Retiring Your Avatar

I’m going to preach this morning on Psalm 139 – the great psalm of comfort and assurance. The psalmist praises God saying, “I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful and I know it well.”

When the famous singer Ariana Grande opened up about her struggles with depression, the famous actor Jim Carrey responded to her with compassion and  deep insight. He said, “Depression is your body saying, ‘I don’t want to be this character anymore. I don’t want to hold up this avatar that you’ve created in the world. It’s too much for me,’. You should think of the word ‘depressed’ as ‘deep rest.

There is much that is resonant in Carrey’s quote, a word play on “depressed” and “deep rest.” First, he recognizes that most people are peddling an image, a curated version of themselves, consciously or unconsciously.  This avatar, as Carrey calls it, is in some degree of tension with the person that you really are. You’ve certainly experienced this tension in some capacity. We say, “I just can’t be myself with that person or I’m much more at home in this setting.” And living in this tension is exhausting, causing the body to shut down and say “no more! It’s too much for me.”

Second, Carrey tells us that this exhaustion creates a longing for deep rest. Depressed or not, you surely long for deep rest. Carrey’s diagnosis of the problem is much better than his solution. He has fallen for the age-old heresy that everybody and everything is divine.

That kind of thinking actually leads to depression and anxiety. No one can be God or do God’s job. You know the old joke – What’s the difference between you and God? God never thinks He’s you! Of course you are going to be depressed or anxious if you try to take on God’s responsibility.

Carrey also believes that the self doesn’t actually exist – it is only a false construct of ideas. It is true that we often present a false construct of ourselves to the world, but thankfully you do exist! This is where we turn to today’s psalm. Psalm 139 gives us real hope and invites us into deep rest.

Not only do you exist, God Himself brought you into existence. “For you yourself created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” You are not just an accident of evolution – you are the handiwork of God. Now, it sounds obvious and elementary, but it still needs to be said. This means that you have enormous intrinsic dignity and worth. Not just you, but your body.

This is a potent word for today as body image issues are rampant. Most of us are consumed with what we do or don’t consume. We get exercised about how we do or don’t exercise. Eating disorders are just part of the merciless assault on the body to get it to conform with today’s version of sexy, which, of course, is always changing.

A recent New York Times article called “Beach Body Tyranny Hurts Men Too” on the sometimes overlooked male body image obsession cited the 1500’s Titian painting of Adonis – the quintessential representation of masculinity. You should go home and check out the painting – judged by the standards of today, Titian’s Adonis really needs to get the gym. He’s definitely not in beach body form.

But, then again, we don’t live in the 1500’s, and therefore need a word that will speak directly to our love hate relationship with our bodies. Why can’t that word be “I will thank you because I am marvelously made; your works are wonderful and I know it well.”?

So, God has created you and there is no need or use to pretend to be anybody or anything other than who you are. The Instagram self does not exist before God. The psalmist recognizes this.  “Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways. Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether.”

You trace my journeys and resting places. That makes God sound like a Fitbit or an Apple Watch. But, actually what we are dealing here with the God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid”, as we say at the beginning of our communion service. This is comforting, but also unnerving, isn’t it? If your heart, desires, and secrets are like mine, then they are not a pretty sight. Most of us specialize in keeping our secrets, well, secret.

And for good reason. We are all infected with what theologians have called Original Sin and what the prayer book describes as the “fault and corruption of the nature of every person.”  The 1928 Prayer Book went so far as to say that “there is no health in us,” but that got removed in the 1970’s, when the Self-Esteem Project was in full swing.

But the problem with I’m Ok and You’re Ok is that just telling ourselves that we are great doesn’t lead to self-esteem. That is because deep down we know that at least some of our hearts, desires, secrets, thoughts and ways are wrong. We don’t want the unvarnished truth out there for public consumption.

There is a big nudist movement in Germany right now. Not just nude beaches, but nude parks, nude shopping malls, nude yoga. The German nudists say that being naked is an expression of freedom. Maybe. When Christie and I were first married we went to a nude beach in Greece, thinking it would be fun and daring. We saw some Germans there.

All I can say is the image of a nude beach is very different from the reality of nude beach. We left thinking that there is a good reason for bathing suits. I mean, you can still be wonderfully made but you just don’t have to show it to everybody.  Here’s something to ponder – do you think nude church would increase or decrease average Sunday attendance?

At any rate, we can’t cover up from God. God knows all your ways. He knows you altogether. Chalked on the sidewalk on the Grounds last week was an invitation to a “122 Days to Christmas” Party. The beginning of Psalm 139 is like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good.”

But what is conspicuously missing from the psalm is the “so be good for goodness sake.” True self-esteem, deep rest comes from knowing we don’t have to hide the bad parts of ourselves from God. We can’t anyway. We are known altogether, and yet altogether loved. Time to retire your avatar.

The reason for this is that the God who created your body, who “beheld your limbs yet unfinished in the womb” became a body Himself. That body was knit together in Mary’s womb. That body felt the scratch of the hay on his infant back. That body ate and drank and laughed and cried and slept. That body was the one body, the only body that had no fault or corruption in his nature. That body lived the life that we could not live.

 Ultimately, that body was stripped naked and nailed, wrist and feet, to a cross. That body died the death that our bodies deserved. The bible says it this way. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24) As one prayer book prayer says, you have been “wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored.” Amen.