Friday, January 2, 2009

Meditation on this Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009:

First Reading: Jeremiah 31:7-14

First Reading (Alt.): Sirach 24:1-12

Psalm: Psalm 147:13-21 (Psalm 147:12-20 NRSV)

Psalm (Alt.): Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14

Gospel: John 1:[1-9] 10-18

So, have you broken your New Year's Resolution yet? I've decided that I don't like New Year's Resolutions because they inspire self-loathing, rather than spur me to make good changes. After I got to a certain age, I've noticed that my resolutions are remarkably similar to past resolutions. That observation means that have to notice that I've been failing at keeping these resolutions in the past--that observation launches me into a self-loathing cycle. And psychologists will tell you that working for change out of a position of self-loathing isn't likely to lead to lasting change.

This year, I've decided to try to view myself and talk to myself the way that our loving God would do. No more castigating myself about the weight I've lost and regained and lost and regained again. No more disappointment about the poems that I haven't written. No more stern words to myself about the miles I haven't run.

The cool thing about our God, the Gospel reminds us, is that God came to live with us. And the Bible tells us that God probably sojourns with us more often than we recognize (think about all those visits by strangers in the Old Testament, strangers that turned out to be God in disguise). God understands the challenges that come with having a human body and brain. I like to think that God would not be as harsh in judging me as I have been. And if God can cut me a break, maybe I can learn to do that too.

And maybe, I'll have some success at some point. Or maybe, I'll learn to think about my successes, and give myself credit for them, rather than always focusing on the ways I haven't measured up. As I strategize throughout the year, I'm better at recognizing what I've accomplished, as I think about where I want to go. There's something about the New Year though, that brings out my harshest inner critic.

As you look at the trajectory of the Bible, you could make the case that God has had some false starts in God's project for redeeming creation. False starts, wrong turns, rough drafts--creativity specialists would tell us that these are necessary to get to success.

And what I often think of as a failure is not--it's just an unfinished project. Even with Jesus, which we might argue is one of God's success stories in the redemption of the world--that's an unfinished project. Jesus began (or continued, depending on your view) the salvation of the world, but you don't have to look far around you to realize that the world isn't exactly redeemed yet.

Our Scriptures and our spiritual ancestors remind us that we are not left abandoned. God never crumples up the rough drafts and throws them away (go back and reread the first creation story in Genesis; God declares everything "good" or "very good"). In John 14:18, Jesus promises, "I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you." If God can take a long term view of redemption projects, so can we.

So, even if you've already broken your New Year's resolutions, don't give in to self-loathing. Remember that God finds humanity so fascinating, so worthy of attention, that God comes to be with us. And if God finds us redeemable, we should work on having a similar attitude.

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