Sunday, August 12, 2012

How Whole Is Your Mirror?

John 6: 35, 41-51
Ephesian 4:25-5:2
It came to pass that one day two friends were discussing the nature of romantic love.  One indicating that she had quite recently fallen out of love was asked how this happened to be.  “The answer to that,” she replied, “can only be understood by first explaining how I happened to have fallen in love in the first place.”
Most people I know have some knowledge of Greek mythology.  The story of Echo and Narcissus is familiar to many.  It is the story of a woodland nymph named Echo who falls in love with a young hunter, Narcissus.  Narcissus is vain and proud and shuns poor Echo.  Echo is devastated and pines to the point of fading away into nothing more than a voice, repeating the last of what she hears.
Narcissus, however, in chasing his prey, happens upon a pool of the clearest water.  Catching sight of his reflection in the water, and believing it to be another person entirely, becomes entranced.  Narcissus spends the rest of his days gazing at this reflection, wasting away to nothingness, until he dies.  His body is reborn as the narcissus flower—which is more commonly known as the daffodil.
Significantly less well known is a play written by a 17th century nun in Mexico.  The Divine Narcissus was written by Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz as manner of explaining the Eucharist—what we call Communion—to the Aztec peoples.
Borrowing from the Greek myth of Echo and Narcissus, Sor Juana recast the story.  Human Nature is presented as a Shepherdess, separated from her Love, Narcissus, who is Christ, by her sinful nature, and Echo, who is Satan.  Human nature seeks a pure pool of water by which to cleanse herself of her sins that she might be reunited with Narcissus, who is also searching for her.
This is what Narcissus has to say concerning his pursuit of Human Nature:
My little lost lamb,/unmindful of your Master,/where are you wandering?/can you not see/that you part from life, apart from Me?
Your foolishness/draws you to drink/dirty water/from old cisterns,/and your deaf ears compel/you to avoid the life-giving well.
Think about my favors:/you will see, a constant lover,/I watch over you carefully./I set you free from all offense,/and I lay down my life in your defense.
Covered with frost and snow,/I continuously follow/in your foolish steps and know/that it moves you not to see/ungrateful one, I leave the ninety-nine for thee.
Behold how much my beauty/is loved by all,/is sought by all,/every creature without exception;/and only you withhold affection.
In perilous pathways/I follow your footsteps,/constantly wounding My own feet/in craggy woods, where every tree/grows thorns of piercing cruelty.
Still, I must search for you:/although I fear that I shall die/if I do not abandon you,/My heart demands that I continue/and lose My life that I may find you.
Is it thus that you respond,/foolish one of errant judgment?/Am I not He who nourished thee/Then why do you not answer Me?/And why (as if you could) do you hide from me?
Ask your elders , full of years, about My great beneficence:/about abundant rivers,/the pastures and meadows/in which My love fed you and gave you repose.
In a field of thistles/within an empty land,/I found you all alone/with a hungry wolf nearby/and I guarded you as the apple of My eye.
I carried you to verdant/pastures of delight/where I lay a banquet for you/with sweetness from the honeycomb/and oil which flows from obdurate stone.
The richest germ, the very heart/of choicest wheat/sustain your life/with bread made savory and fine/and fragrant grapes converted to wine.
You became engorged and slothful,/full of pride and gross conceit;/you saw yourself magnificent,/your pride outshone your sense of duty,/and you forgot my sovereign beauty.
You went seeking other shepherds/whom your parents did not know,/neither had they ever seen them,/nor did your forbears recognize them/and you stirred my wrath, for I despise them.
And therefore, did my rage burst forth:/I will turn away My face/without whose light the golden sun/cannot make its case to shine/on this perverse, ungrateful, faithless flock of Mine.
I will cause my kindled fury/to devour fields with flames/and the grass the flock feeds on,/laying waste both with angry heart/even the loftiest mountain peak.
I will shoot them/with swift arrows,/and famine will cut the stems of life;/on them carnivorous birds will feast,/and they will be prey of the wild beast.
On them degraded serpents/will test their coiled fury,/and they will feel my awful wrath/in myriad ways of dying:/body bleeding from the knife; heart in terror crying.
See how powerful I am,/for there is no one stronger;/I can put to death, and I give life;/I can wound as well as heal,/and none can escape my hand’s justice and zeal.
But burning thirst/afflicts and tires me;/it is good that to that fountain/I turn my course and there retire/so that in her I might quench this fire.
For you, I’ve suffered agony,/an aching hunger to enjoy you,/so it must come as no surprise/that I reveal my greatest desire:/thirsting for you, I am on fire.
Narcissus now having found the pool, is waylaid by Echo who seeks to prevent the reunion of these lovers.  Narcissus with power to rule the whole world if he will leave his search for Human Nature and pledge himself to Echo instead.
This is what Echo has to say upon spying Narcissus at the pool:
He is gazing into the fountain,/contemplating His own likeness,/but seeing Human Nature in it./Oh, fatal Fortune in my stars!/How much I feared He’d see her clearly,/become entranced, and love her dearly,/and at last, it came to pass!
