What's Tony Thinking

Turning Aside


I’m having what I think of as a “Wordsworth” feeling. That is, “The world is too much with us,” or at least too much with me. Too much politics in particular. I’m a sucker for it.

Wordsworth complained that “buying and selling we lay waste our powers.” Not doing much buying and selling but too much thinking, viewing, reading of the Presidential campaign, conventions, recriminations, these not-reality reality shows.

Oh yes, it is consequential. It matters. Not saying it doesn’t. But just how much of it can you take?

I turn to something older, ancient, to Scripture, a different lens on life. And this week’s lessons, which begin with Moses turning aside to see this “strange sight,” a bush blazing but not consumed. And a voice spoke out of the flame, “Come no closer, but take off your shoes for this place on which you stand is holy ground.”

In Beldan Lane’s wonderful book, Landscapes of the Sacred, he makes this point: we don’t so much find holy places. They find us. We are startled, as was Moses, by that which comes at us. We long for that. And we fear it. For the moments when some holiness seizes us, breaks through to us, addresses us.

The gospel text is from Matthew. Jesus speaking of his upcoming suffering and death. Peter gets in his face to object. “Heaven preserve you, Lord.” (Jerusalem Bible). But it is heaven that is driving the bus. And the destination is not self-preservation. “Get behind me, Satan,” says Jesus to Peter. “Because the way you think is not God’s way, but man’s.”

Two ways — God’s and man’s. Like Wordsworth — the way of the world, of buying and selling, transactions, deals. The alternative, for Wordsworth, in his sublime and stormy English Lake District (see my photo), was the way and the world of nature.

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God!

“For this, for everything, we are out of tune . . . ”

But the gospel text does not, alas, call us to revel in nature’s power and wonder, but something yet more strange. “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mt. 16: 24)

Renunciation. Not an idea we hear a lot or are particularly fond of, is it? Not something I do a lot of.

How am I, today, called to renounce myself, take up my cross and follow Jesus?

It seems so grand, taking up my cross, following Jesus . . . if it is, may I answer. But if not so grand, may I hear the call in the ordinary, in listening and paying attention, in stilling the thoughtless word on my tongue, in quieting the ego shouts of “me.” In hearing the word, the call, of thee O Lord.



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