Anita at Feeling the Light is emailing out contemplative prompts throughout this year’s season of Lent. If you are interested in delving into your own spiritual formation, feel free to take these prompts and answer them for yourselves!
See the poem below. Perhaps meditate on it, see what arises, then write.
Te Deum by Charles Reznikoff, 1894-1976
Not because of victories
but for the common sunshine,
the largess of the spring.
Not for victory
but for the day’s work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.
[Sidenote: I just found out that the Greek Easter is later than the one in the United States, so the Greek Lenten season doesn’t begin until March 14. I think these spiritual formation prompts will be like a pre-Lent spiritual preparation for me, and then when real Lent happens, I will focus on the physical aspect of not eating meat like the rest of the Greeks who will fast. …Will I not eat meat?? I don’t know. I kind of want to, but MEAT.]
Okay, so Reznikoff’s poem.
This is exactly the sort of thing that makes me say, “OH, I love this!” but in reality it goes against everything I actually believe in. Because really, I want a seat upon the dais. I want victories. I want to be the best!
Like most things these days, this makes me think of my Greek class. Yesterday I started Level II, and we have our first teacher again (who is very intense and difficult). She started the four-hour class by speaking only Greek, incredibly fast, and three of the five students were like, interacting with her and answering her while I sat there, overwhelmed and increasingly frustrated. So I went home last night determined to work my ass off so that I could return to class victories. I wanted to impress my teacher and my classmates. I want to know things that they didn’t. I wanted to beat them.
This is my attitude toward just about everything. I am so doubtful of my self-worth, and I have this dumb but incredibly powerful idea that who I am is determined by what I do (and how well I do it). But…that is the exact opposite of Jesus, the hero of this (pre) Lenten season.
Reznikoff’s poem makes me think of another poem, more commonly referred to as “Philippians 2.”
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God
something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death–
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus had victory and a seat upon the dais, and he gave it up. Power and prestige and acclaim were just…not on his radar. He had true humility, where he didn’t think LESS of himself; he focused on everyone else so much more than himself. And wow, I don’t have that.
Imitating Jesus and have Raznikoff’s security would look like this: I would be proud of my classmates for their intelligence. I would rejoice with them as they converse in a foreign language without secretly hoping the teacher will correct them. I would do my homework with endurance even if I remain the worst in the class. I would pursue knowledge of Greek in itself, not knowing Greek better than someone else.
And honestly, knowing this is not going to revolutionize my soul. But I don’t think the answer is to add ANOTHER layer of self-hatred now that I see my petty pride. Last Saturday I had a great conversation with Anthi about feelings of anger and hatred that we both struggle with. She said something like, “I have tried to change my feelings for years, and I’ve failed every time. So instead of trying to fix myself, I wait and trust that God will change me.”
I love that. I love that so much. That’s actual grace, a total understanding that we are powerless…and that’s okay. God will change us from the inside out in his own time, and any “changes” we make on our own are, for me anyway, mostly just grabbing at bragging rights.
There’s something very beautiful about sitting back, appreciating simple daily pleasures, and being satisfied in our mediocrity. That is so hard for me, and that’s okay. I can admire humility, long for it, and love the God who models it.