The guest speaker at our church today told a little fable about a huge block of marble that a sculptor slowly chips away at over a period of several months, using only a chisel and a hammer. From time to time a child stops by to watch the sculptor at work. Gradually, the shape of a lion emerges from the marble. Wonder struck, the child ask the sculptor, “How did you know there was a lion in that block of marble?!”
Over the course of our lives as we seek to follow in the way of Jesus, God is chiseling away in our lives, shaping us in the likeness of Christ. Generally speaking, this is a life-long process, though there are moments of breakthrough in which the likeness begins to emerge from what previously had seemed like little more than an unseemly mess.
“God, how did you know there was resemblance to Christ deep down inside me?” If you are like me, there have been times in your life in which you looked at yourself and saw no reason to take delight — nothing that struck you as beautiful. For most of us, adolesence was such a time. Perhaps in our adulthood there have been times of failure and frustration that similarly seemed to reveal little within to cherish.
God, however, always knew that there was the likeness of Christ inside, waiting to be uncovered. For that reason, God has never, nor will God ever, give up on you.
This way of thinking about what is called “spiritual formation” is helpful because it implies that the Christian life isn’t about trying to be something we aren’t. It is rather a process of letting go of the things that block who we most truly are in the depths of our being.
The speaker also said that the primary means by which God chisels away at the raw material of our life is through partaking in shared Christian community, with the traditions that draw us closer to Christ. Life in congregations are often messy, but where there is the shared intention to let Christ guide us, rebuke us, forgive us, challenge us and heal us, over time the transforming grace of God brings forth the hidden beauty.
In the moment of death, this process, traditionally known as “sanctification” comes to fulfillment. The saints of heaven (many of whom we know personally by name) have let go of all the stuff that got in the way of their hidden beauty, and now they are rooting for us to cooperate with God in the midst of the chiseling.
“And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the smae image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2Corinthians 3:18)
Thank you, Loving God, for never losing sight of who we are in our depths. Help us to trust that you will indeed bring your work to completion within us. Help us to let go of that which is standing in the way of your deepest intentions for our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
After thought: Cheryl called my attention to this youtube skit that is both funny and touching, and uses the same metaphor: