Weekly lectionary groups are great. I recommend them. This week, we meandered around the readings with all of the purpose and direction of a fog, but we did have a few moments where we got high enough to break through the clouds and see the sun.
We found a spot in the Ephesians reading warm enough to sit awhile and take in the view. We were wondering just what we were arming ourselves against with all these holy helmets and righteous breastplates. “Forces of evil”? What does that mean in our world, our culture, our context?
We can look to the news and name evils that we see and hear about: murder, war, rape, hate, the myriad meannesses to which we subject one another. Are we protecting ourselves from their effects? Or from their commission?
Most of us would not qualify ourselves as evil-doers, and fair enough. We are sinners, we might confess, but we do not rise to the ranks of evil, surely. Still, as mighty oak trees start from little acorns, do wretched evils – personal or societal – in fact grow out of little gateway evils? The minor malfeasances that we commit regularly and reliably, without even a gobbet of guilt (perhaps a glint, but that’s about it).
The little white lies, the minor cheats, the curses and gestures at those who drive less well than we do, the angry shrugged off words which we visit on our lovers after a frustrating day. The moments, gestures, habits which betray our sloth, gluttony, conceit, deceit, selfishness and envy.
I heard a while ago (and if I find put where, I’ll post it) that studies show that we tend to let our consciences drift off course, adjusting not to trim them back to true, but to justify their diversions. The further we let them wander away from the straight and narrow, the more we rationalize out wanderings, the further we get from the truth, the more dangerous territory we skirt, flirting with those gateways into murkier and deeper evil.
That’s why, they said (the studiers), so many religions and philosophies have a ritual of resetting our consciences, restoring them to the true, which can only happen when we admit how far off course they’ve fallen.
We call it Confession and Absolution. On a daily basis, the Examination can help us restore our honesty with ourselves, slough off the excuses, stave off the dangers presented by the gateway evils.
“Pray,” says Paul.
So the counterpart of putting on, daily, religiously, the armour of God, is examining it each night, before hanging it in the closet, for rust and loose rivets, dirt and grime, grease stains and shiny, worn patches. And fix them.
How? you ask.
“Pray,” says Paul.
So that little evils do not grow into mighty, deviant oaks with roots that upheave the earth and our homes, and shadows that blight the landscape and stunt the food crops, shut out the sunlight.
So much for our moment in the sun at the summit of Mount Ephesians.
Update: I haven’t found the exact story that I heard about our wayward consciences, but I have a hunch that it’s related to a recent spate of interviews on NPR with Dan Ariely about his book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: Why We Lie to Everyone – Especially Ourselves (see, for example, http://m.npr.org/news/front/154287476 ). I guess I’ll have to read the book to find out for sure 🙂