Two remarks from Martin Smith’s Ash Wednesday reflection linger with me. First, “Where do I stand at the beginning of another Lent?” Second, “Perhaps the word ‘surrender’ should be enough for my prayer on the Ash Wednesday.”
The first remark gets me thinking about how little I truly know about my ‘progress.’ Of the categories that Smith offers – made progress, wandered, or hung back – I think I know where I stand: I have wandered in many ways. Julian of Norwich speaks of a servant who, in his haste to do his Lord’s will, runs off and falls into a ditch, incurring injury. She goes on to say, “then he groans and moans and tosses about and writhes, but he cannot rise or help himself in any way. And of all this, the greatest hurt which I saw in him was lack of consolation; but like a man who was for a time extremely feeble and foolish, he paid heed to his feelings and his continuing distress, in which distress he suffered seven great pains…. The fourth was that he was blinded in his reason and perplexed in his mind, so much so that he had almost forgotten his own love (Revelation of Divine Love, 51st Chapter).”
As a new clergy person, I have made haste to serve in many ways… but then I feel I have wandered from those deep and basic practices that keep me tethered to God. This is to fall into a ditch. Yet, even in making that judgment, I am like the servant whose distress is compounded by paying attention to my own feelings, becoming blinded and perplexed, ‘almost forgetting my own love’ (for the Lord.) I really don’t know what’s what in the economy of a God who works all things to good for those who fear [Him] (Romans 8:28).
Perhaps you are just the opposite of me. You feel like you have made progress, mostly on a straight path in your spiritual life. Yet, even to you St. Paul whispers, “I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me (1 Cor 4:3b-4).”
The truth is that we do not really know ourselves as much as we think we do. The question of “Where do I stand” should open us to a searching and fearless moral inventory as the litany of the day demands. But at the end of the day, we must also lay what we think we know by the wayside and yield to the one who will make us understand wisdom secretly (Psalm 51:6, BCP).
Here is where the word ‘Surrender’ because enough of a prayer at the beginning of this Lent.
There is no true repentance or reform for myself that I can strong arm into happening. I cannot even be sure that my examination is clear-eyed and free from all the evasion tricks that the ego is designed to do. So, all I can do is surrender to the work of God’s Spirit in the wilderness. Surrender to my own weakness and sense of shortcoming – letting God’s Spirit weave it into a joyful and true self-knowledge. This self-knowledge will be known by the mark of ease, grace, patience, and determination, rather than guilt, shame, and passivity. But surrender also to the gifts that God draws out of me, even if I do not know how. But, most of all, I cling to Julian’s own wisdom. At the beginning of this journey, we surrender not to discipline or to will or even to sacrifice. We surrender to Love to the remembrance of Love.
Do you perceive in your very toenail clippings that God loves you and that nothing else at all in you is worth much?
Again, do you remember in your very hair follicles that God loves you and everything else about you besides that fact shall return to dust?
And again, will you return everyday to the recollection of your own love for Christ’s life in you, and the burning desire to peel back everything that might obscure it?
Really, do you remember? Can you surrender? Will you return? Only this Love can sustain us in this wilderness.
The Rev. adwoa Wilson