James 4:1-10 / Mark 9:30-37
Had I but wings like a dove, I would fly away and be at rest. Far away I would flee; I would lodge in the wilderness. I would wait for him who saves me from the violent storm and the tempest.
Imagining that one had exceptional powers can be innocent enough. There is little harm in thinking that one can talk to animals and be understood by them, that one could learn difficult things with great ease, or that one could sprout wings and fly. However, such fancy can be worrisome when it leads us to avoid what must be done, whether we think we have the power to bring it to a happy end or not. We might, that is, refrain from speaking words that must be said because we do not have perfect command of a language not our own. We might fail to give comfort to a friend in need because we know her troubles exceed our capacity to soothe and heal. We might fail to speak out for the poor and the voiceless because we know what little influence our voice has with those in power. That is, we might spend our time musing about what we could do, if only we had superhuman talents, and avoid attending to the real, pressing human need right here before us.
The psalmist knows this all too well. Confronted by his friend's betrayal and fearing for his life, the psalmist muses what it would be like to have the power to escape far away from the clutches of his enemy, to have wings like a dove to fly away and be at rest, there, in a safe place of his own making, to wait for him who saves. All the same, the psalmist knows that this fantasy is not the truth, and is in the end unhelpful. He sees that wanting to escape his troubles by his own power, superhuman or not, is merely a delay is his placing trust in God.
We, too, know our weaknesses, and we know our limits. As satisfying as it seems to imagine that we had no limits at all, we realize that doing so puts off discovering the wonderful, saving power to be manifest not in spite of, but precisely through our weaknesses. As we prepare to enter the season of Lent, we can see already the many ways we not only might, but almost certainly will fail to meet or unrealistically imagined expectations of a perfect forty days of holiness. Even so, this is not a counsel to despair. Rather, it is a call to the joy of humility, the joy of being exalted by the Lord who saves, the joy of heeding the words of the psalmist: Throw your cares on the Lord, and he will support you.