Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday


Amos 5:6-15
Psalms 32, 95, 102, 130, 143
Hebrews 12:1-14
Luke 18:9-14


Where have you been?


Where are you going?


What is your life coming to?


Where is the meaning?


Where is the purpose?


What's left when we are all through?


Over thirty years ago, when I was a young (er!) man, I heard a song by Evie Tornquist-Karlsson, who was then just out of her teens herself and one of the seminal artists of contemporary Christian music. The key lyrics in "Mirror" resonate with me through the years:


You're searching for Jesus, looking to find


Hope for tomorrow, and some peace of mind.


Well you can find him in the Bible, in many churches that I know--


But 'til you find him in the mirror, you've got a long way to go.


Jesus challenges us to look into the mirrors of our soul, and not to shrink back from what we see there. If the sight isn't pretty--and it often isn't--so be it. There is no repentance without recognizing ourselves for who we are, and leaving behind, forever and without reaching back, those aspects of ourselves that keep us from becoming more like Him. With that thought in mind, let me look at my reflection, or rather let me consider what Jesus would observe if he regarded me closely.


Could I be the Pharisee? (Reflected, all is fair I see!)


I wear a spotless robe of white


and stand behind the altar's bright gleaming linens,


stand with the priests, and bear the altar gifts of bread and wine.


My hands are Purell-purged and clean.


I say the ancient words: the Lord's body and blood keep you safe and alive forevermore,


to the kneelers at the rail, to the humble and sometimes to the lost and desperate.


But I have never truly known that desperation.


If I give a tithe to the treasury, it is not money I shall ever miss.


If ever I go hungry, it's never from a bare pantry.


I pray for myself first. I pay myself first. I feed myself first.


I shall not go to the heavenly banquet first.


And yet, like tax collectors, I am deeply compromised.


I do a bit of Caesar's dirty work, take a little on the side, and then some.


I am part of this carbon-emitting, credit-chitting economy


Pumping greenhouse gas and bleeding cash


from the children left to pay the bills when I retire.


Will I beat my breast? Will I muddy my face?


Will I square my accounts with all?


Will I know Messiah when he passes by and calls?


For me, thirty-plus years of knowing the truth have not brought me consistently closer to attaining true repentance. I am always turning and returning. But I no longer have the luxury of a lifetime stretching before me--I have but fifteen left of my allotted three-score-and-ten. This Lent I can begin another journey, be born up among clouds of witness, and end up in a different place than before--if I choose to. And, God willing, the man in the mirror may have attained something more of the quality of Jesus than when I began.


--MLB

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