The path of descent becomes our own liberation.
I’ve had a strong inkling about that for a long time. Ever since wandering home from the gym as a 16 year old and thinking how lovely it would be to live somewhere where I didn’t feel so inadequate in the face of the MTV dancers I’d just been staring at for an hour. Where the gym wasn’t an endless struggle to climb some ladder and then stay near the top of it. What a relief!
The great thing about that phrase, ‘descent is our liberation’, is that it recognises that’s it’s not primarily about going out to the needy and handing them charity. Rich at the top, poor at the bottom but oh so grateful! It recognises that real life might actually be found at the bottom.
When I say things like that, a reaction can be that I’m somehow suggesting poverty is a good thing in itself, somehow holy. Or that it’s a bad thing to try and improve yourself or your situation. But I emphatically don’t think that at all. I just have a real suspicion (and some little experience) that the bottom is more than a place to be helped up from. It’s a place where you can be free enough to live a different way, after all, you’ve got nothing to lose.
I recently had to read ‘Interrupted’ by Jen Hatmaker for an essay I was writing.
But I’m so glad I had to! I got that little phrase from her and it slapped me right between the eyes. Well, Jen seems to write in a way that does that. It’s funny, light-hearted, honest, direct, self-effacing and sharp as a needle. And she’s a woman! (In fact, I’m a little jealous of her eloquence. Probably because I’m still trying to ascend to be fair.) So here are some golden nuggets that are so worth repeating. I’m getting goose bumps just going over them. Let’s hope goose bumps turn into something a bit less pointless (surely goosebumps don’t help to keep us warm really do they?) :
“I’m learning what it means to descend, which is so revolutionary, it often leaves me gasping. I have been trying to ascend my whole life. Up, up, next level, a notch higher, the top is better, top of the food chain, all for God’s work and glory of course. The pursuit of ascension is crippling and has stunted my faith more than any other evil I’ve battled. It has saddled me with so much to defend, and it doesn’t deliver. I need more and more of what doesn’t work. I’m insatiable and ironically, the more I accumulate, the less I enjoy any of it. Instead of satisfaction , it produces toxic fear in me; I’m always one slip away from losing it all.
Consequently my love for others is tainted because they unwittingly become articles for consumption…I am an addict, addicted to the ascent and thus positioning myself above people who can propel my upward momentum, and below those who are also longing for a higher rank and might pull me up with them. It feels desperate and frantic and I’m so done being enslaved to the elusive top rung.
When Jesus told us to take the lowest place (Luke 14:10), it was more than a strategy for social justice. It was even more than wooing us to the bottom for communion, since that is where He is always found. The path of descent becomes our own liberation. We are freed from the exhausting stance of defence. We are no longer compelled to be right and are thus relieved from the burden of maintaining some reputation…With every step lower, the stripping away process was more excruciating. I had no idea how tightly I clung to reputation and approval or how selfishly I behaved to maintain it. Getting to the top requires someone else to be on the bottom; being right means someone else must be wrong. It’s the nature of the beast.”
“It’s as if Jesus knew that the secret of life awaits us at the bottom. Oh wait, that is exactly what He said, all the time, in every possible way, through parable and story, by example and modelling, directly and indirectly, corporately and privately”.
Maybe the last really will be first and the least the greatest….