We’re glad to feature another guest post by Ashley Mae Hoiland. See her first post here.
When I was in high school, I was compelled by internal forces to spend a good amount of time celebrating birthdays of people I hardly knew. I spent many nights baking cookies, painting small cards with notes and putting together assortments of birthday packages from treasures I found in my room. Like my mom, I remember dates and people very well, and I was astute in garnering birthday knowledge from kids across the social spectrum.
The only problem was that I would often get too shy to actually deliver the gifts in person, so I also spent a lot of time devising plans to leave the goods on desks before class, strung up to lockers and given through another friend. I was dogged in my efforts, despite the uncomfortable position it often put me in. A lot of these kids I didn’t know well: many of them were the social hang-ups, the kids who did not climb the rungs of high school sociality with ease. For some reason I still cannot fully explain, I felt responsible for helping them to know that someone was celebrating their birthday.
I laugh when I tell these stories now, but partly, I am entirely intent on returning to this place of intuition—this place where I did not question the absurdity of what the spirit compelled me to do, and because I didn’t question, my life was replete was quiet moments of connection and joy that would have otherwise not have happened.
I love the story in Mark where the friends of the paralytic man decide to lower their sick friend through the roof of the home where Jesus is teaching. When the story is told, we nearly breeze completely past the fact that at one point in the story these men were literally climbing a roof and digging a hole in it, while carrying their friend, with the absurd plan to lower him down in the middle of a meeting that Jesus was conducting. From one verse to the next a man is outside wanting a miracle with his friends, then that same man is rising from his paralytic bed at Jesus’ feet having had his sins forgiven.
We don’t have insight into how the plan was hatched, the hesitations or the moments of doubt as the men finagled their way through the crowds and onto the roof. I wonder if in hindsight the men also laughed a little at the ways in which the spirit compelled them to work. It is clear that their intentions were good, and it is also clear that Jesus does not doubt that the spirit worked within them as they all arrive at the place where the paralytic man not only interrupts, but changes the course of the whole meeting. Jesus was moved by their faith. Perhaps the men stood above on the roof wondering what they’d just done, and perhaps they even felt a moment of regret at such a haphazard effort. Christ though, easily recognizes the path to arrive at his feet as a legitimate one, albeit completely unconventional.
Faith in the context of these men and their plan, and me with my gifts, then takes on a very active role. Faith moves from simply trusting that Christ will accept our offering (because there’s a very good chance He always will if it is an honest effort) to enrolling a faith in ourselves—an act of stepping out into the darkness of our own intuition. I think there is a difference between the faith that we tote around visibly, and the one that we digest and let roll through our hearts, ebbing across the great expanse of hopes and fears we all harbor. The deep sea of internal faith that seems most sacred and personal, the one nudging us to work, speak, write, share, give in ways we might not otherwise is worth being quiet to stop and listen to.
I also wonder about the people who stood around Jesus as the friends interrupted their moment and lowered the man irrevocably through the roof. Even though the people in the crowd also were most likely following some faithful intuition, my initial thought is to reprimand them for possibly being angry, disgruntled or even jealous at the attention now lost on them, but I think compassion is a better answer here. In good part, compassion because I would likely be in that crowd, all my best intentions in tow. Alongside the Pharisees, these people pressed into this small and uncomfortable space to see Jesus. Of course it must have felt disconcerting, and as if their time had been usurped by the more attention-grabbing attempt of faith that interrupted the sermon, but Christ does not discern between the two paths. He remains unfazed; whether the attempts at reaching him are simple or elaborate, He is willing to teach and to forgive all of them.
Christ, better than anyone else, should understand what it is to take an unconventional path. And so I think of again that present-giving girl who has turned into me, and the hundreds of people I’ve known who are also turning into some other form of themselves. I think of our diverging paths. I try to think of them with gentleness, with greater faith in my own ideas and greater faith in the paths of others. We arrive at the feet of Christ hundreds of times in a life, and the ways there are as innumerable as they are diverse.