Lenten Reflection Day #6


In a recent study, people were asked to evaluate a picture of the face of a person they did not know.  In their estimation, did the person strike them as likeable, or unlikeable, appealing or not?  A crucial piece of the study was something that happened just before they were shown the picture; the person was asked to hold for just a few seconds a cup that was either warm or cold.   This was done in a casual way, as though it had no bearing on the study.  The surprising result of the study was that if a person briefly held a warm cup, they were far more likely to evaluate the face in positive terms.  A briefly held cold cup induced negative assessments.   This all happened without the subjects’ awareness. 

This is humbling information.   We imagine ourselves freely coming to the opinions we hold in life, and it turns out what we think and feel is often affected by influences we are clueless about.   We are easily manipulated. 

The cornerstone of our identity as human beings – part of what it means to be “made in the image and likeness of God “– is that we have some measure of freedom.   Unlike animals who act on instinct, supposedly we freely choose our way.  

But alas, if we examine ourselves closely, we may be hard pressed to identify real freedom within ourselves.   So much of what we do, think and feel comes down to things we aren’t fully conscious of:  whether we recently held a warm or cold cup of coffee, what others around us are doing, thinking and feeling, etc. etc. etc.   We act habitually.  We act in ways that amount to conforming to the herd.

In Luke’s Gospel, on the cross Jesus says of the people who crucified him (and presumably of those who had abandoned him as well), “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  

We think we know what we are doing, but maybe we don’t have a clue.  

As I said at the outset, this is humbling stuff to consider.   

Jesus went out into the wilderness for forty days before beginning his ministry.   He recognized that this was necessary in order to freely choose the path ahead.   We can be certain that if our days are very busy and we never find time to stop and reflect on where we are going, that the dimensions of our actual freedom will have shrunk to practically non-existent. 

Lent is a time to reclaim our freedom, “the glorious liberty of the children of God.”  (Romans 8:21) This can be tough.  When we stop to ask ourselves,  “what do I truly feel and think?  What path do I really want to be on?”  our first reaction may be “I don’t know.” 

It is, however, a step towards freedom to say “I don’t know”, instead of saying you know somebody is a bad guy because you held a cold drink just before you saw him.

Lord Jesus, the freedom you possessed when you walked upon this earth is something we have very little experience of.   Help us to let go of our illusions of freedom, so that we may find your freedom.  Amen.

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