthfulness of Spirit when we allow him to transform our fear into life-lessons with historic knowledge. Living the Gospel message moves our focus from things-transitional to things-eternal. And he preserves our dreams by opening for us a new way for us to relate to him. Yes, he does “vanish from our sight,” but he remains with us in an entirely new way: a sacramental way. He leaves us the Scripture and the Breaking of the Bread. And these two things are the constant source of fear-overthrown and dreams thrown open-wide. So… dream big. And don’t make mountains out of molehills. Jesus is risen. Death is destroyed. Sin is forgiven. Reconciliation is restored. And when we realize then we will see that Jesus has restored our ‘playfulness of spirit’ with a sense of freedom, joy, and hope. Then perhaps, just maybe, we can simply go outside and… play baseball.