In a similar vein, one of my favorite television shows, until it was cancelled, was “Joan of Arcadia” which even in its title reminds one of Joan of Arc and her visions of God. The show takes place in a ficitional town named “Arcadia” where Joan Girardi lives. The show was the creation of Barbara Hall, a spiritual seeker herself, who dares us to consider that God may be one of us. In the show God appears in a variety of cryptic personages: as a bum, a goth teenager, a little girl, etc. Please don’t get hung up on the imagery, especially as Joan Osborne’s song, “What if God Was One of Us?” plays at each show’s opening. It seems sacrilegious at first glance to see God, the Divine, as “a stranger on a bus, a slob like one of us (one of Osborne’s lines),” but Jesus’ incarnation in Bethlehem dares us to broaden our horizons and ask how this world would be different if we did treat the people we would normally ignore as if they were God. I’m not suggesting some heresy that we treat people as if they were gods in an idolatrous way, but as if they were carrying the precious imago dei, the Image of God, within them. That doesn’t seem to be too much to ask, especially if the end result is worth the risk.
Perhaps you have heard the story of the monastery that was dying for lack of new monks. There was a negative spirit that permeated the whole place, evidenced by much jealousy and blatant apathy toward one another in the community. In desperation, the monastery’s leader went to the hut of a wise hermit deep in the forest. The abbot described the lack of love among the monks and asked for advice about what could be done to foster better relations. The hermit simply responded by saying, “The Messiah is among you.” He said nothing more.
Upon his return to the monastery the abbot told the monks what the hermit had said. As a result, people who were once either envious or apathetic about one another started asking themselves, “Could the Messiah be Brother Andrew the baker, who humbly does his task?” or “Could the Messiah be Brother Simon the chief gardener, who with great kindness provides us with food to eat?” Their wonderings included everybody and the effect was miraculous. Because of the wise hermit’s statement the monks began treating each other with such love and respect that it indeed seemed that the Messiah was among them. The monastery began to grow and thrive because of their newfound love for one another.