In my experience of Christianity, I am often taught to think of Jesus as serious and thoughtful, one who is incredibly wise but perhaps not much fun at a party. This poem by Luci Shaw, along with other reflections I've read recently, challenges such a picture.
Flathead Lake, Montana
"Christ plays in ten thousand places." Gerard Manley Hopkins
Lying here on the short grass, I am
a bowl for sunlight.
Silence. A bee. The lip lip of water
over stone. The swish and slap, hollow
under the dock. Down-shore
a man sawing wood.
Christ in the sunshine laughing
through the green translucent wings
of maple seeds. A bird
resting its song on two notes.
The poet Luci Shaw clarifies that Christ loves to laugh just as much as any of us, maybe even more.
Jesus' mission focused on anticipating the coming kingdom and the eventual renewal of the heavens and earth, not merely on souls. Such an emphasis meant that he cared (and still does) about healing physical bodies, fully embracing the joys of this life, and displaying perfect humanity to us.
And God created laughter as a good and necessary human response (as long as we express it in God-honoring ways). Since I usually do not focus on this aspect of Jesus, Luci Shaw’s image in “Flathead Lake, Montana” of “Christ in the sunshine laughing” deeply touched me.
I also notice how his presence here in Flathead Lake is mediated through the maple seeds and likely, as I interpret it, the rest of the beauties of creation mentioned in the poem. We should enjoy ourselves in nature as Christ would. And because God is the source of all beauty, we can draw closer to him through all the breath-taking ways we experience nature.
Shaw’s use of vivid imagery adds to the invigorating tangibility of the experience she has with Jesus. Accordingly, we need to bring the natural world more into our concepts of God and not get too lost in abstract statements like “God is love.” In their place, such truths are important, but what could love actually look like?
Shaw answers that it is like soaking up sunshine as she hears the vibrant laughter of Jesus in the surrounding sounds of the gentle flow of lake water, the sawing of wood, and a tranquil birdsong.
If the supreme image of God’s love is Jesus on the cross, why do we settle for less concrete visualizations of God’s relation to us in daily life?
"Flathead Lake, Montana" by Luci Shaw excerpted from The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry