For the first time recently, I held in my hands an uncorrected proof of a new book.
The spine was blank, and on the front, just beneath the title and the author’s name, I read:
“Uncorrected Proof—Not for Sale
Readers are reminded that changes may be made in this proof before
the volume is released for public consumption.
As I held the proof, I felt a bit like I was on holy ground. Perhaps it was simply because, now that I’ve been working on my own book for so long, I’m aware of the hours and tears and moments of holy joy that go into working with God on a book. Perhaps it was the wondering whether next time I hold a proof it might be of my own work. But it was also the comfort that came as I thought about how we are God’s creation, his workmanship, his poeima. Beautiful work by a master artist, God has already signed his name to us, even before we’re perfected.
We are his, a treasured labor of love. And we are still in process. Neither of these diminishes the other.
I know that the words, Uncorrected Proof, refer to the text that is still being proofread before being signed off on. But as I read the book that bore these words, Sharon Garlough Brown’s, Feathers of Hope, I was struck by how well these words—Uncorrected Proof—fit both the people in the book and myself. Each character is very much in process. Not only Wren, the young woman continuing her healing journey from severe depression with which she had been hospitalized, but also Katherine Rhodes, the spiritual director and retreat leader with whom Wren is living. And the new candidate who is being interviewed for Katherine’s position as she approaches retirement. And family members. And every other character in the book. Each one is human, each in the midst of an uncomfortable—and needed—process of transformation. And each is slowly, painfully, learning to settle a little more deeply into God’s love. In my own life, as in the book, there are scenes that make me squirm. But also in my own life and in the lives of those with whom I walk, as in the book, there are places I see beauty emerging, proof that God is at work.
How to be Transformed
As we’re making our way through this Lenten season, there is grace for me in the reminder both that I am the treasured creation of the master artist, already loved and eternally cherished, and that transformation is a life-long process. As the apostle Paul put it,
“And we, who with unveiled face all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Cor 3:18
We don’t have to make ourselves perfect. We can’t make ourselves perfect. Yes, there are choices we’re asked to make along the way, but the foundation of our transformation is the returning again and again to gaze at the Perfect One, the one who perfectly loves his in-process children.
As we look at him, we find him looking back at us in love. And as we find ourselves loved, we become freer to pass that love along to others. This means that—thank God!—we don’t have to be perfect to begin to reflect the beauty of the One on whom we are gazing.
This truth that as we look at him we increasingly radiate his glory is tucked right into katoptrizo, the Greek word for “reflect” in this verse. It carries the idea both of looking and of reflecting, literally meaning to look at something as in a mirror. We turn again and again to look at Jesus and, as we do so, we increasingly reflect his likeness.
I’ll be honest. Sometimes I think I’d much prefer transformation to be instantaneous. I’d like to be perfect already, to save myself and those around me from the messiness of the process. But then I remember that the places I’ve experienced God’s gentle love most deeply have been precisely those places where I most need his gentleness as I come up against my own weakness and failure and sin. It’s right in the mess of the process that I learn to trust that he really does delight in me, even when I don’t have it all together. And so instead of wishing I could rush past the process, I’m learning to pray for courage to be in it.
A Blessing for the Journey
In these first days and weeks of Lent, as I notice both my own need and God’s unfailing love that accompanies me on this journey of transformation, I’ve been returning to these first lines of Jan Richardson’s beautiful poem for the beginning of the Lenten season, “Beloved is Where We Begin,”
If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.
Do not leave
who you are:
named by the One
who has traveled this path
Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.”(You can read the rest of the poem here.)
This, friend, is who we are: Beloved.
In Advent and Lent and Ordinary Time, we are Beloved.
When we’re feeling strong, and when we’re curled up in overwhelm, we are Beloved.
Right in the middle of the process, long before our transformation is complete, we are Beloved.
May Jesus settle us a little more deeply into his love today.