Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
T. S. Eliot, “Ash Wednesday”
A few weeks ago the Mass readings were taken from Genesis. It told the familiar creation story, ending with what was to have been the crown of creation: Adam and Eve. Then came the problems: disobedience, expulsion from paradise, and punishment. Husband, wife and heirs would have their labors increased and intensified.
Imagine my chagrin to read this new translation in my missal:
You are dirt, and to dirt you shall return.
Given the context of “dirt” for modern American-English speakers, I was quite put off by a translation which comes across as a profound insult. For this “dirt,” our human flesh, is after all the same material that Jesus Christ took upon himself to become one with us. Without his humanity we would not be able to join in his sacred divinity. We could not become children of his heavenly Father. The Spirit could never find traction in us.
When we begin our Lent this week, reminded of our mortality by ashes in the form of a cross on our forehead, we will be called to a sincere conversion of life and the certain mercy of God, now possible because of Christ coming to us in full humanity.
Rend your hearts, not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. (Joel 2:12-13)
Many of us still think of Lent as a time of giving up “stuff” such as chocolate or other treats. What God asks us to give up is the hard heart that separates us from the will of God, from the love of Christ, and from love for one another.
I pray for the strength to give up the sharp response. I pray to give up the desire to have all the answers. I pray that Christ will see me as one of many Christians who truly follow him in the pursuit of goodness and peace.
You do not ask for sacrifice and offerings, but an open ear.
You do not ask for holocaust and victim.
Instead, here am I! (Psalm 40:7-8a)
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Teach us to care: teach us to seek first and with all our hearts the Kingdom of Heaven.
. . .and not to care: Teach us to know that our efforts, with God’s grace, will never descend into anxiety, much less despair.
Teach us to sit still: teach us to trust in our caring Father.
Each Lenten season offers a chance like none other in our lifetime. St. Paul urges us to seize this opportunity now, to accept God’s mercy now and to pass it on to others.
Behold, now is a very acceptable time; now is the day of salvation! (2 Corinthians 6:2)