(This post is modified from my ancient archives.)
Remember learning about the Pheonix in eighth grade mythology class?
It’s the bird-like fire spirit that lives for hundreds of years, until it builds itself a nest to die in. At once, the nest and the bird are ignited, and burnt down into ashes. Just when the whole story seems dead and gone, the same Pheonix – newly reborn into youth and vitality – emerges from those ashes to live another long lifetime.
The soundtrack from my college-days reminds me of a snippet of Ani Difrancoâ€™s â€œ32 Flavorsâ€ :
â€ â€¦God help you if you are a Pheonix
and you dare to rise up from the ash
a thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy
while you are just flying pastâ€¦â€
I reckon Iâ€™ve both soared and smoldered.
The soaring is great; one hardly has time to notice the jealousy of others.
But the smoldering – oh the smoldering – it rots the bones. Being jealous of someone else’s success or sudden soaring is one of the ugliest, darkest emotions we humans experience.
There’s this scene in my favorite story, Leif Engerâ€™s Peace Like a River, in which the 11-year old narrator, Reuben, looks on as his kind and forgiving father is completely humiliated. Reuben burns with anger as the repulsive superintendent, Mr. Holgren, spits false accusations at the God-fearing janitor (Reubenâ€™s father) in front of all of the students, ultimately firing him. Just when Reuben is sure that his father will raise a hand to slap Mr. Holgrenâ€™s disease-infested face, his father instead gently reaches his hand out and heals the man. In front of all of the students, Mr. Holgrenâ€™s face is instantly transformed its red, blotchy repulsion into a healthy suntanned glow. Reuben can barely face his father afterward, wrestling with his fatherâ€™s choice to love his enemy; not just â€œforgiveâ€ him, but to aid in his betterment. To be the source of his enemy’s soaring.
Then I think about the conclusion of sermons about the prodigal son and his faithful father. You know, the sermons that use the final five minutes to recognize the older brother who whines that his rebel brother is forgiven and blessed so easily. Five minutes doesnâ€™t do justice to a common struggle amongst all of us in Godâ€™s family. Too often, we who say we love God and the Church, want the most blessing, the most favor, and the most honor for ourselves; and itâ€™s genuinely difficult to consistently rejoice when our brothers and sisters are rejoicing over blessingsâ€¦ especially when we really donâ€™t *like* them or think they deserve being blessed. It’s particularly bad if we helped them to be reconciled to God but suddenly theyâ€™re soaring beyond us. (Do I write as if I have some experience in these matters?)
To what do we owe this struggle?
A false sense of entitlement?
A misunderstanding of unity?
An imagined competition?
Perhaps the credit just goes to the sin that we are to be constantly putting away from ourselves. Perhaps one of the deepest layers of our sin nature is our jealousy of other Christians. God forbid we rot away in the indulgence of jealousy. May we continually walk away from its smoldering eyes.
If I am a part of the Bride, why wouldnâ€™t I want all of her to soar? And consequently, to soar, too.
from Galations 5
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.