“Please place your seat backs and tray tables in their full upright position.”
My husband and I recently flew to Colorado to celebrate the completion of my training in spiritual direction. Our round-trip flight meant we experienced two departures and two arrivals. Two ascents and two descents for a total of four times hearing the flight attendant’s voice over the loudspeaker instructing us to assume our upright positions. All in preparation to depart or arrive.
This got me thinking about postures that prepare us for what is to come. I began wondering if the airline instructions stood in sharp contrast to those Jesus might have received for his round-trip journey to Earth. Had he come in his full upright position as King of kings and Lord of lords, he never would have fit. Earth cannot hold him.
To prepare for his arrival, he had to assume not an upright position but a bent one. And bend he did, into the -tiniest of seeds in a woman’s dark womb.
When the time came for his departure, Jesus bent yet again. “Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father” (John 13:1). So what did he do? He bent low to the ground — into the shape not of seed but slave — and washed his disciples’ feet in an act of love.
In a devotional I read, the author said God is bent on loving us. She meant that God is determined to love God’s people.
But the word rang in my ears differently. I heard it in reference to the ways God loves us: by bending and descending, by lowering and leaning in.
We serve an upright God who is bent on bending. Bent on loving us. And who has a bent for the bent ones. A bent for the burdened ones. A bent for the ones brought low.
In the gospels, we encounter Jesus physically bending to the ground to protect a woman caught in adultery from the upright ones about to cast stones (John 8).
We hear him defend a prostitute, bent on washing his feet with her tears (Luke 7).
We watch in wonder as he bends rigid rules and on the sabbath heals a woman who had been physically bent for 18 long years (Luke 13).
We marvel with the multitudes on that momentous day when Jesus blessed the bent — the meek and the mourning, the merciful ones, the -persecuted, pure and poor (Matthew- 5).
God is bent on bending and lifting up the low. To enter the doorway of the suffering, the sinners, the sidelined and the sick, our Savior stooped.
I find this to be very good news for me — for us — when we find ourselves, as Edmund Sears penned in “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” bent beneath life’s pressing load.
Like the woman in Luke 13, my body was bent for 18 long years. I was brought to my knees by feet that could no longer support me and grief that kept grounding me.
I don’t know what has bent you, friend — poverty, pressure or pain. I don’t know your journey, past or present, that has laid you low.
But what I do know, and what I have experienced, is that our precarious bent position is the very posture that prepares us both for the arrival of God to us and our departure back to God.
It’s not the rigid or right but the bent and bowed who are blessed.
As the Holy Spirit kindly reminded me, this posture prepares us not only for God but for one another.
As I prayed for shalom in several relationships that have rubbed me wrong, I was moved to confess the areas where, in my own sense of rightness, I have become stiff-necked and straight.
As I asked for the grace to bend, I realized anew that sometimes we need to stoop in order to see when we can’t see straight.
An upright position may be the preferred one for a plane, train or automobile. But in our walkabout daily lives, a bent frame may serve us best.
God is bent on loving us. It’s how -Jesus came and how he left and how he serves us still.
It just may be that when we are bent, broken or brought low, we are in a prepared place to enter a portal of grace, precisely postured for who and what awaits.