Trash Heap

Good Friday

There is a ritual at this time of year in Darien. Everyone puts all of his or her trash out and after a week or so the town comes around and picks it up. During the time between when stuff is put out and the actual town pick up there is a steady stream of cars and trucks driven by people who cruise the streets looking for “good stuff.”

While I was recuperating from my operation, I spent a lot of time looking out the window at the mound of trash at the end of my street. There was glass - brittle, reflective and often sharp. There were lots of plastics bent and conformed to all sorts of shapes - capable of being both pliable and rigid. Of course there was wood, natural in its source, durable but at the same time susceptible to rot. Some metal was out there - forged from basic elements and drawn out and twisted into various uses. Finally there were also toys - no longer enchanting, desirable or even useful and sometimes broken.

The longer the collection stayed at the end of my street the more I kept seeing it as a metaphor of our individual and collective lives. Perhaps as I get older I can just see more correlations between things, or it may be that my exposure to the metaphysical poets such as Donne and Herbert conditioned me to focus on a specific event or object and push through to meanings beyond the surface.

I suspect that like me, in moments of reflection you can recall events and experiences that were once bright and shiny and seemed to image the good things in your life - a relationship, an opportunity or a responsibility. Over time the brightness became tarnished, the image you had of things broke and you were emotionally or spiritually cut by the jagged edges. There may have been a divorce, career failure or moral collapse.

Or it may be that much of your life you have spent adapting to circumstances. If you are a middle child or even a second child, then you probably have become quite good at that. You sense when to bob and weave, bend or be rigid. It is much more a learned than natural reaction, but it soon becomes “second nature.” You often back off as a way of moving ahead or of “getting the job done.” There are things about which you are quite firm, but because you have flexed so often you end up not knowing whether you are being just plain arbitrary or really certain of your absolutes. In your attempt to be accommodating you have lost some of your confidence and you find yourself wondering if you really do stand for anything. Other times because you perceive that you are rigid about something, you wonder if after all you are not taking a moral stand but rather a compulsive intolerance.

In looking at your life you may see that there you have been fortunate to have inherited or at least acquired a certain kind of strength and decency that is innate to your character. You have been a good spouse or parent or sibling. You have maintained a responsible position in your company or society. You have withstood the storms of much of life and only cracked a little here and there. But time has worn you down. Those parts of life upon which you have drawn substance have somewhat worn out, and you begin to recognize there is the beginning of dry rot in your soul.

Some of us recognize that we have been blessed with basic elements in our lives, often talents such as intellect or an artistic ability, which have stood us in good stead. Those abilities have been drawn out, forged in competition and challenges and enabled us to structure our lives and the lives of others in appropriate ways. Even so, the exposure to the elements of time and pressure has begun to corrode the steel of our resolve, or the talents upon which we have relied for so long.

When we look at where we have invested our time, talents and treasures from the perspective of the ends of our lives it is astonishing how transitory so many of the things were that we thought important. Clothing, transportation, housing, furnishings eventually become no more than out-of-date broken toys. Few things last, and those that do become at best irrelevant and at worse a mockery of our foolishness.

All of the above, the reflections and shiny images, the experiences of flexing or being rigid, the strengths that have decayed, the talents that have waned and the stewardship of our investments form multiple metaphors and analogies of our lives. They bespeak what we already know. They delineate our human condition. It has always been thus. We cannot save ourselves. You and I cannot create our own eternal values and virtues. We cannot manufacture meaning and purpose in life any more than we can manufacture love or grace.

Good Friday reminds us that each life, each society has a Gehenna, a landfill or burial ground. It is the repository of good intentions, the resting place of the accomplishments of both the lowly and the high and the mighty. It takes a Golgatha to answer the despair and tragedy of a Gehenna. It takes an act of God to overcome the acts of man. It takes a sacrifice to overcome man’s acquisitiveness, his grasping, his homeocentricity. It takes a paramount act of love to redefine life in meaningful terms, to eradicate the conception that man is the measure of all things. Only a theophany, only a profoundly fearful, an incredibly awesome event can fully wrestle the attention of man away from himself and change the focus so that we might see the eternal defining power of God. Such a presence, such a revelation in His mighty acts, in His law, in his constant compassion for each and everyone of us defines His relationship to us. It commands that we turn away from looking at ourselves and focus upon Him. It calls us to worship, to pray without ceasing, to offer thanksgiving and blessing, petition and intercession as part of our daily lives.

Good Friday bids you and me to look to the cross. To look to the cross not for thrills and sensationalism, not in mawkish sentimentality, but rather to look to the cross for the profundity of the presence of God. Here at the place of the skulls, at the place of death, we see God bringing life out of death, grace out of despair, love out of hatred. The cosmic nature of things is restructured. Eternal values, eternal truths are made real and offered for us to embrace. “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”(1) “Sorrow and pain are no more.”(2) The mystery of the Holy Other is displayed before us. Our old order is reordered. Our old lives are stripped away in order for them to become new. -Amen
(1) Psalm 85:10
(2) BCP p.482.