‘A Guest,’ I Answered, ‘Worthy to be Here’

 

‘Miserere mei, Deus’ is based on Psalm 51. It was composed by Gregorio Allegri, transcribed by a young Mozart and sung here by the incomparable Tenebrae Choir.

 

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.

 For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
    and blameless when you pass judgement.
 Indeed, I was born guilty,
    a sinner when my mother conceived me.

 You desire truth in the inward being;
    therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
 Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
 Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.

 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and put a new and right spirit within me.
 Do not cast me away from your presence,
    and do not take your holy spirit from me.
 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and sustain in me a willing spirit.

 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.
 For you have no delight in sacrifice;
    if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.
 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,
 then you will delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt-offerings and whole burnt-offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.

                                                                ~ Psalm 51 NRSVA
   

 

The first step in becoming a follower of Christ is recognising my own depthless misery – my sin. I can’t turn back time. I can’t undo any of what I have done. I made the chasm between myself and God. Me. Why? Because I do stupid, hurtful things, selfish things. Christ alone was perfect, and He alone took the stain of sin upon Himself, so that I might not have to be separated from God. I deserve none of what He gave, yet because my Creator knows me, and loves me, He brings Himself to me. What love is this?

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,

Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lacked anything.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:

Love said, “You shall be he.”

“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on thee.”

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, “Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.”

“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”

“My dear, then I will serve.”

“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”

So I did sit and eat.

~ Love by George Herbert, circa 1633

 

Illness. Lent. Possibility.

Yesterday I came across the blog of someone I knew in childhood and who, to all intents and purposes, seems to have led a charmed life. She is a successful photographer. I don’t want to deny her that success – of course not. She was always artistic as a child so I can see where her talent and skills came from. But for several hours afterwards I felt like I was useless. Less than. I wondered whatever happened to my hopes from childhood, what happened to that bright-eyed little girl who was once top of the class? I was reminded more than ever of the fact that I am unwell, I’ve not had a ‘normal’ life and that I gave up on having any ‘dreams’ at all a long time ago.

 

But… this is what happens when we look at ourselves through the world’s eyes. When we start comparing. This is a neat trick of the enemy – it is oh-so-easy to compare myself to others – not just in terms of my achievements, but my intelligence, my looks, my <ahem> weight… The objectification of women so prevalent in our culture is not just a result of the actions of men. Women wholeheartedly buy into it and ‘sell’ themselves too – by which I mean we place a worldly value on ourselves when we only value ourselves in the world’s terms.

 

When I look at myself with un-worldly eyes, i.e. the Holy Spirit, I can see how much I have suffered, yes, but also how far I have been redeemed! Then I see that this suffering has been, in a strange way, a gift, or at least it has brought with it some quite extraordinary gifts which are not come by except by suffering. I know there are plenty of my readers who will relate to this because they have been through their own ordeals. One of the most precious gifts suffering produces is that of compassion. As my online blogger friend Christine over at Glory to God blog put it, I am ‘not afraid of brokenness’. What a wonderful, insightful compliment. That really made my day (we followers of Christ would do well to encourage one another more, don’t you think?).

 

[Of course, I had to go and spoil it by showing the neighbourhood kids that I am Crazy Shouty Lady. I told a group of them off when my two girls came in sobbing their little hearts out. Tiger Mother Crazy Shouty Me didn’t stop to ask God what the right way to resolve the situation might be <wince>. On the other hand, a few years ago I wouldn’t have said boo to a goose, even a belligerent bunch of kids, and now look at me all Shouty… I dunno…]

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner

 

Having said that, I do get fed up with this illness. It is so frustrating! Six months I have been on this programme of treatment and I’ve not got far. This is my fault. I have tried to rush my recovery and every time I do, I set myself back. Stupid is as stupid does o_O Only it’s not stupid, not really. It’s just me trying to be ‘all things to all people’ (which is good) but in my own strength (which is bad). I don’t have much physical strength, let alone spiritual muscle (ha!). But all this is teaching me to rely on God for literally every step that I take. If I do too much, which is easily done, I spend the next few days bedridden – this forces me to pray often and ask God to guide me (Crazy Shouty moments notwithstanding).

 

I always thought of myself as a good student. Maybe that bred arrogance because it has taken half a year of me trying to do it my way for me to finally realise that it’s not working. Now, finally, I am learning. Where the world sees illness and the inability to ‘achieve’, God sees hope:

 

‘Giving… has more to do with

giving ourselves

than with giving from our resources.

At a table where the scribes and Pharisees saw sin,

Jesus saw possibility.’

From The Little Way of Lent

by Fr. Gary Caster.

Has the world discarded you? Does the world look down on you? Jesus doesn’t.

‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’ wrote Oscar Wilde in ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’.

Whether we have made bad choices, or life has thrown us down, in the end it doesn’t matter. ‘All have fallen short’, St. Paul tells us. What matters is when we stop pretending that we’re ‘ok on our own’. This is how we make room for the greatest gift of all – the gift of Grace.

 

Jesus will never discard you, or disown you. He won’t treat you like dirt. He will eat at your table, raise a glass with you, call you friend – and in the eating and the drinking you will partake of the Bread of Life and the Living Water, freely given, freely received. Jesus holds out a hand and says two simple words, “Follow me.”

‘…[Jesus] said to him, “Follow me.” 

And he got up, left everything, and followed him.’

 Luke 5:27 (NRSVA)