When Surprise Is Good
Talk by Tom Baker

Delivered to Christ Unity Oceanside on December 5, 2010 and to the Fellowship of the Inner Light on December 12, 2010

There's no place to celebrate Advent like Virginia Beach. Advent is about expectation and Virginia Beach is full of psychics. What better place to look into the future? In the early 1990's psychics talked about both coasts of the United States being under water after severe earthquakes. Some said that Jesus was to come again in 1998, specifically to the A.R.E. on the corner of 67th and Atlantic Avenue in Virginia Beach. Most foretold the complete financial collapse of the American and the world economy and the election of a black man as president of the United States. All this was predicted in the early 1990's. As you and I well know and are happy about, both coasts of our country are still intact and Jesus is yet to return, although some are looking for him to finally make an appearance in 2012. Don't hold your breath. A black man did become president and, hopefully, just in time to forestall the economic collapse of the world economy. As a sidebar, Gordon Michael Scallion, who in 1991 predicted the washing away of the eastern and western United States and was thankfully (cross your fingers) wrong, did in the summer of 2007 predict that if Al Gore did not enter the presidential race, Lincoln would once again occupy the White House. When asked who Lincoln was today, Mr. Scallion simply replied: Obama. Some of the predictions came true, some came partially true, but most of what happened was a surprise.

In the last 19 years there were almost 7 thousand sunsets and as many sun rises, millions of tulips bloomed, an untold number of people met each other and were amazed. In 1991 almost everyone here did not know everyone else here; we were all strangers yet to be surprised by joy. The future is mostly a series of good surprises. When I was walking up the aisle to be ordained a priest I heard the phrase in my head "ten years." I thought, "In ten years I will be a bishop, or even I might be the pope." Ten years later I became the co-pastor of the Fellowship of the Inner Light, which, at the time of my ordination, had I known about it, would have been for me a heretical church. I thought marriage would be a series of sacrifices, disappointments, and compromises---a funeral with a honeymoon---but I was totally surprised. I married a set of expectations and was surprised by the tenderest, most affectionate, completely accepting woman I ever met. Almost everything that happens everyday you have no idea about: what people will say, how they will smile, the hugs and kisses you will get, just from pets. Yet we usually fill the future with dire predictions. Even the second coming of Jesus, the sweetest, kindest, gentlest man you could ever meet is predicted in most accounts to be an event of world catastrophe, swift and terrible judgment, and enormous traffic jams since the chosen will be jerked out of their cars on the spot. My archbishop liked to say, jokingly of course, that if Jesus were to come back we should all look busy. We always laughed, but a little nervously. Even the best of futures is attended by caution, hyper vigilance, and strategies. Two thousand years ago when a star blazed over Bethlehem and astrologers from the east were finding their way to a stable, people would have been worried, edgy, expecting the worst. Even the local king, King Herrod, was afraid his replacement was arriving in the little town with too bright a star. They were all bracing for overwhelming power, the holy holocaust of divinity that would burn them up. Yet what each person who crept up to that stable beheld was simply a baby, probably held and suckled by his mother: so simple, so ordinary, so surprising. The surprise was that the power of God was innocence, the trust of a baby wanting to be held, the universal love of a baby to hold. God's coming was more Gerber than Armageddon.

As he grew Jesus continued to be a surprise. If he were really the messiah people expected Jesus would have been a political and military hero, a David figure who would slay the Goliath-like Romans with a slingshot full of magic stones. Yet Jesus was a man of peace who befriended Roman centurions and even, on one occasion, cured a soldier's servant. Edgar Cayce, in a reading, said that because Jesus cured Pontius Pilot's son of epilepsy Pilot was hesitant to crucify him. What is missed, even today, is that Jesus was also a man of fun and celebration. He said at one point, "John the Baptist came neither eating nor drinking and you thought he was crazy and I come eating and drinking and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.'" Jesus was a rather odd but nice surprise. Wherever Jesus went there was plenty to eat and even a good bit to drink. No one expected the coming of the messiah to be a combination of a picnic and happy hour with a mash unit at the center. And when it looked like the end with Jesus, dead, buried, and dismissed as another disappointment, he walked out of the cemetery with the surprising announcement that life did not end in death but in the joyful reunion of all the people you love and are yet to love and who love you. In the resurrection appearances Jesus mainly had meals with people. He gained weight from the resurrection.

Now the future is scary. I have always been scared to death of the future. Yet I have consistently been amazingly surprised. One summer day before I entered the seminary, I received two letters in the mail. One letter announced that I had been accepted as a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Louisville. The other letter informed me that I had been offered the position of a career counselor at the University of Louisville. I had a choice to make. That evening I went out in the front yard and prayed for guidance as to what to do, "Dear Father, should I be a priest or a counselor?" Immediately I felt joy and peace and received a surprising answer. In a perfectly clear thought I saw that the stars above me represented the priesthood, my work with the transcendent side of life and the grass at my feet symbolized my work as a counselor, my work with the down to earth, problematic side of life. I was assured that I would do both. Whatever I chose first, the stars or the grass, I would later do the other. It made no difference to God. Both opportunities represented joy. It was up to me to choose what I would do first. I chose the stars. Then I closed my eyes and the vision became a little different. I saw that all the stars were really the faces of people and all the blades of grass were the lives of people. My future was not something I would become, it would be all the people I would meet and who would meet me. At that moment every one of them was a surprise. As I look back on ten years as a priest and twenty years as a counselor, each has been a treasure. That was a vision of my own future. I have another vision of our future as a world. You might say it is what the Second Coming looks like in consciousness.

For years I have had a shift in consciousness come to me that is both odd and delightful. It happens mostly in airports but also in crowds and often in front of groups that I have never met. The shift consists of everyone seeming familiar to me, like I have met them somewhere before but can't remember their names or any details of their lives. That's the odd part. The delightful part is that every person looks noble to me, with a profound holiness and an inspiring and courageous spirit. A feeling of deep peace and joy pervade me when I'm seeing like this. Now this may be simply my narcissistic projection, but I'm wondering if what happens to me as an individual is simply a taste of what will happen to human consciousness as a whole. Other people have told me they have the same shift. Perhaps in the near future we will begin to recognize one another as holy , as noble, as beautiful and as the one's we love, always have, always will.

I am kind of a paranoid person in reverse. I believe there is afoot in the world a conspiracy of blessing. The movies Avatar and Tangled both have the imbedded messages: I see you. That's what Jesus, in effect, said to everyone he encountered: "I see you. Now you are well. I see you. Now you are forgiven. I see you. Now you are beautiful. Dearest and noblest one, I see you." The vision is coming for all of us. It is how we will all see one another. It is the human family coming home. What a nice surprise!


© Copyright Tom Baker 2010