by Kate Kennington Steer, images by Kate Kennington Steer
This Sunday marks the end of the liturgical year, and it is a festival about which I have always been highly ambivalent. I have shied away from the definitiveness of the label of Christ as King, shunning the triumphalism associated with a display of pomp and power, and the whole metaphor sits uneasily with me. It feels all too human and fallible a symbol to ascribe to the Christ.
Have I have been so busy having complicated ideological objections to the image of a male Christ as a royal ruler that I have forgotten to ask myself: what is all this resistance? Is it actually the idea that I am a subject to a higher power which causes my arrogant soul the most concern?
Whilst I was reading Christine Valters Paintner’s book, Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics this year, I was rather brought up short by her inclusion of the archetype of the Sovereign as an essential companion on the spiritual path. She uses the life and poetry of King David to explore both the positive and shadow aspects of this archetype, since ‘sovereignty is about being centered in your own power and taking full responsibility for meeting your needs’:
The archetype of the Sovereign manifests strength, centeredness, security, stability, vitality, and joy. It is the part of us that overcomes the disorder and chaos of life, allowing creativity to arise from places that feel difficult or challenging. Sovereigns rule from their true Self, the deepest and wisest parts of their being … A true Sovereign blesses others by his or her presence … Sovereigns create safe and healthy spaces for others to grow and develop their gifts and are never threatened by others living into their own power as well. (20-22)
John Valters Paintner’s reflection on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem made me further question my resistance to calling Christ my King and celebrating the Christ as such. I love the long echoes of one of my favourite passages in the Advent lectionary from Isaiah 9.6 that the child born as Jesus will be called ‘Prince of Peace’ so why do I have such difficulty conceiving of the Jesus of the gospels as royal? Yet, as John points out in the act of entering Jerusalem ‘Jesus owns his sovereignty’,
for even Christ, when the time is right, takes command and issues orders. He knows when to take charge and how to proceed decisively. It is what needs to be done because the time is at hand. (25)
Christine Valters Paintner stresses that sovereignty is in many ways a midlife word, since ‘we don’t really begin to live into our own power until we have grown wise enough to recognize our limitations as well’ (20) and I think it is Paintner’s connection between creating and ruling that is helping me confront my own prejudices. I know my best work comes from sharing the places where I am most barren, most vulnerable, most broken. I often feel in desperate need of someone to tell me they can shape these wounds into blossoms, yet I consistently resist suggestion, guidance and frameworks imposed by others (however well intentioned).
Will I instead listen to the invitation from the Creator Christ, the Christ who is King, who is here to free me from my resistance? The Creator Christ is the One who gives me my own creative power in turn. The Creator King is here to manage and protect that sacred power so that there may be an outpouring from me which will bless others. Christ the King is the One who has consecrated my call to create in the King’s name. There is no place for being a passive subject under a benign dictator’s rule, I am an artist by Royal appointment, I have a place in growing the wealth of the Kingdom for the good of all.
This Sunday is also known popularly as ‘stir up Sunday’, and the rhythms of the season suggest it is time to make preparations for the winter feasts. Material preparations become spiritual in the very act of making a meal to share, making a card to send, or making a present to give.
The power to create these acts of love comes precisely out of the possibility of using the energies of trouble, struggle, difficulty and uneasiness to generate a life-giving alternative to the narratives of our society which tell us poverty, injustice, inequality are inevitable and fated, that God’s revelation is impossible, that a faith in God’s power to change the status quo is unsustainable. Instead we are encouraged to give over the combined actions of hand and heart, praying together
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
So what am I prepared to do to bring forth such plenty? Will I wait on my knees before the Christ who holds the ultimate power of life; wait for the Christ who will be the beginning and is already the end; wait for the Christ whose rule over all creation encompasses even me?
Will I listen to the indwelling Spirit of the Christ who is the Creator who longs for me to grow in love? Will I welcome the prompts to find the places where I am empowered to create a blessing for another in my turn? Will I open my eyes to the opportunities of ‘wearing my own crown’, remaining secure in times of crisis, uncertainty and difficulty, looking for ways to transfigure those powers, safe in the unknowing of all save one thing: Christ is King?
Thy Kingdom Come.
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