Reteaching Loveliness

Preached on 1 March 2017 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, Washington
Ash Wednesday, Year A

Another Lent, in another year, I was reading a daily devotional and I came across this excerpt from a poem by Galway Kinnell.

“sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness…
until it flowers again from within…”

It struck me that this is what Lent is about – allowing God to reteach us our own loveliness so that we may flower again from within.

Have you ever known someone whose faults and failings seem to be so many and so large that they seem to obscure everything else about the person?  That the faults and the failings are all you can see?  Have you ever found that to be true in someone that you care about or with whom you must have some sort of ongoing relationship – maybe a teacher or a boss or a colleague or even a family member?

And have you ever found that as time goes on, maybe with the help of prayer or stepping back or seeing the person through another’s eyes or trying to see the world through that person’s eyes, have you found that those looming faults and failings no longer hide everything else, that you can see a more complete person?  Have you been able to see beyond the failings to see the loveliness of the person?  And even to love the person?

Ultimately, I think, Lent is about Love.  It’s about opening ourselves so that God can reteach us our own loveliness.  The invitation of Lent, I think, is to embrace our own humanity, because God already has.

We spent the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany focusing on the Incarnation; on the humanness of Jesus of Nazareth.  Jesus embraced his own humanity taking on the limitations of our existence.  And now, with that assurance of God’s love, of God’s embrace, in this season of Lent we shift the focus to our own humanness.

In a few minutes, you will be invited to observe a Holy Lent by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial, and so on.  You will be invited to begin this season by having ashes smeared on your forehead as a reminder of our mortality of our limitations as human beings.  We will begin this Holy Season by remembering who we are and what we are.

Each week, we confess to God, “We have not loved you; we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.”  To repent of that “not loving,” we must love, beginning with ourselves because it is difficult, if not impossible, to love another if we don’t love ourselves.  It is a journey; a journey with God, if you will, a Pilgrimage.  A pilgrimage of opening ourselves to God; allowing God to show us ourselves.

You see, the beginning of loving is knowing.  We must be willing to know ourselves – even those faults and failings that seem so terribly large that they obscure everything else; and even those faults and failings that seem so terribly small that they couldn’t possibly matter.  Love is not blind after all.  Love sees everything and loves anyway.

We must be cautious though, so that those faults and failings don’t become our idols, so that we don’t cling to them.  It’s important that we be willing to let them go, leaving them behind as unnecessary baggage on our pilgrimage to see what else God has to show us; to learn our own loveliness.

I was so taken by this little excerpt, that I Googled it and found the whole poem.  It is entitled,

Saint Francis and the Sow

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its    loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.

My hope for you this Holy Season, is that you will open yourself to God, that you will feel God’s touch on your brow and you will hear God’s words in your heart.
That you will remember the perfect loveliness of You.
That come Easter, you will flower again from within, of self-blessing.

Galway Kinnell, “Saint Francis and the Sow” from Three Books. Copyright © 2002 by Galway Kinnell.