Today you will see some people with a dark smudge on their forehead. No they didn’t fall down or were playing in the dirt (although maybe some should be playing in the dirt a little more). No it is the ancient sign that someone is doing penance for some thing or the other. Personally I don’t like the outward symbol I am more of a Matthew Chapter 6 type guy:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. (Matt 6:1)
One of the other readings for today is from Psalm 51, a song from David.
“A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Cast me not out from your presence,and your Holy Spirit take not from me.”
In a round-about way it seems the writer is acknowledging his defects and even in spite of these defects asks God not to abandon him. I guess sometimes we feel so disconnected with the reality of forgiveness for stuff we have done or the image we have of ourselves (sometimes reflected in the words and deeds of others), we can almost fall into the category of the “terminally unique” a type of state where one thinks that what they are or who they are is so unique that no other person can possibily understand. I have always suspected that the motivation for the rash of teen suicides especially of LGBT kids is just that, a feeling of separation from the spirit of the community. Terminal Uniqueness. That who they may think they are is so unique and the pain is so great, that no one else can possibly understand. If you are a human, you feel…something. I may not know the depths of your despair, but I know what despair is. If I don’t grasp the situation which causes you frustration, I do know frustration…and so on. That is the beginning of connectivity.
The writer of this Psalm knows his defects are great and yet hopes (key word here) that God will not hold back because of the defects. He equates the love of God or the Spirit of God to that of a father or mother. There is a big difference here and one which I have thought about for lo these many years. Yes God’s love is similar to a parent’s love for their kid, but it is much more than that. Where a parent can be overjoyed at the results of an action by their kid (“My kid is an honor student and so-and-so middle school”), God is simply overjoyed that we are alive. The logic of this comes from 1 John 4:8, God is love. As such, God neither is joyful or sorrowful with our actions, God is…love. I cannot, like a child with a parent, please or displease God. What I try to do is love as best I can so I can recognize the spirit already in me. This is out nature as humans. In this way I try to distance myself from the choices that I make that blind me to God’s love. So when I hear of a teen suicide my heart aches for that youngster who for whatever reason feels he/she can no longer recognize that there is love all around, that we are all connected, saint and sinner. One of the most powerful things we have been given as human beings is choice. It is a boon and a bane. So when I am commanded to love out of fear, where’s the choice? Love is an invitation not a command. It is a choice. And sometimes I choose not to love.
As Lent begins today with the ashes on our foreheads reminding us of our mortality and length of time on this earth, don’t give up something, do something. Ignatius Loyola in talking about justice says that “Love is shown more in deeds than in words.” Maybe it is time to start a habit of doing something for the “other.” This is the invite of love, give it away. You are loved by your spouse or kids, give it away to someone who maybe hasn’t felt that. You know what? It doesn’t cost anything to do so and one gets so much back in return. Then it becomes a habit.
and so it goes…