After 20 years in New England, the Northwest winters seemed incredibly mild to us when we moved here. So when we realized the previous owners of our house hadn't bothered to extend the forced-hot-water heating system upstairs to the bedrooms, we just left it that way. The heat that drifts upstairs from below seemed perfectly adequate; surely the tiny electric heaters installed in the walls of the bedrooms would be more than enough to take the edge off any particularly cold nights.
But I am older now, and more adjusted to the winters here; I'm no longer certain I could handle the brisk sub-zero winters I remember from my youth. And there are nights when our bedroom feels more like this picture than I would like, even though the temperature outside has not yet dropped to freezing. So I pile on the clothes, put on socks, and pile on the comforters as well -- and as I lie there shivering I think of all the people who are forced to sleep in colder places than this.
As Barbara Brown Taylor says in An Altar in the World, "However differently you and I may conceive the world, God, or one another, physical reality is something we can usually agree on. When the temperature drops below 32 degrees, I am as cold as whoever happens to be standing next to me. When I see someone run into a piece of furniture, catching the corner of a table right in the thigh, my own thigh hurts in that exact same place...
... When I watch a perfect stranger open her mouth for a bite of Key lime pie at my favorite Mexican restaurant, my mouth starts watering without my permission. My body is what connects me to all of these other people. Wearing my skin is not a solitary practice, but one that brings me into communion with all these other embodied souls. It is what we have most in common with one another."
And, I would add, it is what we have most in common with Jesus, who was also born into human skin, with all the joys and challenges that has to offer.
Yes, I know -- I don't often refer to Jesus here. But He's on my mind because I've been working on writing the call to artists for an upcoming ECVA exhibition, to be entitled "Jesus, our brother." I confess, though I still do attend my local Episcopal church with a certain amount of frequency, I am uncomfortable with a lot of the roles the church has assigned to Jesus over the years. But the incarnate Jesus, the Jesus who lived in a skin and got cold and hungry and tired just as we do; who longed just as we do for courage (for himself) and love and understanding (from those around him); this is a Jesus I can relate to.
This is the Jesus who speaks so beautifully in the Gospel of Thomas, who sees so clearly the Oneness, the connectedness of all life, and the divine presence that lives within each of us, and who longs for us to see that, too. This is the Jesus who is our brother, and I'm looking forward to seeing the art that comes in to depict how others experience that Jesus...