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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My name is mud...That's not so bad



Remember that you are dust, and into dust you shall return. 

 I can remember resisting these words from today's liturgy, opting for the more positive-sounding "Turn away from sin, and believe in the gospel." Somewhere along the line, though, I realized the wisdom and joy that are actually contained in that admonition from Genesis. At first glance, remembering that I am dust might not be a particularly life-giving premise. But then I am happy to recall that I am not in charge of the universe, God is. And God, Genesis reports, does some wonderful things with dust. So with David today, I cry out, "Create me again." All the false starts, the hunger, the loss, the devastation I've caused, take them all like the dust of the earth, make clay, breathe your mighty spirit into them, and make me a new creation. You've got forty days, Lord. Better get on it. Until then, you can call me "Dusty."

I recall today that the genuine meaning of penance is the confession that God is great. Specifically, God's mercy is greater than sin, and has already reached out in Christ to crush it. The focus of penance is on God's goodness, not on my goofiness. "Fore-giveness" was "given before" our guilt. What I need to do is get my relationships straight: God is God, I'm not. But God's power is exercised through the bowing down, through service, through the cross, through life, not through destruction. The way to get out of the pattern of sin must be somehow through the cross, through giving my life so that others can live more abundantly. What the paschal mystery reveals about this is that there is no "loss of life" through love, rather, there is creation. It's the story of the grain of wheat. 

So this is what I'm going to try to consider this Lent. If God did not "grasp onto divinity" in saving the world through Christ, what is it that I am clinging to so tenaciously that keeps me from loving better? Sometimes, I think it's something as simple as needing to be right all the time, the great Catholic intellectual sin. 

All of this is oriented toward the renewal of baptismal promises at Easter, accepting again my role in the mission of Christ to reverse the effects of sin through the power of the Holy Spirit and bring people together instead of driving them apart. I really like these ninety days...I just wish they weren't so full of work. Honestly, though, I'm grateful to be ministering in the Church, because I think I'm too weak to spend much time thinking about all this stuff if I had to be motivated from within.

On our CD Vision (GIA, 1992), we recorded and published a setting of Psalm 51, the famous Miserere psalm. In paraphrasing the refrain, I tried to bring out some of these aspects that can be hidden in the too-familiar language of scripture. For instance, did you know that in Hebrew, the verb "create" is never used unless the subject is "God"? So when the psalmist says, "Create a new heart in me," he's actually acknowledging that only God can do this. So my paraphrase, since "heart" really means "the deepest reality of me", says "Create me again." Acknowledging that I am dust is a good first step. As Genesis says, God creates adama, the human being, out of the dust of the earth, by breathing ruah (breath or spirit) into it. So creation is dust plus God's breath. Being dust is good. "Create me again." (Link will take you to iTunes, where you can hear a minute and a half of the song.)

More on Friday, about that first reading, which gets stripped all too often of its context. Tomorrow, a little diversion for Valentine's Day.

PS - thank you to everyone who is reading this blog! I went over 3000 visitors in just three weeks yesterday. It's good to know we're not alone as we're going through life. I genuinely appreciate your feedback, too. More thoughts tomorrow. Happy Lent, all!