Thursday, March 13, 2014

Day 8: We are Not Alone

"And now we have sinned before you, and you have handed us over to our enemies. Remember, O Lord; make yourself known in this time of our affliction, and give me courage, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion! Put eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion, and turn his heart to hate the man who is fighting against us, so that there may be an end of him and those who agree with him. But save us by your hand, and help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, O Lord.
-Esther 14:6, 12-14

Lent can be a very isolating time. We commit to spending forty days living more intentionally than we normally do and this intention is often focused inward. We examine ourselves, our sins, our shortcomings, and our pains. We are encouraged to do so in secret, alone and naked before the Lord our God.

To nourish this project, we are given the Word. What always sticks to my soul is the reminder that sin came into the world by one man and, likewise, grace and salvation came into the world by one man. While this is meant to be a joyful message, the wording makes me feel detached. The repetition…one man …one man…I am reminded that I am but one man. And I feel keenly the struggle of my individual self, fighting between the two extremes of sin and salvation. Alone, with God, the One whose love I sin against.

This sounds bleak, but being alone before God makes possible true confession and repentance for sins against Him. This makes way for the most extraordinary part of Lent, for it is in this humility that we encounter the vast forgiveness of God.

But, today’s gospel lesson moves me to examine another important part of Lent. We find Jesus fasting and alone in his fasting, alone in this particular temptation of the flesh. But, yet, he is not alone. His disciples are there, surrounding him, loving him in their imperfect way. They do not understand fully the significance of his fast, for they offer him food, a sign of their incomplete human understanding as well as a mark of the love and concern for another that is one of man’s highest goods.

So here is the One Man. The lone example of God made man. But, yet, he is not alone. And when I think about it further, it was not one man alone who brought sin into the world. Adam would not have sinned if it were not for Eve. One might even interpret the original sin not as simply disobeying God, but rather the breaking of a perfect relationship, not that between Man and God, but between Adam and Eve. The dishonesty that leads to the eating of the fruit was in itself a sin, a sin against another man by affecting the God given harmony of their relationship.

This is the kind of sin that often gets ignored. We try so hard to make ourselves right with God, especially during Lent, that we forget that many of our sins in some way deteriorate, or harm others. That in seeking repentance, we cannot just turn to God, but must make right with our brothers and sisters. This can be far more difficult to confront that God alone. To kneel in church and confess so that no one else knows is often easier than confronting a person whose dignity we have not respected. So, I invite you this Lent to not just turn inward with more intention but to also turn outward, to those surrounding you, with more intention as well.

Who have you harmed? What can you do to make right with them? Sometimes, the answer we find is nothing. Nothing can be done for a particular case. The person is no longer in your life perhaps, or maybe either you or they are not yet ready to face what passed between you. When this is the case, I urge you not to simply give up, but to seek harmony in loving relationship with another human being. By charity, kindness, and active present friendship.

“Do you not say, `Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.”

The joy that we seek in Easter throughout the fast of Lent is not simply that of our individual selves be born to eternal life, but an intense communal joy. Jesus speaks of the sower and the reaper rejoicing together. And rejoice we shall, for we are not alone. It is not that one reaps and the other sows. Our sins are not so distant from other human beings; our struggle to between sin and salvation is the shared journey of all men on this earth.  Thus, we cannot separate our joy in repentance and forgiveness from others. In fact, I hold the truest repentance for our sin against other people takes the form of the sweet joy of friendship, sower and reaper rejoicing together. Keeping in mind that even the best friendships are made possible only when one can both be forgiven, and forgive.

Perhaps this is what Milton, in Paradise Lost, has in mind when he ends the poem with Adam and Eve, walking forth to love and forgive and live together the best they can in this imperfect world.

“Som natural tears they drop'd, but wip'd them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way.”


Carlin Van Schaik is 22 years old and from the Diocese of Northwest Texas.
She is currently serving in Seoul, South Korea.

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