By Clyde Davis: Local columnist
On the Wednesday just past, much of the Christian world observed Ash Wednesday, a day of repentance and self-examination on which begins the season of Lent, the six weeks preceding Easter. Much about this particular observance contradicts the way in which we view ourselves but not the way in which we ought to.
We have a hard time admitting when we are wrong, that we are not perfect. I’m not sure why this is so, or whether it has always been so; I only know that I — that all of us — can see the results of this hardness or stubbornness: broken marriages, broken families, broken friendships and broken relationships with the Divine. The last of these, of course, is what Ash Wednesday is about.
Can we realistically separate these issues? If my relationship with the Divine is out of harmony, how can that fail to impact my relationships with other human beings? If my relationships with others are based on dishonesty, deception or deceit, how can my relationship with the Divine be pure and honest? In reality, it’s possible that I am lying to myself, that my own internal harmony is off balance.
Ash Wednesday, in the Christian view, is a day representing the search to restore harmony. It introduces an entire season devoted to that search. In Judaism there is a day of atonement. In Native American practice, rituals exist for the cleansing of disharmony and the restoration of balance — differing among tribal entities but working with the same end. The list could, of course, go on, relating to other religious practices.
These seem to me to be different ways of saying the same thing: I’m sorry. I intend to change. I wish to allow the power of good to transform me, with my cooperation.
When we cannot even apologize to other human beings, admitting our culpability in the broken relationship, how can we expect ourselves to apologize to the Holy One? When we insist on perceiving ourselves as perfect in our dealings with others, or say, “Well, I’m not as bad as (fill in the blank),” how can we approach the Creator of all with humility? Yet we know we should, so we avoid the issue.
Take stock of your own situation. Is it hard for you to apologize? Do the words “I’m sorry” have to be wrung from your resistant lips? If this is so, can you figure out why? Is it somehow emasculating, or defeminizing, for you to admit that you have acted wrongly? Is your world view somehow black and white, causing you to think that you are a bad person if you have committed wrong actions?
It brings us face to face with one of the spiritual tensions with which we live. We are not perfect.By trying to pretend that we are, we only widen the gap. Rituals of repentance and renewal are not shallow superstition, whether carried out in relation to others, or to the Divine. Self-honesty calls us to move forward, in a spiritual journey which, every so often, involves a “spiritual housecleaning.”
“Don’t cross ‘im, don’t boss ‘im, cause he’s wild in his sorrow, and ridin’ and hidin’ his pain. … Don’t fight ‘im, don’t spite ‘im, just wait til tomorrow — maybe he’ll just ride away.” — Willie Nelson, “The Red Headed Stranger”
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and an instructor at Eastern New Mexico University. He can be contacted at: