"Roof Torn Off This Thing"

In 1998, when The Truman Show was making its way into theaters, Newsweek magazine interviewed the movie’s star, Jim Carey. Among other things Carey talked about, he admitted to a great deal of curiosity about God: “What is up there? What’s God? I’ve spent my whole life wanting the roof to be torn off this thing. For somebody to say, ‘Yeah, there’s a God. Don’t worry about it. You’re taken care of’”

Immediately after his baptism, Jesus experienced what Carey says he has spent his whole life waiting for: he saw heaven opened (that’s Bible for “the roof was torn off this thing”), felt the Holy Spirit descend on him, and heard a voice of affirmation. God said to Jesus: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” It was the kind of experience we all, like Jim Carey, long to have: to know with confidence and certainty that our lives are held and blessed, that our world is surrounded and sustained, by God’s great love.

Interestingly, although all four Gospels tell us something about Jesus’ baptism, only Luke tells us that Jesus’ vision of the opened heavens, his experience of the Holy Spirit, and his hearing of the voice happened to him “as he was praying.” That Jesus was praying after his baptism tells us something important about how he approached it: he went into and came out of the water with a sense of openness, receptivity and expectancy. Prayer sharpened his eyes to see heaven opened, sensitized him to the coming of the Holy Spirit, and tuned him into the voice of affirmation.

I want to be clear: Jesus’ prayer did not open the sky, or call down the Spirit, or create, as though it were an echo, the voice which spoke to him. Those signs and words were gifts that came to him from a generous God. But, prayer prepared him, and allowed him, to see, to feel, and to hear. God is always giving these gifts, but we are not always ready to receive them. Often, too often, our eyes are shut, our ears are closed, and our hearts are hard. Prayer awakens our senses and softens our hearts so that we may experience the grace that is shining and flowing all around us. When we pray like Jesus, and with Jesus, we see what he saw, feel what he felt, and hear what he heard.