Flying upside-down?

Dallas Willard begins his classic treatise on the spiritual life, “The Divine Conspiracy,” with an anecdote about a pilot who, disoriented, pulls back on the stick to ascend and flies straight into the ground.
“This is a parable of human existence in our times … most of us as individuals, and world society as a whole, live at high speed, and often with no clue to whether we are flying upside-down or right side up. Indeed, we are haunted by a strong suspicion that there may be no difference…” (2)

Life today feels similarly out of control. Many of our old assumptions no longer hold water. Its hard to know if course corrections will launch us into the clear, trigger a “Mayday!” or auger directly into the ground.

But maybe it has always been this way. In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns the disciples who are busy dividing the spoils of His victory and vying for pride of place in the kingdom that what looks like the head of the line is really the end. ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ (Mark 9:35)

The first must be last. Leaders must serve. Little children have the keys to the deepest insights. Jesus tells us here that seeing is not believing, that there is a deeper and truer reality that lies beyond what our senses tell us is real. This is the same reality that, the prophet Isaiah tells us, levels the mountains and raises up the low places, the reality that Mary sees filling the hungry and sending the rich away empty. And with our solid ideas about security, well-being, risk and reward cracking a bit, if we listen closely we can hear rumblings of this “great reversal” around us.

That’s why Lent is an important part of the life of faith. No matter how certain we are of our beliefs, how comfortable we are with our actions, we need times when we can check our bearings and reset our instruments to be sure we are on the right path.

Popularly, Lent has been for many people a time of self-denial through giving up little pleasures – chocolate, perhaps, or TV or blogging, or dropping our spare change in a charity box. But giving up only gets part of the blessing of Lent. Its fullest expression comes when we give to – give to others, and give to our relationship with God.

My hope and prayer is to use this Lenten season to clear away some of the unnecessary clutter in my life and to focus on who God is calling me to be. In these coming weeks I plan to:
  • Balance my reading and thinking about faith with more listening to God and receiving his love.
  • Engage more deeply in the brokenness in my neighborhood and pay more attention to the signs of hope that are blossoming there.
  • Focus on overcoming inertia and comfort to join in the work God is doin around me all the time.
Tomorrow I will receive a cross of ashes on my forehead with my community, remember that I am dust, and hear the important message of repentance. And as I am turning from the blurred focus, disorientation, and upside-down flying caused by this high-speed life, I will try to keep my focus on the goal I am called to pursue:
So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! (2 Cor 5:20-6:2)

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