“I am troubled now.” You and Me Both, Jesus.

Every time I read Jesus’s prediction of his impending death, I am troubled and confused. What does he mean when he says his death will glorify God’s name? How am I supposed to “lose my life?” Now more than ever, I feel like I have already sacrificed so much due to a global pandemic. Where is the good news in any of this Gospel?

I think the latest Pixar movie, Soul, can provide some insight into what Jesus is saying to us. The movie follows Joe, a middle school band teacher, who has great ambitions to play music outside of a classroom. Just as he catches his big break to perform jazz music in concert, he finds himself in the Great Beyond. Unwilling to accept that he might die, Joe makes his way to the Great Before and is forced to team up with 22, a sassy and stubborn “soul,” who does not want to live on Earth. In their search for 22’s spark or talent, they find something much more significant. 

22 asks, “Is all this living really worth dying for?” For her, to live meant to give up the comfort of her life in the Great Before and to take on a body in the world. She had to risk being rejected or failing at whatever her spark might be in order to really experience all that life has to offer. In doing so, she finds joy in the ordinary things of the world. Much like 22, we are forced to live an embodied experience of the world. We cannot escape the earthly suffering of the world – poverty, illness, shame, mental illness, and so much more. Nonetheless, we are called to live into that reality and we have the freedom to enter into the messiness of it all.

In the end, what is essential for Joe and 22 is their soul – what I might like to call their belovedness. Our belovedness is imprinted on our souls, reminding us of who created us and for what purpose. We are born of Love and for love. It can be difficult to uncover that belovedness, but it is there for each and every one of us. It is in the giving of our soul – our belovedness – to another that we find purpose, community, and joy. It may be through the hands-on work of building a ramp for a neighbor or sitting on the porch swing in company with a new friend or hearing the stories of resilience told by community members.

Starting from a place of being beloved allows us to enter into the darkness of the world, risking vulnerability for the sake of connection. In losing our lives, we give up earthly things and we make room for what matters and feeds our soul. Because as Jesus reminds us, in doing so, “it produces much fruit.” In spaces of “death,” we can find life, find joy, find solidarity with each other. What remains is God’s imprint of our belovedness, which gives us the ability to live in freedom, not for the sake of self-righteousness, but for the glory of God.

It troubles me; yet, it is well with my soul.

-Justin Hoch, volunteer