A missionary in the Arctic asked a village elder to teach him to build an igloo. The elder taught him by building one. The missionary imitated every step as best he could. But every time, the igloo would fall down, collapsing in on itself. Every time an igloo fell down, the elder would enjoy a good-natured laugh. The missionary laughed along, but he was also very frustrated. Finally, after a very long time, he built an igloo successfully. The elder, with all seriousness, smiled at the missionary and bowed in profound respect. The elder was really respecting the learning. The process began by imitation, but ended in true learning.
I think we need to “learn” how to be good Christians, disciples of Jesus. Being a disciple isn’t something that comes naturally to us. Some aspects of discipleship are opposed to our natural, even spontaneous behaviors.
We begin our learning process by “imitating God,” as Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians. Imitating Jesus himself is certainly the best way to become a disciple. Jesus is our perfect role model! The
process of becoming a disciple of Jesus begins by imitating the ways of Jesus. The real learning comes in the doing. When we imitate Jesus, we become transformed. The ways of God become part of us.
Imitating God, imitating Jesus, is probably one of the most important challenges of the Bible! It’s also the hardest. Sometimes we need to imitate Jesus when we don’t feel like it, even when such actions go against the grain. We can imitate Jesus by loving those who are outcast, by spending time with the unlovable, by being sacrificial, by being a servant, by being gentle, by forgiving, by praying, etc.
St. Paul, who learned the value of imitating God, even suggested that his readers should imitate him. Here’s a good exercise: think about your most beloved family members and friends (living or dead), and think about their best behaviors (which are truly gifts of God), and imitate those. When we all do this together, we will build some beautiful and sturdy “igloos” in the world around us. In so doing, may God be praised!