It has struck me lately how separate we human beings are from other creation. And we are so small. The world was here before I came, and it will be here after I leave. We have little impact upon nature, although we like to think we control it and even harm it. In the end nature shall have the last word, and we can see its random and unfeeling power in hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, drought, fire, tornadoes. But man is proud and self-deceiving.
We anthropomorphize the natural world giving flora and fauna human qualities. We think of a lion as a big sweet cat, yet he mauls and destroys. Nature gives us joy; we love the mountains and the seas, and we want our love to be returned. But it isn’t, except for, of course, by some domesticated animals, and it is uncertain what sort of love they have for us.
That I find myself in this world, so foreign and so lovely and so dangerous, points to a master of design. That I delight in its beauty and power, its awe-fullness, is not by chance. That I long to walk its forest paths and sleep under its stars and feel the sun on my skin is not by random design. I think we love creation as a reflection of the Creator. We are drawn to him through his works; we yearn, we long for him, and thus his world. The good news is, of course, with the coming of God the Son among us, we know that our Creator loves us in return; he yearns and longs for us.
Sometimes I sense another, an “other,” world alongside ours, as though separated by a sheet of glass. St. Paul writes that he sees God “through a glass darkly,” glass thought to be more a mirror or reflection as well as a window to God – not our kind of glass window. We do see, sense, God around us, if we have eyes to see. We are children, and when we grow up we shall see clearly. But for now, God is here, present, and I know that his spirit, through my Baptism, dwells within me.
But he is not just a God within, an idea that grew into heresy in the last century. He is outside us as well, working in our world. He exists apart from me. He is not conjured by my imagination, my desires, although he has planted such desires in my heart.
But seeing and knowing isn’t everything, and the Epistle for today, St. Paul’s definition of love, says it perfectly, poetically. I tried to shorten it, but just couldn’t, every word being of immense importance and beauty:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (I Corinthians 13)
St. Paul brings me back to the heart of the matter: love. We long to know, to see, but we are nothing without love.
Today’s Gospel, on this Sunday before Ash Wednesday, Quinquagesima, tells how Christ healed a blind man who was begging on the side of the road. The man had great faith, and he cried out to Jesus to have mercy upon him. Jesus healed him because of his faith.
There is a link between faith and seeing through the glass, seeing the reflection of God in the world around us. In Raymond Raynes’ Darkness no Darkness, hopefully our next American Church Union release, he speaks of giving oneself up to Christ, allowing him to remold and redirect us. It is this kind of free-fall faith that allows us to be healed. We stand with the blind man on the side of the road and we cry, Lord have mercy upon me. Our Lord turns and heals us because of our faith. When our eyes are opened, what do we see? We see love.
The title of Father Raynes’ book of meditations, Darkness no Darkness, comes from Psalm 139, one of my favorite memory passages:O Lord, thou hast searched me out, and known me. Thou knowest my down-sitting, and mine up-rising; thou understandest my thoughts long before. 2 Thou art about my path, and about my bed; and art acquainted with all my ways. 3 For lo, there is not a word in my tongue, but thou, O Lord, knowest it altogether. 4 Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. 5 Such knowledge is too wonderful and excellent for me; I cannot attain unto it. 6 Whither shall I go then from thy Spirit? or whither shall I go then from thy presence? 7 If I climb up into heaven, thou art there; if I go down to hell, thou art there also. 8 If I take the wings of the morning, and remain in the uttermost parts of the sea; 9 Even there also shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. 10 If I say, Peradventure the darkness shall cover me; then shall my night be turned to day. 11 Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day; the darkness and light to thee are both alike. 12 For my reins are thine; thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. 13 I will give thanks unto thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well. 14 My bones are not hid from thee, though I be made secretly, and fashioned beneath in the earth. 15 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book were all my members written; 16 Which day by day were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
Again, I could not condense this, for here the Psalmist so long ago saw that knowing and loving are linked together by God in his love for us, in his intimate knowledge of each of us. He knows and loves us in the womb. He sees our hearts. Darkness is no darkness, for the night is as clear as the day. And we see. We see Love.
We approach the ashes of Lent, the burning of the Palm Sunday palms and the marking of the charred cross upon our foreheads, a cross that will burn our minds and hearts for forty days. We recall that our flesh came from dust and will return to dust.
This Lent 2014 I shall try to memorize Corinthians 13, engrafting the words onto my mind and heart. Hopefully, faithfully, I shall sound less like a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. Hopefully, faithfully, I shall see through the glass to Our Lord himself. Hopefully, faithfully, I shall be healed and shall see… God.
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Thank you for a beautifully expressed meditation. I was (as you may imagine, knowing me) captivated by the opening paragraphs. I think more and more that what we long for is the world of beauty where the lion *is* a friendly creature, where the forest does not hold terrors, where love really does rule in all hearts. I suspect Eden was like this, and perhaps that world toward which we are groaning.
Dear Christine: As usual, you have given us another beautifully written passage loaded with fruit for meditation. I have saved this in my Spiritual Direction Reading folder. Thank you.
BTW, the e-mail address is my granddaughter’s name I used years ago and never changed. Fr. Donald True (retired)