Dear Friends in Christ,
The first time I read The Confession in Enriching Our Worship, I was struck by this portion, “We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.” The use of the phrase “ the evil that enslaves us” drew me into reflection on evil as a subjugating and objectifying force, the source of willful dehumanization. These words erupted into my thoughts and feelings during the House of Bishops’ visit to The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, a couple of weeks ago.
Like all brilliant museum experiences, it is impossible to describe what it is like to enter and become immersed in the historical facts of the evil of slavery in this country. Everyone should visit this museum in order to understand what words alone cannot say. There are two things that I can say. First, be prepared to be engaged in heart, body, and mind. Second, know that you will be confronted with the enormity of enslavement in this country. I hasten to add that I did not leave with a sense of helplessness or hopelessness. There is a through-line, although thin at times, of the loving and liberating power of Christ, reflected in the sacrifices made by those fighting to live into the fullness of their humanity.
Yesterday, I reflected on the verses from Jeremiah, “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so you are in my hand, O house of Israel.” (Jeremiah 18:6) The clear and unequivocal truth is that we are in God’s hands to be worked and shaped for God’s purposes. We are like the moist clay on a potter’s wheel, moldable because we are pliable. The potter can shape us beautifully, and just a quick and unintended movement can distort the form into something grotesque.
Last Sunday, we heard how Jesus spat into dirt and made a poultice to heal the blind man. On Ash Wednesday, we received ashes while remembering that we are dust and will return to dust. The themes of dust, dirt, and earth are walking with us through Lent. We are reminded that, like dust or dirt, we are basic and essential elements of God’s purposes. But we are unable to live fully into God’s image on our own because we are not God. We are like the dirt in Jesus’ hand, full of possibility and potential to heal, to make whole, and to bring light. It is the essence of the Son of God, signified in saliva, that enlivens us and makes us like properly formed clay to fulfill the purposes for which we have been created.
Our Lenten disciplines are meant to remind us that we are like clay on a potter’s wheel. We are pliable, moldable, and easily subject to losing the form and shape that God intends. Because of this vulnerability, we are called to confess the evil that enslaves us – the blindness to our own misshaped living that deforms our humanity and makes it possible to objectify others.
The Legacy Museum makes it possible for one to go deep into one’s very soul and experience the essential call to resist evil. We cannot do this alone; we need God to enliven us—to spit on us—to properly shape us. The Confession is the portal through which we return to God and become participants in God’s movement to make all things new.