I’ve got some annoying drive detection issues going on with my laptop. Hopefully, I’ll have time today to fix them – a good exercise in Lenten patience! Pardon any gaps in posting until I get this resolved.
Tomorrow is the First Sunday of Lent, and the LCC lectionary readings display the tension between our always already transformed life in Christ, and our responsbility for our actions. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul tells us that in Christ all things are made new, including us. And yet he also speaks of being judged that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Likewise in the Gospel, from John 3, we hear how God sent Christ that the world through him might be saved, and yet the following verses discuss how we all too often love darkness rather than light, because [our] deeds are evil. We live in this strange, in-between place, profoundly graced with God’s life beyond all concern for worthiness….. and yet our actions matter very very much, and we struggle to express redemption in our living.
The twists in our nature, the tug and pull which can spin us away from the best that we know, right into hurting ourselves or others, are at least part of what the tradition means by “original sin.” I don’t think of original sin as “damned-from-the-get-go.” Rather, to me, it seems like a compassionate recognition that, for reasons beyond ourselves, we all wrestle with how to live a good life, we all screw up a lot, and we all need help. My favorite exploration of the meaning of “original sin” is the prose poem “Part of Eve’s Discussion” by Marie Howe. It is from her book, The Good Thief. (If you don’t have a copy, get yourself to amazon right now.)
It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand, and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when a hundred starlings lift and bank together, before they wheel and drop, very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say, it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only all the time.
Somedays our lives begin to spin on bad ice, and we can’t really say why. Somedays we love darkness rather than light. Paul counsels us: Examine yourselves… And introspetive self-examination is a very fine thing, especially during Lent. But then he continues: Prove your own selves – presumably before others. And in the gospel, Jesus tells us: But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest. Again, we are called not just to look within, but to let ourselves be seen by others.
One of my teachers (drawing, I think, on Rudolf Steiner) used to say that we wake up in the faces of one another. We come to know who we are, and the truth of our lives, through being seen by others. There are religious ways of letting ourselves be seen (confession, pastoral care, fellowship), but it is perhaps more important to live in the light before all the people Christ brings our way. As we remove all hypocrisy, all covering up of our skidmarks, all fear of condemnation from God or others, we can find the peace which passes understanding and which will show us the way forward.
Here’s the Prayer of St Ephrem, used in the Orthodox liturgy during Lent. I find it very hard to pray these words, but worth the struggle;
O Lord and dispenser of my life,
save me from the spirit of frustration, dejection, lust, and prating,
but grant to me, Thy servant, the spirit of purity, humility in wisdom, patience, and love.
O my Lord and Master! Enable me to see my own iniquities
and not to judge my brothers and sisters!
For blessed art Thou forever. Amen.