Multiplying by Jesus

I first saw it written on the inspirational billboard in front of the Episcopal Church on State Road 9:

“Satan divides. Jesus multiplies.”

It’s terribly cute, of course, but it made me think about the ways that our culture has grown more polarized, and how the divisions are put into strong relief on social media whenever an issue like gay marriage or abortion shows up in the news. People line up on the issues. Unfriendings occur. People stop seeing old acquaintances whose company they used to enjoy, but whose politics they find revolting.

And yet the social media skirmishes are a pretty minor problem when compared with the subtle way division occurs in our closest relationships. It really is the triumph of Satan when families decide that the battle for unity is no longer worth it.

Sister-in-law has totally crossed the line with her insensitive comments. Mother-in-law doesn’t understand personal boundaries. Brother has made bad choices with his life. Sister is so perfect she makes everyone else look bad. So many families, even families untouched by major family schisms like divorce or abuse–Christian families–come unhinged when relatively minor grievances take on inflated significance.

Having strong emotional reactions to everything that happens in a family almost always ends in emotional exhaustion, and finally in indifference. Our worlds become smaller. Our thoughts and emotions grow bigger. And Jesus becomes more and more a theoretical entity that we’re always trying to meet in our minds and hearts, but are rarely meeting in real relationships.

When I say, “Christ must increase, and I must decrease!”–how does that happen? How does Christ become bigger to me, so big that my own interests, doubts, insecurities and confusions disappear into his vast presence?

This past Sunday in Mass, after receiving the Eucharist, in that moment when I was supposed to be thanking God, I was tempted to examine everyone’s outfits as they walked back to their seats, and just generally eyeball the world passing before me. But I realized that for Christ to grow bigger in my thoughts, I had to believe that truly, Christ dwells in each of these souls that have just received him. It is Christ who passes by me, not a great pair of boots. Christ before me. Christ beside me.

And beyond the church walls, it is Christ bumming around the Wal-mart parking lot, Christ in people who think differently than me, Christ in my misbehaving children, in my in-laws and siblings.

Christ in these holy ones, in whom I could find plenty of flaws if I had world enough and time. But dwelling on others’ flaws is a way of decreasing my awareness of Christ in them and ultimately, in my own life.

Saint Paul writes:

“Love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.” (Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans 12:1-2, 9-13)

I’m thinking about these things as I prepare to cook my first Thanksgiving dinner, to put out the good china and make it a feast, even though the majority of my guests will be children who can hardly appreciate it. Exercise hospitality. Treat each member of my family like a treasured guest, a holy guest, someone to whom I should show honor. This is my family. And yes, there have been divisions in the past, but also steady, gorgeous, chaotic multiplication, not only as our families have opened to children, but as we have opened to each other in friendship. Christ is here.

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