As I write this we are entering the final week of Lent, and the promise of new life seems to be all around me.
The pair of mourning doves that in some summers nest in the tree outside my office window have reappeared. At least I assume it is the same pair—they act, to my eyes, like they’ve been here before. They poked through the rain gutter on the roof of the porch, pausing to look around cautiously, all the while making the gentle, low, drawn-out sound that seems like a gentle lament (which you can hear here). I think of them as “my mourning doves,” but nothing, of course, could be further from the truth.
Then this afternoon I walked into our back yard and a tiny bird, the size of a chickadee was hopping in the grass. It was a species I have never seen before in all the years we have lived here, a lovely pale green tinge to its feathers, and remarkably a dot of bright red on the crown of its head. It was not easily frightened, and when I quietly approached to look closer it continued on pecking at the ground, staying just out of reach. We had to look it up: a ruby crowned kinglet, apparently on its way to its summer breeding grounds further north. It has a lovely song (which you can hear here).
Hopeful, lovely signs of goodness—but why should I be able to enjoy them when so many in Japan are simply missing, and when so many others have lost everything in the wake of the tsunami?
The puzzle deepens—as Lent is deigned to foster—when I pause to look within. Each morning I awaken newly convinced I am the center of the universe. “Our fallen human nature is incurably self-centered,” John Stott says, “and pride is the elemental human sin, whether the form it takes is self-importance, self-confidence, self-assertion or self-righteousness.” I tried to honestly assess which form it takes in my case, but was stymied—apparently all of them apply equally.
Even my faith is drawn into the vile mess, I’ve discovered. “If we human beings were left to our own self-absorption,” Stott continues, “even our religion would be pressed into the service of ourselves. Instead of being the vehicle for the selfless adoration of God, our piety would become the base on which we would presume to approach God and to attempt to establish a claim on him. The ethnic religions all seem to degenerate thus, and so does Christianity.” If you doubt the truth of that, get to know me better.
Last night I gave a lecture in St Paul, and as I was talking I found myself inwardly wrestling. On the one hand I really did want to commend the faith creatively. I really did want to be faithful so that God would be glorified, so that his truth was honored and his reality demonstrated. On the other hand I found myself yearning to look good, wanting to appear thoughtful and cultured, well read and eloquent, creative, imaginative, a spokesman for the gospel that stands out from the braying masses… and that’s only part of the list.
Repentance would be more satisfying if it didn’t need to be repeated so often.
Someday we will repent for the last time. That will be a fine day to break to break our fast, and feast like there was no tomorrow. Which there will be, world without end.
Help us to show kindness and unrivaled hospitality as the natural extension of our commitment to you. Use us to bring hope and comfort to the abandoned and forsaken corners of your creation.
Source: The Message of Romans by John Stott (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 29. Prayer from Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, & Enuma Okoro (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010) p. 413.