Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Interim Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection February 28,2016
Dust to Dust
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Because of being brought low with a contagion, I am reprinting a reflection from my first Lent at our beloved church (March 1, 2009).
As we make our way through another season of Lent, it might be helpful to recall that we are finite creatures – in constant need of God’s grace. In some branches of our faith, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday with the placing of ashes on people’s foreheads along with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” If we heed this Ash Wednesday “warning” we’ll be better prepared to grow in our faith during Lent.
We’ll be able to dig into our own souls, examining the choices we’ve made in our lives and the consequences of those choices. Lent is the time to acknowledge both our precious mortality and our persistent immorality. Lent is the time for learning sober truths.
About ten years ago, I was at a retreat in New Mexico. The well-known spiritual writer and speaker, Richard Rohr, was our retreat director. It was a most compelling retreat. Rohr told us there are five messages everyone must learn in life. These five essential truths are:
1) Life is hard
2) You are going to die
3) You are not that important
4) You are not in control
5) Your life is not about you.
If we are able to learn these five truths, we’ll be able to enter into the holy mystery of human life. If we do not learn these truths, we’ll waste our lives trying to show everyone how important we think we are. So much of our energy and effort is spent trying to convince ourselves that we’re important – we’re special – we’re superior. And while each of us is special in the eyes of God, we’re not THAT special!
Most of us want to live a pain-free life. When pain comes, we flee from it like the plague. Yet we need to be taught when young that “life is hard” and we should prepare for it. We cannot escape suffering and pain as we make our way through life. And many of us don’t know what to do with our pain. Many try alcohol and other drugs to diminish pain’s power.
Commonly many of us scapegoat and project our pain. We blame our parents for our pain. We blame our spouses for our pain. We blame our bosses for our pain. We blame “those people” for our pain. We blame our fellow church members or our pastors for our pain. We blame God for our pain.
We all need to hold both the beauty and the tragedy of life in our hands until it transforms us. This transformation is at the heart of our Lenten journey. This transformation centers on our willingness to ask for and to receive forgiveness. Rohr claimed we have no notion of the nature of God until we are in need of mercy and forgiveness.
When we accept the five truths of life -- we admit our own frailty and sinfulness. As the Episcopalian pastor Alan Jones remarks in his book on Lent, Passion for Pilgrimage: “We are nailed to the wall by a passionate love that takes us so seriously that it demands that we admit responsibility for our actions.” No matter who we blame -- we are still guilty. The five truths of life help us stop blaming and admit we our need of mercy and forgiveness.
All of us who have encountered conversion will recall that we were converted primarily through mercy. If mercy is poured upon us - we must freely give that mercy to everyone else. Rohr rightly said: “If you can’t forgive, you don’t know God.” Lent is the time to be forgiven and to forgive in return. Mercy is the essence of Lent. Mercy also requires us to stop constantly judging others. We spend so much time telling others they are wrong (and we are right!). Faith is about mercy. Faith is about accepting the fact that we are not the center of the universe. Faith is acknowledging that we are dust and to dust we shall return! May this Lent be a time of great growth and grace for us all!