The other day I had a rare moment to tune in to a news show and was reminded of the Texas-sized “gyre” of plastic debris that has formed in my beloved Pacific Ocean. The newscasters did the usual treatment of the subject. They brought out the now-famous Charles Moore whose chance encounter with the patch turned him into the “little guy” activist who is effectively tormenting the big plastic producers. Then they brought out the tormented spokesman for the plastics industry, direct from his office with a view of the capitol dome, to say that the whole thing was more hysteria than fact.
I offered two responses to this reminder as an introduction to our PM for the second Sunday of Lent last night.
1) We live in an ocean of spiritual trash. Like poor albatrosses who fill their bellies with bottlecaps and die, we are tempted to fill our spirits (and bellies) with trash. It is deadly.
2) Like the news show gave me a way to stand back and see what was going on, and also gave me a moment to stand back and interpret the meaning of the Pacific Garbage Patch, I am always in need of places in which to “stand back” and see the reality in which I live – whether it is an environmentally degraded earth or a spiritually-degraded society (which go together, don’t they?).
In Jesus, we have a place to stand. Paul says it vividly in Romans 5: “We have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” From the vantage point of grace we can see our situation and interpret it.
Lent is a season for getting some distance from the daily trash and seeing where we live and what we have become. Like researchers, we open up our spiritual stomachs and see whether we have ingested “bottle caps” of nonsense from the world. We need a long season for this practice, since humans are prone to actually believing that filling the ocean with undegradable plastic debris is no big deal. I had a personal experience of this one time while visiting Eleuthera. Our place came with a deserted stretch of seaward beach, which was spectacular. But the beach was filled with plastic debris and other detritus from ships. We were astounded at the quantity. It took a while before we could enjoy the beach with the debris. But we managed to tune out the degradation. Humans adapt to trash well. During Lent we fast from our adaptation to sin and death and take our brave stand in grace.
Our weekly PMs are similar places to stand. We need to find some distance to find some connection. We need to step away from our daily lives in order to find the meaning of our daily lives. Some people choose detachment, others choose immersion. We choose a rhythm of distancing that saves us from giving up or giving in. On our spiritual ‘island” of grace we can see the debris, rather than eat it. We learn to better differentiate among the bits of data and communication that masquerade as sustenance but are really filling our lives with undegradable nothingness.