Listen to: For King and Country "It's Not Over Yet"
By an unusual twist of fate, on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, we found ourselves not in church but driving the strip of Las Vegas. I have never seen such gaudiness perfected. Opulent hotels, towering high, shaped like Pyramids guarded with sphinxes. A ferris wheel right in the middle of downtown. Replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Arch d’triomphe, the Statue of Liberty and a whole skyline and highlights of New York City duplicated on a city block. Between the blitz and glitter was an ad: “just enough bad to be good.” In my hotel welcome bag was a coupon for Stripper lessons 101, ten percent off. Granted the shows may be entertaining and there were PG rated attractions, but we had seen enough to know we were allergic to the feel of the place.
It wasn’t in Las Vegas where I was tempted and tried. It was ironically, at the Grand Canyon, with scenes that would knock your breath out. I was literally in tears at the sheer beauty of it all. It reminded me of naturalist Donald Culross Peattie’s quote: "The Grand Canyon is carven deep by the master hand; it is the gulf of silence, widened in the desert; it is all time inscribing the naked rock; it is the book of earth."
I could feel the silence; it was palpable and spoke to me. Yet the animated conversations all around me, and people jostling to take selfies with the best canyon view constantly jarred me. Couldn’t people be quiet for once? Did not the vista before them bring them to their knees? I raged and fumed in my heart. It bothered me so that I spoke to Forrest about it.
Then it hit me. This was my temptation and trial. Not Las Vegas, Sin City. But the Grand Canyon. The distractions around me revealed my judgmental and self-righteous core.
Christian author, C.S.Lewis, writes in Mere Christianity about the sins against charity. He says:
“On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.”
The Grand Canyon revealed my rats. My lack of forbearance toward other people. I may not like how they behaved, but I allowed this to take me to a place of judgment and disturbance of my inner peace -- and my peace with God.
I discovered, like everything else in life, I needed to train myself to focus not on the distractions but on the Majestic View in front of me. I acknowledged how this happens every day. The little grand canyons I see every day in my life that get obscured because I am too caught up in annoyance or simply engaged by the distractions.
Grateful for the lesson, I repented and consciously trained by heart to enjoy the unfolding vista in spite of the human distractions around me. It wasn’t easy. However it was the only way to truly commune with the divine that resided in that unique place.
Lent gives us a special opportunity to see “the rats in the cellar” as C.S. Lewis coins our hidden faults and sins. Let us see the distractions in our lives not as hindrances but as opportunities for spiritual growth. Through them we can see the grand canyons of life – hidden in a smile, a challenge, the ordinary nature around us, the people whose paths we cross. Let us listen for the Spirit’s voice in all we do. If we find ourselves distracted, let us stop, breathe, thank God for the opportunity to grow in self-knowledge. Then let us turn back and enjoy the view.
Prayer: God, help me to see the distractions in my life as a opportunity to develop myself. Show me my “rats in the cellar” so I can grow closer to you and to others. Amen