Whoever is in Christ is in a new creation;
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.
–2 Corinthians 5:17
On Thursday night I had the privilege of attending Jazz Worship at Old South Church in Boston with my dear friend Heidi. I’ve been in something of a spiritual funk of late, so when Heidi invited me to something that sounded so different, strange, and wonderful compared to the worship I’m used to, I had a hunch it may be just what I needed to shake things up a bit.
I was right, though not for the reasons I thought I would be. For it wasn’t the music – which was fantastic – or the genuine sense of welcome I felt (oh, to have a Church that verbally welcomes people of all ages, colors, abilities, sexual orientations, beliefs, doubts, and uncertainties at the beginning of a service!) – that tipped me back onto my axis, but the thing that occurs in almost any worship I’ve ever attended – the scripture reflection.
Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. “It’s not like a credit card transaction,” the person giving the reflection noted as he asked us to consider what it meant to be a new creation. “We don’t all have an experience like Paul on the road to Damascus, right?”
My thoughts immediately began to spin. Of course we don’t, I thought, because instant change isn’t what it means to be a new creation. Because what is creation? Of course, when we think about creation the first image that comes to mind is that first creation image: “Let there be light.” But God didn’t stop with making light exist. God made it dynamic, a process that alternates with darkness to create a sense of time. God also created plants that bloom and shed their petals and appear to die, only to bloom again. God created animals that start off as small clusters of cells only to develop into the most fantastic array of creatures, many of which appear vastly different in size and shape and coloring only weeks or months after they are born. God made people that grow and change and themselves create, making structures and art and families and communities and new things both beautiful and terrifying. God created a world with seasons, where everything is constantly changing such that every moment lived in that world is new, something never before experienced yet familiar all the same.
In short, God did not create things; God created processes. Creation is not static. It is dynamic, ever moving, ever changing, at once moving forward and cycling back on itself. To be a “new creation” does not mean to be switched from one kind of person to another, from sinner to saint, from one in darkness to one in the light. It is, instead, to be made free from thinking of oneself as static. When anyone is in Christ, she is a new creation. She is no longer bound by who she was, she is forgiven, given permission to constantly re-become, caught up in the beautiful mystery of being ever-changing. She is in God’s image, so she is not only creation but is also creator, making herself and the world around her anew as she allows herself to be constantly made anew.
Being a new creation isn’t about shedding our old skin and putting on a shiny new Christ-like skin. It’s about remembering that we are constantly shedding our skin. The outermost layer is always falling away as we are continually creating new skin from within. Knowing that we are always regenerating, always making and being made new, we are free to experience doubts, valleys, and spiritual funks without letting them define us, for they are all part of the rhythm of belief. Our doubt does not make us forever a disbeliever; our sin does not forever label us a sinner. Similarly, we know that our moments of belief, of getting it right, of complete trust in God do not define us, and knowing this frees us from complacency and pride.
And so, while this worship didn’t free me entirely from my spiritual funk, it did at least free me from my fatalistic feelings about it. I am reminded now that “I’ll never again be who I was” is the wrong way of thinking about my spiritual life, not only because I may just surprise myself by cycling back in some way, but because “who I was” is an illusion. I have always been a process, nothing more than a being on a journey, and “who I am” changes at every moment in relation to how the journey is unfolding. In Christ, I am in every moment a new creation. The old has passed away, and the new just keeps on coming, and I welcome it with open arms.
Kate Henley Averett received her Master of Divinity from Harvard in 2008. She is a dancer, reader, writer, nanny, choreographer, theologian, activist, wife, thinker, singer, and ever-changing creation. She currently resides in Cambridge, MA, but is preparing to welcome the new when she relocates this summer to begin doctoral work in Sociology.