God of the Upside Down
When was the last time you looked at something upside down?
If I’m being honest, for me it was probably checking the expiration date on the bottom of the sour cream container or searching under the stove for a stray toy car.
As a child, I found myself upside down more often: swinging by my knees on the playground, cartwheeling across the beach, or even laying on my back under the Christmas tree to peer upwards at the colored lights twinkling through the branches.
In today’s readings, we see a God who likes to turn things upside down.
In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches his disciples how to be happy – or “blessed” – and the lesson he gives is not what you’d expect. While many people assume that money, fame, or beauty are paths to happiness, Jesus shows us a different way. In the Kingdom of God, the poor in spirit, the meek, and the persecuted rejoice in their great rewards. Jesus’ plan for happiness is so counterintuitive it can make a person wonder, why? Why would Jesus instruct us to mourn, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, or to be merciful? Why does God like to turn things upside down?
Perhaps one reason why is because being upside down gives us a new perspective by disorienting us. Lying on your back looking up at the clouds can make you feel small, for better or worse. Feeling the blood rush to your head on a rollercoaster might put you in touch with your mortality, which isn’t always a bad thing. These changes in the way we see the world make us aware of our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and maybe even our reliance on God.
So perhaps this is what God is doing when, as St. Paul tells us, the foolish, the weak, and the despised are chosen over those who appear to be wise, strong, and lauded. These choices are disorienting, but God wants to be the One to re-orient us. God wants to point our eyes and our hearts heavenward, past the worries and anxieties of this world and on to the love, mercy, and glory of the next.
Indeed, by turning things upside down, God is actually setting them right. As the Psalmist tells us, in the kingdom of heaven, the hungry are now fed, the captives are now free, the blind can now see, and oppressed now find justice. While God may prefer to take us along a circuitous route, this ultimate destination is certainly worth it.
Catherine Sullivan is a Catholic writer, reader, and teacher. She writes about the Catholic imagination in her monthly newsletter Wonder & Awe and on Instagram @catherinesullivanwrites.