Living as God’s Beloved Image: In the World, But Not of It

John 17:6-19

“…because they do not belong to the world…”

What is it to live by a different set of values? To be governed by different hopes and expectations? To be shaped by another dream altogether: by God’s dream instead of the paltry ones we too often settle for?

What is it to NOT belong to this world all the while we are bound by the same physical limits as everyone else?

What is it to be led in a different way if not on an altogether different path?

I sat still in a poem by Mary Oliver this week: “Drifting,” from her volume titled Blue Horses.

A couple of lines stay with me:

“I didn’t intend to start thinking about God, it just happened.

How God, or the gods are invisible, quite understandable.

But holiness is visible, entirely.”

And I wondered if to ‘live by a different set of values, to be shaped by another dream altogether’ is to simply be practiced in seeing that holiness. Especially in one another.

For in that holiness, while we may not actually see ‘God,’ you and I do know that it is God’s own image we are glimpsing then. In others, certainly. But importantly, perhaps, first in ourselves.

And I wondered at how this might be the very key to putting an end to all the violence that too much passes between us: If only we could glimpse this visible holiness which has made its mark on every single one.

And I wonder, I do, how it is we come to claim this as our own so much so that it shapes not only our minds, but our hearts, not just our thinking, but our doing, our very ways of being.

So it is it came to mind this week a friend telling me of how she would coach the often young nurses in her charge in the local emergency department. The work in that part of the hospital is often urgent, frequently stressful, yes, always important. So much so that in the press of the moment it was far too easy to forget the shared humanity of the many ones in their temporary care.  So she would remind them to look at those entrusted to them and see their own grandma, their own grandpa, their own loved one there.  She urged them train their eyes to literally see their patients differently. To catch a glimpse of ‘holiness.’ To see an image of love itself, God’s image indeed. And it made a difference.

  • And, at least in part,  isn’t this what it is to live in the world, but not be of it?
  • Isn’t this what it would be to live by another set of rules entirely?
  • Isn’t this what it is to live by God’s dream instead of our own often too small ones?

And oh, wouldn’t this change everything?

Only I can’t help but wonder now if it doesn’t all begin not with how we see each other, but whether we can glimpse that ‘visible’ holiness in ourselves.

Indeed, what would it be if taking John’s Gospel as our guide and hearing Jesus’ urging now we were to see ourselves in some of those holy images Jesus offers in John’s telling of the Good News? For as Jesus was and is the ‘I Am,’ the very essence of God, what is it for you and me to live into and out that same image. For we are, of course. The very image of God.

  • I mean, what would it be to see God’s image in me as the Bread of Life? (John 6:35) As one whose call it is to nurture, indeed, to feed the hungry? What would it be to see the world with the eyes of Jesus who received the simple gift of a boy’s lunch and recognizing it for all it was, set about feeding the crowds before us? (John 6:1-13) Wouldn’t we be part of shaping a world where hunger no longer is?
  • Or what might it be to see yourself as one reflecting Jesus’ light of the world? (John 8:12, John 9:5) Light which gives life and safety, hope and direction and understanding? How might the world’s blindness to all that God intends for us be alleviated if we just lived as that light? (John 9:1-41)
  • Indeed, what would it be to see ourselves as the door or the gate? What would it be for us to be points of welcome entrance to those in need of shelter or community or more? (John 10:7, 9)
  • Oh, what would it be to see ourselves as not only those who are tended by the Good Shepherd, but as those who called to live into the same? What would it be if we saw our call to also put our hearts’ energy into being protectors of the vulnerable in the world? (John 10:1-18)

All of this (and more) is what Jesus calls us to now when he reminds us that we are to live in the world, but not be governed by it, to live by the parameters of God’s vast dream and not our own. There is more, so much more, no doubt, but this is where my imagination has taken me today.

I cannot help but believe it would make all the difference if even a handful of us could be empowered to do just this.  Seeing the holy in ourselves, yes, and then also always in each other. And then living out and into this truth.

Indeed, has the world needed ever needed this more than it does now?

  • How do you hear Jesus’ reminder today that we do not ‘belong to the world?’ What does it mean to you to live in the world, but not be of it?
  • Because Jesus’ pleading prayer does not articulate just what it means to ‘not belong to the world,’ I have chosen to back up in John’s Gospel, looking for examples of what it might mean by settling into some of the “I am” statements which remind us that Jesus is a reflection of God’s image, as are we.  There would certainly be other ways of getting at this.  Where might you be led to go deeper?
  • I am struck today that in the three synoptic Gospels in the accounts of Jesus’ baptism each time God’s voice calls Jesus ‘beloved.’ (While this is not articulated in John’s Gospel, I am going with the certainty that this ‘beloved-ness’ was assumed. Because it is not said in John’s Gospel, I do not include it above. Even so, I wonder if it isn’t the same. Jesus started out ‘beloved,’ even before his formal ministry began. And wouldn’t this be the same for you and for me that we start out ‘beloved?’  How might we encounter the world differently if we were first embraced by this truth? How might we find ourselves living in the world, but not be of it?



  1. Rev. Linda Birchall says:

    Thanks for these good words, Janet. Wise words. Much needed words, at least for me. This is remarkably timely. Last night, as I went to bed, I was trying to think how to describe to a friend what it means to be in the world but not of the world. And lo, and behold, here’s you blog this morning! God’s timing is perfect, even when I fail to recognize that fact at the time. Be blessed even as you are a blessing.

    • Janet Hunt says:

      Thanks, Linda. I’m glad these words are helpful and that perhaps God used them at just the right time for you! Thank you also for your words of blessing.

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