March 2017

Greetings in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!

“What thou lovest well remains, the rest is dross …” is the line of poetry (from Canto LXXXI) probably best remembered from the twentieth century American poet, Ezra Pound (d. 1972).  Pound was a highly controversial figure, a fascist sympathizer accused of treason following his anti-American broadcasts made during WWII in behalf of Mussolini’s regime, and confined for alleged mental illness.  Leaving aside his very problematic political views, however, his worldview exalted modernity but at the same time sought to identify and cling to whatever was of value from prior ages.   In our own age, this fascination with—the idolatry of—what is new, and of technology has progressed to the point where as a species we are very much tempted to believe that we are in charge.  We forget that “eating of the tree” humanity may have gained knowledge, but not wisdom.

Pound wrote his Cantos  while confined in a mental institution.  As a Modernist, as a proponent of the need for much of what had gone before to pass, he nonetheless recognized the dangers of a torrid love affair with newness, with “progress”, with the exercise of power.  Perhaps at some level Pound wanted “to have his cake and eat it, too”, to be able to say that he would be the judge of what should remain and what should be thrown out as dross.  In other words, Pound may have embodied the temptation to which we are all prey, to believe that whatever has come before can only be judged by our own standards, and that what shall come will only be determined by our plans and efforts.  This temptation is, of course, to that old “home base” in sin:  pride.  But this temptation also highlights that when we reverse the equation, and recognize that we are not the judge of what is good and must remain, then we can begin to participate in God’s plan, and worry not over our own plans and frustrations. 

We are, in truth, creatures of habits.  We become what we love.  If our time and attention is consumed with entertainment, then we become creatures who must constantly be entertained (with the inevitable result that we are often bored!)  If our time and attention is given to small habits that involve an ongoing focus on social media, we become creatures who are formed by the details in the lives of others.  Certainly our society is one in which consumption and entertainment are paramount.

Now, consider the alternative.  Consider what life can become when we recognize that what remains, what we “lovest well” is what God reveals His will to be.  Consider what life becomes when we do, in fact, love the Lord our God with all of our heart, and all of our mind, and all of our strength, and all of our being, and when we do love our neighbor as our selves.  Consider what life becomes when we respond to and live within the New Commandment given to us by Jesus, that we are to love each other as He has loved us.  Life becomes far richer because life becomes holier.  Life becomes far richer because we participate in and incarnate God’s plan not just for our salvation, but for the salvation of the world.

In Lent we get to practice again how to become what we love.  We get to practice the small habits of daily prayer, of self-reflection in which we offer up to God all that is not godly, of meditating upon God’s holy Word, of gathering in His holy Name to offer prayer, worship, praise and thanksgiving.  We are formed and become God’s beloved in how we incarnate His love.  This formation may involve renunciation, even renunciation of things that we love and that are, in themselves, small blessings.  The theology of such renunciation involves saying “no” to (for example) a favorite food, in order that we might hunger more for God, and in order that we may give God thanksgiving for the blessings of life.  But beyond “no” the habits that will truly form us involve “yes”.  We say yes to God best when we make all of our persons available to Him.  This often involves stripping away distractions, and Lent allows us a period of focus to identify what distracts and what can be stripped away, that in the apostles words we may “[W]alk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5.2).  When we love God, we cling to what remains, to Who is, and was, and will be.  The rest is dross.

Yours in Christ Jesus,

The Rev. Dr. Karl C. Schaffenburg

Rector

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