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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Second thoughts: Through the eyes of love (A4L)

My heritage is Irish, and we tend even in our most generous moments to nourish a negative streak about human nature. Then of course there is the embarrassing but nevertheless unassailable truth that we tend to critique in others, and thus in the world at large, what we most dislike about ourselves, and so one's (my) self-awareness as a sinner of copious guilt and intent colors the way I see the world even when I'm trying my best to advertise grace and mercy. There is no way out of that box. It's the way we're made.

So when it comes to covering the scrutinies, as I read the scriptures and what is written about the scriptures, when I hear them preached, when I learn from fine scholars how the shape the faith of the church and the practice of our worship, I know that I have leaned heavily in my life toward the awareness of sin, especially when it comes to patterns of social sin that are so woven into American life that we don't even recognize, let alone acknowledge, the ironic blasphemy, say, of going to war in the name of God, or building a border wall, cancelling immigrants' visas, or repealing environmental and climate regulations while going to churches and singing hymns, and writing nasty (and usually non-factual) internet postings about the how America is a Christian nation that was founded to be "under God." I say all this self-critically, because being judgmental about all that is, in itself, as evil as anything else. It all boils down to loving one another, Jesus says, which is the same as loving God. When we stop loving one another, even if it's as simple and seemingly harmless as calling someone an a***ole, even if s/he deserves it, is a step on the road to murder, if we believe the Sermon on the Mount. And I tend to do so.

In my years working in catechumenate ministry with the North American Forum, it took me a while to begin to grasp this, and my early attempts at writing musical settings for the scrutiny prayers were heavy on the "purification" and light (as it were) on "enlightenment." When colleagues pointed this out to me, it was clear, and I was able to make changes in texts that were more balanced, and for every "From fear and isolation, deliver us" there was a "Strengthen us in solidarity and hope, kyrie eleison." Slowly, I hope, changing words will begin to change actions. I think that that is true. It's why we have liturgy.

So this is what I brought to the readings for Lent 4, even though we didn't have a scrutiny this year. It helped me to understand the entire set of readings in the light of that one wonderful line from the first reading, "Not as (human beings) see does God see, because (people) see the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart." I was reading an article by Amy-Jill Levine about parables recently, when she was speaking about God's preferential option for younger sons. Starting in Genesis (Abel, Isaac, Jacob) and through the rest of the Hebrew scriptures, God favors younger over older sons. Dominic Crossan puts this to God's opposition to the traditions (habits) of civilization itself, which favor the eldest. God, in other words, sides with innovation and evolution, while civilization favors dynasty, routine, predictability. This predilection of the divine, Levine says, is traceable into the parables of Jesus in the Christian scriptures. So one aspect of God's vision is to see the gifts of people, regardless of their social position, as moving humanity forward in new and often chaotic, unpredictable, even unlawful ways.

The essential thing, though, the thing that brought up my conventional and Irish focus on sin and the scrutinies, is that the vision of God always sees good. It is the vision of a father or a mother (as Isaiah 49 reminded us this week at daily mass) that sees a beloved child when it looks at every human individual, no matter or graceful or sin-steeped we may be. Seeing as God sees is to see every person as the image and likeness of God, a beloved child, so to us, a brother and sister loved by a common parent whose love is completely unrivalrous and assuring of all love's bounty. It's that loving vision that allows Jesus to see that God wants the healing of the blind man even on the sabbath, when laws need to be broken to allow it. It's the vision of sin's dominance and the need for human repentance that keeps the opponents of Jesus from being able to recognize the hand of God in Jesus's action. The Deuteronomic code, in fact, almost predicts this outcome. Evil in the world must, Deuteronomy says, be the result of human disobedience, so repentance is a requirement for healing, freedom, and poverty. Even when wisdom literature, such as the book of Job, intervened on behalf of the God of Genesis, and should have left the Deuteronomist on the slag heap of history, human beings just seem to need to associate punishment with their bad behavior, and on we go with our legal codes, habits of violent child-rearing, and war.

But the over-arching tenderness of God, that premiere attribute of loving-kindness, is proclaimed from the first verses of Genesis. We still don't really believe it. What the pseudo-Pauline author of Ephesians calls "light" in the second reading is just that: the tenderness of God, the eyes of love that sing with the unknown rhapsodist that Ephesians quotes:
Sleeper, awake!
Rise from death!
Christ will be your light.
The enlightenment sought by the scrutinies is a share in that vision of the God of love that can only see us and our sin and foibles with the loving eyes of the Creator, the one who delights in the making, the sustaining, and homecoming of us all. I want to shaped by that vision. I don't want to see shadows of my own perfidy in every person who crosses me, in my church, and in my government. I want my vision of everyone, especially people whom I consider to be my rivals and antagonists, people who like me are trapped in the "be good or else" covenant of the Deuteronomist, to be enlightened and transformed by the vision of God. And I want their vision of me to be transformed, too, and of the earth, and of the poor, and of the economy. To accomplish this, though, I think conversion always needs to keep its eyes on the God of love and the reality of the human family that God wants. The light that the scrutinies and Lent throws upon the way things are in my life and in the world is God's love. "Everything that becomes visible is light," sings Ephesians. When we love, when we see as God sees, we become light, we become localization of the divine. That's what I want to be. That's how I want to be when I renew by baptismal promises at Easter. I want to shine. I want us all to shine, right here, right now, in my home, on my street, in my church, on my job, in this very world.