First Week of Lent 2016
Out hiking on a trail, I have encountered a few surprises over the years. Deer, snakes, skunks and elk live in the woods, so I do not know why I should be surprised whenever I see them in their home. Several years ago I was quite a few miles into a day hike on a mountain trail when I became disconcerted and not a little bit disturbed by an unpleasant odor of what I assumed was a bear. As I was running through my mental list of “what to do when you encounter a bear in the woods,” I realized that the bear smell was me!
Recently, I was out hiking with a friend (if you are going to encounter a bear it is good to have a friend, preferably one who is slower than you). We were deep in conversation when we rounded a wooded corner, and there to the side of the trail was a beat-up, rusted out old car. Trees were growing around it, indicating it had been there for quite a few years. In fact, outside of the narrow walking trail, there was no other sign of a road. It was as if the heavens opened and placed this old car alongside the trail. I suppose someone decades ago ran out of gas, or maybe had a flat, or simply blew the motor, and just parked it.
Broken down, rusted out, and discarded. This happens to people too. Someone ceases to be useful and gets “parked” or discarded or forgotten. It happens to the elderly, to the disabled, to the meek, to the terminated. It happens when you are the wrong race, gender, political persuasion, or _____ [fill in the blank].
The truth is we are all broken in places. Some things you see: a wheelchair, a cane, a cast, a Band-Aid – symbols of broken bodies. Some things, perhaps most things, you do not see because they are buried deep beneath the effortful facades and barriers that come by way of suppression and shame. Only the bearers of such brokenness see, but even then it can be too confusing, too overwhelming, to really see, let alone understand.
There is a lovely Latin phrase that reminds us that even in our broken places, we bear God’s image. The Imago Dei is the understanding that all persons are gifted as bearers of the image of God. No one image is whole or complete or definitive. We need each other and not because we are whole, or perfect, or useful. We need each other because we each reflect God’s image, even in our brokenness.
You and I are God’s handiwork and we are “…fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14) In Psalm 8 we hear the prayer, “…what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” (vv 4-5)
Sometimes all we can see in others (and ourselves) is the brokenness, like a beat-up old car in the middle of nowhere. Lent is the season to remember that it was Jesus who took up fragmented bread and fed the multitudes and later said to his disciples “remember me” when you eat this broken bread.
What is it in your life and those around you that is less than whole, broken down and rusted out? Ernest Hemmingway wrote: “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong in the broken places.”
There is no junk in the kingdom of God. Just people like you and like me. Blessed is the one who stumbles among the wreckage and sees the beauty.
[portions of this article were previously published in my blog www.pilgrimswalk.fbcblogs.com.]