Daily Office readings for Sunday, Sept. 23:
Psalm 93, 96 (Morning)
Psalm 34 (Evening)
Judith 5:22-6:4, 10-21
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
James 1:19-27 (NRSV:)
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
When I was a kid, one of things in my mind whether a carnival coming to town was a “real” carnival or not, was whether or not it had a Fun House (much like how I judged the quality of a circus coming to town by the number of elephants it had. A one elephant circus was bound to be a real bummer.)
I loved the Fun House–the mazes, the passageways, the chutes, the blown compressed air that would unexpectedly spook me out, and, of course, there was the Hall of Mirrors. My friends and I would trade spots at all the curved mirrors and see what we looked like fat, skinny, and curvy. Then, of course, finding one’s way out of the Hall of Mirrors was the next trick, because, after all, we wanted to see what was next in the Fun House. That said, we always ended up spending a little more time in the Hall of Mirrors than we would other places, because it was simply fun to see our reflection projected so many ways.
Our reading in James today reminds us of some tricks that those mirrors of “self” play in confounding our path to God. I think many of us like who we are a lot of times when we see ourselves in the Sunday Morning Christian mirror–it’s as if we can almost catch the real glimpse of our holiest selves in relationship with God. Seeing that person on Wednesday night, however, can be a bit of a trick when the weight of the world presses on us. Things happen in our lives that cause us to stare at our reflection in the Mirror of Anxiety, or the Mirror of Fear, the Mirror of Addiction, or the Mirror of Scarcity. Those reflections stare back at us and tell us we are not enough and don’t have enough, and that God is just a fairy tale we whipped up to make ourselves feel better. They push at us to simply please ourselves in a selfish and hedonistic matter and not to worry about others.
That doesn’t even begin to address some other mirrors, like the Mirror of Our Past Mistakes, the Mirror of Estrangement from Past Relationships, or the Mirror of Things Left Undone. Those mirrors have a particularly haunting and distorting effect–if we stare too long in them, the person on the other side of them whispers that we can never make up for our pasts. They are the mirrors, that, I believe, cause people to, at times, take their own lives in a desperate attempt to numb the pain of those broken images staring back at them.
Our passage in James simply asks us to take our time and remember. Go slow. When that image of our best self before God appears on Sunday morning, or when we are doing mission, or when we are loving our neighbor, to remember that image, in the hopes that it will no longer be a Sunday Morning Mirror but our everyday mirror. It calls us to remember it well enough we don’t have to stare at it for hours and go, “Yeah, I look good like this–don’t you think I look good like this?” but instead be rooted in that image, so we can walk away from the mirror and go out into the world and do what that person is called to do in the mending of a broken, hurting world.
What feature of “you” in that Sunday Morning Mirror is the easiest one for you to remember, and take with you the rest of the week?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid