E-Letter 160

Posted by on Mar 20, 2014 in Devotions | 0 comments

E-Letter 160 March 20

I hear his song before I see him…a familiar avian friend and melodious junkyard bird, the church mockingbird. Last year he and his wife were “evicted” from their summer home in the Japanese maple tree outside my office window by a crazed cardinal who spent most of the year divebombing my window, glazing it with feather oil and shadows of blood. With spring just a promise away, this long-tailed, flighty, gray and white friend stakes out his territory early, filling the air with his beware ! pheromones and throaty warning, “This tree is my tree!” His mate safely esconced in a scrubby, low-lying nearby bush, the male mockingbird starts his spring cleaning with gusto. I watch him methodically begin at the bottom of his high nest, hurling bits of pine straw, dry-as-toast leaves, a cigarette butt, and scraps of rain-soaked yarn over the edge. He pokes and prods the plastic strip he had weaved into a layer of the nest in a previous year. Then he flies away only to return with a filmy ball of gray fluff in his beak, perhaps some lint from a neighbor’s dryer vent, and, using his needle-like beak like a quilter, he sews it into the nest’s top layer. He finishes his eccentric “remodelling” efforts by scooping up a torn candy bar wrapper deposited in one of the concrete planters guarding the church’s back door by an exiting worshiper and stitches it into the pieced-together rim. I hope his bride appreciates his energetic layer-by-layer spring cleaning efforts, but from the sound of her late afternoon raucous sqawking, I suspect that she does not share his eclectic taste in decorating!

Moved by the deep somber of the Lenten season, Spanish artist Franscisco de Zubaran depicted the suffering of Jesus’ mother, Mary, as she ponders the impending death of her eldest son. In his painting, Christ and the Virgin in the House at Nazareth, a weary mother, her eyes glazed with grief, glances sidelong at her teenage son with a crown of thorns nesting in his lap, examining droplets of blood oozing from his pricked hand, oblivious of the destiny that awaits him. Mary tenderly holds in her lap a white cloth, his burial shroud. As Zubaran reflected on the depths of a mother’s pain and the meaning of his salvific death, he painted and re-painted this burial cloth, adding layers and layers of white paint to a pitch-black background in a process called pentimento. It’s a soulful word with Italian roots that mean ‘repentance’. As he creates and re-creates, I imagine this devout artist examining his life, layer by layer, struggling with the meaning of Jesus’ sacrificial death – for him!

As he examines his life, layer by layer, King David struggles with the meaning of the betrayal of vows – for himself and his nation – and from the depths of his heart he prays:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
(Ps. 51:1-3, KJV)

Repentance is the getting to the bottom of who we are and whose we are, layer by layer. His eyes fixed on the weeping Mary, poet T.S. Eliot shares the anguish of his personal pentimento:

And pray to God to have mercy upon us

And pray that I may forget

These matters that with myself I too much discuss

Too much explain

Because I do not hope to turn again

Let these words answer

For what is done, not to be done again

May the judgment not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly

But merely vans to beat the air

The air which is now thoroughly small and dry

Smaller and dryer than the will

Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death

Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.