Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)
It feels a little strange reflecting on “the loss of all things” while I am also enjoying a weekend at the DeKoven Center, one of the places I have come to cherish, “a place where prayer has been valid,” (to echo T. S. Eliot’s description of Little Gidding).
This place always reminds me of the heritage I have in the church, and the voice in my head sounds a little like Paul as I describe it:
“If anyone else has reason to be confident, I have more: baptized in my second month, a member of the people called Episcopalians, of the tribe of clergy; an acolyte, reader, LEM, campus minister, deacon; as to the church, “Anglo-Catholic among friends” and a member of the Fellowship of the SSJE; as to zeal, an EfM mentor and preacher; as to righteousness, made my mature commitment to Christ in the summer of 1989.”
Even the image at the top of this blog evokes that confidence — a page from my grandfather’s prayer book and Bible forms the backdrop to a picture of him sitting on the steps of this very place back in the 1940s.
But what if, as Paul goes on to say, all that is “rubbish” because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ?
What if I didn’t need to cling to “a goodly heritage” but could instead step out freely, secure in Christ?
I think even Paul would admit that his extensive training in the law and his upbringing as a Pharisee served him well in his new role as an apostle and as a mentor to others, but I think he is exactly right that they count for nothing in the most importance race of his life: pressing on toward the kingdom.
In fact, I picture him shedding his long Pharisaical robes in order to run more swiftly, free and unencumbered.
Perhaps this place where prayer has been valid is not supposed to be a destination, but rather the starting block against which I can push off and run, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead … the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”