Narcissus having rejected Echo, makes his way to the pure spring where Human Nature has hidden herself.  In gazing into the pool, Narcissus sees Human Nature, which is truly his own reflection and falls in love, declaring:
Forests, have you ever known/one who’s loved with My desire/or has desired with My fire/in all the years that you have grown?In the parade of days gone by,/My forests, whom have you descried/in centuries, who has ever died/of the malady by which I die?Gazing, I can only languish:/I can’t enjoy or disdain her;/in my desire to attain her,/I suffer mortal anguish.That she adores Me, I can tell,/and repaying love, beguiles,/since if I smile, she also smiles,/and when I weep, she weeps as well.I cannot practice self-deception:/my understanding makes it plain/that the cause of my pain/surely is My own reflection.So intensely do I love her,/though love slay Me with its dart,/with My life I’d rather part/than to other loves defer.
“This,” the one said, “is what falling in love was like.  When I met him, it was like he was holding a mirror, and I saw my own reflection in him.  Everything good and admirable and amazing about me, is a trait he shares.  It was so easy to fall in love with him because it was like I was falling in love with myself, and I’m extraordinary!
“Falling out of love grew from this experience,” the young woman said.  “See, though I could see how amazing he was, he really didn’t get it.  He has no idea what his true value and worth is.  Deep down, he’s terrified that he’s inadequate, insufficient, just not good enough.  And because he truly believes that this is true about him, he seeks out his reflection in broken mirrors.  He pursues people who reflect back and affirm to him that what he fears is reality.
“Because he is blind to how own value and worth, he cannot see the value and worth in others.  Because he believe he isn’t good enough, he will never believe anyone else is good enough either.  And I want more than that.  I deserve better.  Because, you know, I’m amazing!”
This, to me, is what our passages this morning are telling us.  In the gospel, we have Jesus who declares himself the “bread of life,” that any who eats it will not die, because Jesus gave his life for us.  We’ve all heard the adage, “You are what you eat.”  This is no truer than in the sense that when we eat the bread of life, the body of Jesus, we become like Jesus.  We take him into ourselves as sustenance, and are transformed in the process.
If this is true, then we must ask ourselves, “Do we look like Jesus?  What do we believe to be true about ourselves?  And how do we seek out confirmation of the beliefs that we hold?  What do we, in turn, reflect back to others—for good or for ill?”  Remember, what we believe about ourselves, be it Truth or lies, is what we reflect back to those around us.
Our passage from Ephesians does a fairly tidy job of filling this out.  “Putting away falsehood, let us speak the truth to our neighbors….  Be angry but do not sin….  Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly…so as to have something to share with the needy.  Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up….  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God….  Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another…. Be imitators of God…live in love….”
What does it look like to be like Jesus?  Or, in staying within the mythos of the Divine Narcissus, what does it look like to be a whole mirror, reflecting the image of Jesus to the world?
If we see ourselves through the mirror of Christ, if we see his powerful image reflected in our humanity, we can experience anger without sinning, responding to injustice with action and advocacy.  However, if we view ourselves through the broken mirror of powerlessness, we often find ourselves sinning in our anger; responding to hurt with violence and the degradation of others.
If we see ourselves through the mirror of Christ, if we see his gracious and generous image reflected in our humanity, we can act with integrity and help others.  However, if we view ourselves through the broken mirror of entitlement and privilege, we often find ourselves grasping ravenously to fulfill for own petty whims, taking what is not rightfully ours, and ignoring those around us who are in need.
If we see ourselves through the mirror of Christ, if we see his compassionate, loving, and encouraging image reflected in our humanity, we can bless others with our words.  However, if view ourselves through a broken mirror of criticism, perfectionism, and inadequacy, we often find ourselves criticizing and wounding others who will never be able to measure up to our unreasonable expectations and unrelenting standards.
If we see ourselves through the mirror of Christ, if we see his kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness, and love, if this is the image of Christ we see reflected in our humanity, we will treat others with kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness and love.
If Christ sees his own reflection in humanity, and his response, in love, is to die for us, what is to prevent us from seeing Christ or even ourselves in others?  If we are to imitators of Christ and love others, it is not enough simply to refrain from doing what is evil.  We must, instead, be wholly committed to doing what is good, right, and just.
We must, at every juncture, ask ourselves, “How whole is my mirror?  Where are the cracks?  And how might I exchange my broken mirror for the wholeness of the image Christ reflects back to me, that I might reflect his image, in wholeness, to the world?”

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