All of us have secrets: secret thoughts, secret feelings, secret fears, hopes and desires. All of us know more about ourselves than we care to share with others. We allow others to think we have pure hearts, but we know that we harbor impure thoughts. We hope others will notice how unselfish we are, yet we know that selfishness still resides in us. We want people to see us as strong and courageous, but we know that often we are weak and afraid.
We live with secrets, all of us. We’re sometimes shocked when we learn something about a person that we never would have guessed, something that had been hidden from us. But the truth is that we will never fully know even the closest of our friends and companions. We are mysteries to each other, like icebergs of which we can see only the tip. And we are mysteries to ourselves. We will never fully understand why we think and act in the ways we do. Only God knows the secrets of our hearts.
Jesus often exposed the secrets of others. He perceived the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. He discerned the true motives of the crowds that followed him. He saw into the hearts of his disciples. He knows our secrets. He knows that what we do on the outside does not always match up with what is going on within us. We may appear to be seeking God and trying to do what is right, and yet inwardly we are preoccupied with the impression we are making on other people. We may give the appearance of serving God, but it may not actually be God’s approval that we are seeking, or God’s purposes that we are trying to advance.
Today is both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. Fasting and ashes seem opposite of feasting and chocolate. Some celebrated yesterday, love with Mardi Gras.
Recently I visited two of my best friends. The past couple months had been very intense and hard for them. Amid a more chaotic house, we sat sharing stories of disaster and trouble. Each time I visit we go deep quickly being vulnerable about our lives. We bear witness to each other’s wounds and wonders. Our love is palpable. We are humble and truthful in sharing our questions, limits, losses, and desires.
Lent is about love, a clearing season to be deeply honest with God. We kneel to confess first hearing: “Dear friends in Christ, God is steadfast in love and infinite in mercy.”[i] We acknowledge our mortality, our frailty, failure, and limitation. Love humbly speaks raw, unvarnished truth, and love listens: love with ashes.
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
If I were to walk up to you and wish you a Happy Ash Wednesday, how would you react? If I were to say ‘I hope you have a great Lent,’ I imagine I’d get some strange looks, maybe a dubious smile, or perhaps even judged as being irreverent. Truth be told, Lent actually seems to be the opposite of happy and festive. We don’t ring bells in excitement. We don’t have a festive meal to mark the occasion. We deny ourselves certain creature comforts that have become staples of our happiness. We look with a strange combination of pity and amusement upon our fellow Episcopalians when they slip up and say “Allelu…!”[i] And we step outside the door of Ash Wednesday with a sigh, trying to psych ourselves up for the journey towards Easter which at this point seems to be nowhere in sight. Yet, we as Christians know that this is something we must do. Which way do we go? Just how far is it really? Do I have enough provisions to sustain me until I arrive? How did I get myself in this mess?
I admit, I have often stepped out on my Lenten journey with a sense of dread, fixated on just how it is I’ve gotten it all wrong, how badly I’ve messed up, and putting together in my mind the words I will need to pray in order for God to forgive me and take me back…..if I’m lucky. This isn’t necessarily inappropriate, but I think it turns a blind eye to a very important truth about our relationship with God. We often think that we must do the right thing in order to please God. We must say the right words to ‘woo’ God into thinking that were wonderful, smart, and loveable. If we act in the right way, God will react graciously.
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17
2 Cor. 5:20 b-6:10
Matt. 6:1-6, 16-21
In my first semester in college I took a drawing class. Though I had been drawing for most of my life, the course refined my ability to see the world afresh. Toward the end of the course, we did some intensive exercises and an assigned piece using charcoal – and in charcoal, I discovered my nemesis! Fine lines executed with slow precision or tiny details requiring the sharpest of pencils– these were the challenges I relished, because these were my skills. Faced with thick chunks or brittle wands of soft, smudgy, ill-behaved charcoal, I felt dismay and fear. During a timed charcoal drawing exercise, we were asked to draw a rapid series of abstract shapes without repeating the same shape twice. Each time my professor passed my drawing desk, his arm slowly reached across the entire width of my paper, and his thick hand obliterated my work. By the ninth or tenth time, my face now sweating and fingers black, I blurted, “Can you tell me what I’m doing that’s wrong or what I’m not doing that’s right?” He replied, firmly but gently, “It’s not so much about wrong or right, Keith, but about seeing afresh. You’re not seeing.” In truth, I had been repeating minor variations on the same shapes and forms I had mastered previously using sharp, precise graphite. I was humbled to realize I had missed the point of the exercise. I began to learn that the habit of art requires the humility to create ugly work for the sake of clearer vision.
God called you by your name, for we are created for relationship. God yearns to know and love everything he has created intimately. Why not, when you are praying, try looking at yourself in the presence of God? Look at yourself and say in holy wonder, “Thank you God that I am marvelously made.”
-Br. Geoffrey Tristram
Society of Saint John the Evangelist
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Question for Reflection:
What will you see in God today? What will God see in you