Being Small (Reflection)

Well, I didn’t manage to write yesterday, meaning that my ‘discipline’ of reflecting and writing lasted just two days. Alas. But here we go for today:

The eminent and pugnacious scientist/pop-cultural phenomenon Neil de Grasse Tyson once wrote

“I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up—many people feel small, because they’re small and the Universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars.”

This beautiful thought puts in new language and a new context the ancient spiritual intuition that we are simultaneously unimportant and of utmost importance, both big and small. We see this intuition played out wonderfully in both yesterday and today’s Gospel readings from Matthew. Jesus uses children as a paradigm of those who will live in his Kingdom: anyone who wants to enter the Kingdom must do so “as children”. This brings up a lot of diverse and loosely connected connotations: humility, unwavering faith, joy and wonder at life, dependence and trust, to name a few. Jesus goes on to tell the Parable of the Good Shepherd: the Shepherd who goes out after one lost sheep, who is small and alone in the world, and rejoices more in finding it than he does in the ninety-nine who didn’t stray. It doesn’t matter that to some extent the one lost sheep is hardly relevant in terms of the success and strength of the flock; what matters is that in the Shepherd’s eyes, the lost sheep is priceless.

I was struck by this when I read the Psalms appointed for today. Ps. 83 is a desperate cry for God to act in the face of enemies plotting against his people. Then Ps. 34 begins with “I will thank the Lord at all times! His praise shall always be on my lips … I looked to the Lord and he heard me….” Again, we feel so small — and rightly so — in the face of immense problems. Yet there is the certainty that we are big to God even in (and especially in) our smallness.

As I’m in a pretty difficult season in my life, I am often pushed to the point of despair. I’m dealing with problems that feel immense and which I feel utterly incapable of solving. In this season it is reassuring to remember that it is when I am at my smallest that I can also find my bigness.

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