Theologian and author Kate Bowler counters our cultural desire to proclaim we are “self-made” with a reminder of our foundational communal reality.
I am self-made. Didn’t anyone tell you? I brought myself into the world when I decided to be born on a bright Monday morning. Then I figured out how cells replicate to grow my own arms and legs and head to a reasonable height and size. Then I filled my own mind from kindergarten to graduation with information I gleaned from the great works of literature. . . .
I’m joking, but sometimes it feels like the pressure we are under. An entire self-help and wellness industry made sure that we got the memo: we are supposed to articulate our lives as a solitary story of realization and progress. Work. Learn. Fix. Change. Every exciting action sounds like it is designed for an individual who needs to learn how to conquer a world of their own making.
It’s hard to remember a deeper, comforting truth: we are built on a foundation not our own. We were born because two other people created a combination of biological matter. We went to schools where dozens and dozens of people crafted ideas and activities to construct categories in our minds. We learned skills honed by generations of craftspeople. We pray and worship with spiritual ideas refined by centuries of tradition. Almost nothing about us is original. Thank God.
It reminds me of the account of creation in Genesis. . . . God breathes oxygen into lungs in an instance of divine CPR. I love picturing that God, the only One who can create out of nothing—ex nihilo. God, who set the cornerstone of our lives and our faith, laid the first brick. The Master Builder whose carefully poured foundation is what we build on top of now. It certainly feels like a template for the rest of our experience.
Kate was a young mother when she was first diagnosed with Stage Four cancer:
When I was really sick and worried about dying too young, I kept trying to picture how much my son would remember. . . .
I thought about him all the time. When do children develop long-term memory? How much am I in there . . . his mischievous mind, his evil laugh. Then one day, my psychologist said something wonderful. He said: “Kate, you’re in there. The foundation is the part that doesn’t show.” Whether it is our parents, our teachers, mentors, friends, churches, or neighbors, people have been pouring into us. We are standing on a foundation. It should come as an incredible relief. Our only job is to build on what we’ve been given, and, even then, even our gifts we can trace back to the creativity, generosity, and foresight of others. Thank God we are a group project.
Kate Bowler and Jessica Richie, Good Enough: 40ish Devotionals for a Life of Imperfection (New York: Convergent Books, 2022), 51–53. To be published in February 2022 by Convergent Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Explore Further. . .
- Read Barbara Holmes on ancestors and the communion of saints.
- Read Richard on our ongoing participation in creation.
- Meet the team behind the Daily Meditations.
Image credit: Brian McLaren, Untitled 1-3 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States. Jenna Keiper and Leslye Colvin, 2021, triptych art, United States.
The creative team at CAC sent a single-use camera to Brian McLaren as part of an exploration into contemplative photography. His photos are featured here in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story.
Image Inspiration: In this triptych, we begin by seeing just one fruit. Moving to the center photo, we see the whole tree. When we look at the third photo, we bring with us the knowledge that there is more to this tree, an abundance of fruit. It’s not alone. Nothing stands alone.
Story from Our Community:
One morning after receiving Communion, I realized this Sacrament was not my own treasured and personal connection with Christ, but that my neighbors were also my Communion. I saw that “personal holiness” is a contradiction of terms, for there is no holiness separate from others, but only in solidarity with others in Christ.
Prayer for our community:
God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough, because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.