A cold breeze swept into the room, and I shivered under my covers. As usual, I wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing. I huddled myself into a ball, but I knew that at some point I would have to leave the warmth of my bed to at least close the window. "Crap," I muttered, unable to get comfortable again. "Might as well get this over with." I slipped out of my bed and rushed over to pull the window shut, gasping as the cold enveloped me. Why had I left the stupid window open last night? I'd never been a pajamas type of guy, a hangover from my football playing days, but maybe it was time to start wearing them.
Too awake to get back to sleep, I dashed into the shower and let the hot water run over me, feeling my pulse slow down as my body warmed up. I've never been one for long showers, and the apartment was still cold when I finished drying off and quickly dressed and put some coffee on. I glanced at the clock. 7:32am. Too early for a Saturday morning.
I took my coffee out on the balcony, waiting for some early inspiration. The sky was gray, and the thick bushes below me, normally filled with life, were silent, the only sound coming from a car warming up in the parking lot. Smoke filtered from the chimney of the house across the street. Everything around me seemed dead, as if I was the only one alive. Normally I headed to my favourite cafe on Saturday mornings to work, but the thought of putting on coats and gloves and boots and hats and sweaters and packing everything up to drag out to my car and than bringing everything in the cafe and going through the undressing process made me wonder why I simply couldn't work at home today. I loved Ottawa, but the icy winter always made you think twice about going out.
The cold, dead air outside wasn't helping however. I needed the sounds of people around me to write. I sipped my coffee, waiting for a burst of life from somewhere. Nothing. Nothing but a gray silence. So much for that idea. I slipped back inside my apartment and began packing up my work.
It struck me how I hated putting so many layers of clothes on, and that from the time I'd woken up this morning, all I had done was cover myself. And not just with clothes. In the first book of the Bible, it tells the story of a man and a woman. They live in the garden with God, and He gives them only one command: Do not eat the fruit of a certain tree. They eat the fruit however, and suddenly they feel exposed. They cover themselves with leaves, and when God calls to them, He asks them, "Who told you that you were naked?"
I thought about this because it's obvious that we still love to cover ourselves, not only in the presence of God, but from the people around us. I stopped packing for a minute and looked around my apartment. It was filled with books. Shelves upon shelves of books, movies, music... my apartment suddenly seemed nothing but a swirling mass of narrative to get lost in, like a lost set of tunnels and caves to explore and discover.
My books had been, for as long as I could remember, my security blanket. My covering. When despair and depression grabbed me by the neck during my twenties, I turned to books and writing to weather the storm. I withdrew into a cave, and for a while it seemed I would never be able to leave. When I was forced to come out, I would smile and laugh, sparkling like a piece of costume jewelry that looks good until you examine the metal closely. I worried over what people thought of me, anxious not to get too close to people who might happen to get a glimpse of the man underneath. The more I worried, the more I withdrew, and the more I withdrew, the more layers I added, until I wasn't sure who I was. For a long time I wasn't sure that I would ever be able to push myself into the open spaces again, to allow my naked self to be seen and heard, and to hear and see the people around me.
I slung my laptop over my shoulder and headed out, the wind biting into my face and hands as I trudged out to my car. Instead of sitting in it while it warmed up, however, I tucked my hands in my pocket and took a stroll through the lot. The icy wind felt good on my face, and I pulled off my toque, watching my breath frost in the morning air.
Perhaps the greatest (often unacknowledged) desire of humanity goes back to our time in the garden. The longing to be naked, to expose ourselves to God and the people around us. These days, I am tired of covering myself. (Most of my friends will tell you that it obviously extends to my fashion choices as well) I've grown tired of the shallow worries of what others think. I am tired of clothing myself with "I'm fine" and bending over to make sure others like the Steve I present to them. Deep inside is a longing to be naked and free.
My wife used to tell me how well I rationalized my own actions, how I consistently justified whatever I thought was right. Or how quickly I pointed out the exposed areas of the people around me, but refused to expose myself in any way. Especially in my criticisms of the church. Years later, I still hear her voice, especially in moments like this, and it warms me somehow. The truth of her words has impacted me more than she will ever know.
So much of our faith, this following after Christ, at times feels burdened by expectations. And sometimes I think we get lost in the struggle to "act like a Christian" and exhibit Christian behavior, whether it be listening to the right music or reading the right books or even having the right ideology. These religious trappings may feel good, but I'm not sure that it's exactly what God is looking for. Maybe the idea of the cross is that Jesus alone is our covering, and that the knowledge of God's love allows us to be naked. To be real. To be authentic.
The irony of my thoughts is that I've always believed these things about the church. There is one difference however.
I headed back to my car, enjoying the sudden burst of warmth. The difference between what I used to believe when I was married and what I believe now is simple. I used to believe that the church needed to allow itself to be naked. To lose the arrogance. To stop acting like hypocrites.
These days, I know better.
I am the church.
For the church to be naked, I must be naked first. For the church to be less arrogant, I need to be more humble. For the church to rid itself of hypocrisy I must work at being authentic. It's easy to sit back and scold people while warm and cozy in our money and fashion and sports and books and politics and knowledge and whatever we use to cover up the secret places of who we truly are.
I put my car into gear and headed out. If only we really believed that God loved us. That He loved us without prejudice. That nothing we could do would ever change that. Maybe then, we would feel the freedom to strip naked and stand up under the harsh gaze of our society and human pride. And maybe then we would find the intimacy in our relationships that we so desperately long for. Especially our relationship with the One who made us.
I took a deep breath as I slowed the car at the stop light. What this meant, however, was that I needed to do it first.
"It's okay, Lord, I'm ready."