Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Lenten prayer

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain from you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Ash Wednesday

Repentance is not about making yourself feel miserable, but about celebrating the goodness of God, who loves everything he has made. Let us throw off the sin that diminishes and weighs us down and dance with joyful repentance. Are we wretched? Yes. But are we loved? A thousand times yes!


...paul said...

Thanks for that Byron. I really like the way you've put this, it's a great help. Thank you.

Benjamin Ady said...

"wretched" and "loved" just don't seem to go together for me. Can't make it work. A story, perhaps?

I think one or the other must win, in the long term. Either the one who is loved will become less wretched, or the one who is wretched will become less loved.

And the long term a lot of people seem willing to put up with is just *way* too long for me to deal with. This is why I tend to believe that in the big picture, it looks like wretched is winning. Hence God must not love. or at least not sufficiently. We'll have to love each other, rather. this is far more doable (and thus believable).

To come at it from another angle--for me, if "wretched" wins with anybody, then I'm not willing for the "loved" to win for me. In terms of God, I mean. I'm stoked with the more local sort of love.

byron smith said...

Benjamin - as always, thanks for your thoughtful comment. What do you think of when you hear "wretched"? To my ears it is somewhat old-fashioned language. But I think the primary meaning is "in a bad situation". Thus, lamenting sins and acknowledging wretchedness are slightly separate. It is not simply that we hurt one another, but that we live in a broken world where even our attempts at healing only ever partially work.

I have a niece who has been very sick since she was born. Without medical help, she would not have survived more than a few hours outside the womb. She has had a number of operations and although she is a beautiful little toddler, her life is also filled with pain and frustration. Is she wretched? Yes. But is she loved? A thousand times yes.

But our wretchedness is more than this. It is also that we find ourselves stuck in various habits that diminish us and grieve those we love. I wish I didn't waste so much of my precious time doing silly things and so got more work done. By wasting time now, I get to spend less time with my fantastic wife later. That too is wretchedness.

Either the one who is loved will become less wretched, or the one who is wretched will become less loved.
The point of the prayer, is to ask for a "new and contrite heart", for renewed motivation to begin afresh in our wretchedness, doing exactly those local and provisional acts of love that you love. Love can and does win over wretchedness. Otherwise the prayer would be pointless. But love's victory is not in any simplistic or immediate way. The sick child who is loved has become something more than merely a sick child (though is still a sick child). The one who is granted a new and contrite heart only begins afresh with the memory and scars of failure.

Thanks once more for pushing this conversation further. I love how you do that.

Benjamin Ady said...

Byron--thank you for the story about the sick child who is wretched and loved.

Stories do so much more for me than ... "curriculum" and its accompaniments =).

When you say "But are we loved? A thousand times yes!", are you iterating a *belief*? Or is your "we" somewhat limited? The wretchedness is astoundingly easy to see (for me, I mean). It's the loved bit that I can't seem to see. I mean to say that the wretchnedness, in both of the senses you talk about, seems altogether universal in human experience. The lovedness seems far from universal. There are so many wretched children in the vein of the story you describe, and relatively so few of them are loved.

I have some amazing friends who adopted a beautiful little girl who was, I believe, abandoned and then rescued after a small creature was gnawing on her face. This little girl has had multiple surgeries in order to reconstruct her nose. She is very loved and taken care of. In the nation she came from, many of the abandoned children are left to die, alone. They don't seem to be loved. I can't see that they are loved.

Are they not part of your "we"? Or otherwise what do you mean?

Benjamin Ady said...

Did I come across too strongly? Sometimes this happens, and it's not my intention =)

byron smith said...

Nope, not at all! You just have great questions that require thought. I have also been very busy. Sorry! I'll post more tomorrow - got to run now!