Very occasionally we get to see that process miraculously accelerated before our eyes, as though God were saying, Here, if you dont believe me, just take a look at this! One of those glimpses came my way in the most unlikely fashion.
My daughter called me into the study. I must show you something on the Inter-net, she said. Intrigued, I watched while she brought up a little clip from a recent television show. It was one of those talent shows that can range from the mainly mundane to the modestly mediocre, to the occasional wow! It was not a show I was in the habit of watching myself.
An unremarkable man walked haltingly onto the stage, visibly apologetic for taking up a space on the planet. His clothes lacked any vestige of style. His shoulders drooped. His head fell slightly to one side as if in a permanent state of deference. His nervous smile revealed a missing tooth, and his arms hung awkwardly at his sides, as though they did not quite belong to him. His whole appearance exuded a total lack of self-confidence. With eyes shyly reluctant to meet the camera, he hesitantly shared with the nation that he was a cellphone salesman from Cardiff, but his entire demeanor gave off the message: Im nobody really, and I dont know what Im doing here.
A panel of three judges awaited him. They had clearly had about as much as they could take that day of Britains talent, much of it imagined. One of them in particular had a reputation for ruthless criticism and was apparently in the mood to live up to it. The candidate was asked, What are you here to do today? He replied, to sing opera. The judges exchanged glances, barely veiling their dread of what they might be about to sit through. I, meanwhile, was wondering what my daughter had found so special about this clip, and had come to the conclusion that it was either supposed to be funny, or else I was going to witness something cringingly dreadful. I braced myself.
Then the man opened his mouth and sang. I have heard many operatic performances and have had the fibers of my heart wrenched in a thousand different ways, but I dont think I can remember ever being so transfixed, so rooted to the spot, as I was during that rendering of Puccinis Nessun dorma. The most sublime voice you could imagine poured forth, as though Pavarotti himself had come back to remind us that nothing ever dies. But this was not Luciano Pavarotti. It was Paul Potts from Cardiff, and nobody in that audience could believe what they were hearing. A total silence fell upon the whole scene. The cameras zoomed in on the judges faces. One had tears in her eyes. All were stunned and spellbound. The silence was broken only when tumultuous applause erupted. I felt the hairs rising on the nape of my neck.
That was just the audition. In the finals, needless to say, Paul swept the board and became a national hero overnight. A filmed flashback showed him walking along the shore of his native South Wales, revealing that his secret dream had always been to spend his life doing what he felt he was born to do. He also disclosed that he had been bullied in his youth, and only by singing had he held on to some dim sense of his own intrinsic worth. His voice, he said, had become his best friend. I know I need to have a bit more faith in myself, he added with impressive understatement. Im working on that.
The judges, it appeared, also had dreams. One described Paul as a little lump of coal who had become a diamond, a frog turned prince. Another shared the vision they had all had at the start of the show: that some ordinary, unassuming person, doing a very ordinary job, quite unaware of his extraordinary gifting, might truly discover who he was and become a gift to the world.
Sometimes Gods dream takes eons to emerge out of eternity, and sometimes it happens overnight. A story like Pauls reverberates down through the centuries from a little town in the Middle East, where an apparently unremarkable child, also destined to endure abuse and misunderstanding, was born to an apparently ordinary girl. That extraordinary child is a constant reminder that Gods dream is longing to come to birth in every one of us. Gods dream is always about what we are born to do and who we are born to be, and the power and the Spirit that continue to flow from that child are the way dream becomes reality, coal turns into diamonds and frogs become princesnot a fairy story, but a real and grounded invitation to each of us to become who we are, a unique human being fully alive, a shaft of the glory of God that will shine in the darkness and which the darkness cannot overcome.
Paul himself summed it up: I have always felt insignificant, but now I know I am somebody. I am Paul Potts.
Who am I? When we can answer that question with both confidence and humility, then we are echoing back something of the very being of God, who says, I am who I am.