Still alkalotic from singing the Gospel hymn -- I really do have to learn how to breathe -- I tried to fix my attention on the priest and acolyte in the aisle. I crossed head, lips and heart, and tried not to slip into a distracted fret about having to make an announcement (ex tempore and I are not friends) and sing the anthem.
It was then that it came, the Johannine zinger that riveted my attention to the text like, well, a rivet.
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.
So the Revised Common Lectionary was having a go at my vernophobia, asking me to plough deeper into the compost of clinging to the darkness of winter and dreading the light of spring. Sure, my vernophobia may have its pedestrian roots in a body-dysmorphic adolescent's dread of removing layers of winter clothing, exposing her flesh to the world of scrutiny and judgment, but it's taken on more layers of meaning as time has passed, all pointing to my love of being insulated and isolated, hidden from the piercing gaze of the other.
I've spent a lot of my life defending this to myself. This is the way I am, it's hardwired into me, into my neurons and neurohumours, how dare anyone suggest that I should or could be otherwise, that there are essential virtues in human connection that I am missing out on ! And, as a corollary, denigrating those who are convivial, gregarious, extroverted and sociable as Coca-Cola swilling, bikini-and-muscle-shirt-wearing monsters of Babbitry. I have constructed my own personal anthropology and theology of reclusiveness, and, like a reflex, I trot it out when the going gets -- social.
But John's not talking about introverts huddling in the darkness. He's talking about evil.
Last week, in a particularly Lenten moment, I thought Could I be evil ? Although I remember thinking this in a hospital stairwell, I can't remember what strain of fret actually elicited that question, and I probably answered, Hell, yes! But John's talking about evil deeds, not evil people. It's the old hate the sin and love the sinner thing.
Lent heightens awareness of shortfall. Of sin.It's like one big session on a zafu: look, there's impatience, there's scorn ! And over there ? In that fabulous hat ? Self-aggrandizement ! Here comes bitchiness and judgment, and not far behind prance apathy, neglect, cruelty and hatred, all the courtly retinue of of the squalling Princess of I-Want-It-And I-Want-It-Now !
Man, it's positively Boschian in there. Quick, someone order up a herd of swine !
All these imps and demons materialize at the touch of the Other, like fleurs-du-mal from a magician's wand. What about that touch ? It judges, it scrutinizes, it scorns, it asks for the impossible, it accuses, it pleads, it demands -- and Princess I ? She's filled with fear, dread, anxiety, refusal, self-righteousness. Those eyes, she thinks, don't reflect back a Princess -- they're distorting mirrors in which a miserable wretch cowers, grotesque and beyond redemption ! Out with those eyes, off with the heads out of which they they stare !
And, while you're at it -- CRUCIFY HIM !
OK, I know, I'm jumping ahead in the passion play. But you get the picture.
So what about the living-in-a-world-of-Lent layer of this vernophobia ? What's so great about this Boschian Desert of Shortfall ? This dark space of closely scrutinized sin and alienation ? Even Lent's not supposed to be this dark ! Let's turn back a few pages to Ash Wednesday;
I invite you, therefore , in the name of the Church, to the observance of a Holy Lent, by self-examination and repentence.
That's the chink in the wall that lets the light through: repentence. That's the chink in the ice through which the green shoot pushes.
That's the reminder that not all gaze is hostile, predatory, violating: there is the gaze of the Father, that loves, holds, lets be. There is the redemptive gaze of the son, forgiving us, even from the cross where we nailed him. There is my own regard that besmirches others with my projected anxieties, or sees sees others through distorting lenses of prejudice and need. We are lovable and forgiven -- what a radical thought ! It's much easier to stay comfortably ensconced in patterns of hostility and woe.
At the depths of self-examination, beneath all the anxiety and fear, beneath the projected hostility and judgement, deep in the thawing compost of sin and winter lies the green, light-seeking shoot.
Don't be afraid.