The following is from a collection of Lenten meditations by the late Lionel Basney, first published in The Banner in February of 1999. Basney's meditations have subsequently been incorporated into a larger online Lenten resource entitled Journey to Jerusalem, and published in the anthology, Spring: A Spiritual Biography of the Season.
The Bible speaks of repentance often. The two common biblical words for it, one Hebrew, one Greek, have similar meanings. Both mean turning – turning around, turning away from our sins and back to God. It's a decisive image: you change direction; you face the other way.
What do we repent of? In the Bible it is often idolatry – putting the wrong thing at the center of our lives. Or it is an outright wrong, done on impulse or by design. It is the favorite anger, the nurtured grudge, the stab of envy, the pet dream of greed or lust or power. It is our preoccupation with ourselves.
We recut the world as we want it to be. And because we are only small parts of the world, the recutting is always a lessening. We make other people less, in our minds, so that we can dream using them; we make the world less, in our minds, so that we can waste it freely. If we could, we would junk the world and start over.
This is why repentance can be hard: it hurts to let go of the dream of having the world all our way. Jesus is (as always) honest about the cost: it can feel, he said, like cutting off your hand.
Yet there is danger here: seeing how serious repentance is, we may over-dramatize repent-ing and discourage ourselves before we start.
No doubt some of us – the ones who run concentration camps or who gut pension funds and ruin whole communities – do need to make public, dramatic repentance. For many of our faults, though, turning around can begin with a small step. It may be like acknowledging the wrong we have done a friend: it's hard to do, but we have the friendship to rely on. It is the friendship God has shown us that encourages us to try.
Repenting is like turning around. C.S. Lewis once recalled his first arrival, as a student, at the Oxford train station. He set off for town, unfortunately, in the wrong direction. It was not until minutes later, when he stopped and turned around, that he saw "far away, never more beautiful since . . . the fabled cluster of spires and towers."
There it is – the world as God meant it to be. The sight, all by itself, will change something in us. But we will need to walk back to the crossroads and set off in the right direction.
– Lionel Basney
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
• Lent: A Summons to Live Anew
• Lent: A Season Set Apart
• "Here I Am!" – The Lenten Response
• Lent: A Time to Fast and Feast
• Now Is the Acceptable Time
• Lent with Henri
• Waking Dagobert
• "Radical Returnings" – Mayday 2016 (Part 1)
• "Radical Returnings" – Mayday 2016 (Part 2)
• Move Us, Loving God
Image: "Marquis" by Lee Gumbs.