In Praise of Imperfection

Posted on: March 8, 2019, by :

It’s strange how often coincidences seem to be more than accidental!

Over the past week I have been struggling to come to grips with the guilty verdict for Cardinal George Pell. I recognise a bizarre mix of emotions in myself: part of me simply doesn’t want to believe that he is guilty; part of me reels in horror that he could perpetrate such abuse; part of me feels deep compassion for his victims and their families; part of me wonders what forces must have been at play to evoke such aberrant behaviour on his part; and part of me would rather remain blissfully unaware of the whole sordid mess.

Then in the midst of my prevarication, ‘coincidentally’, I read the lectionary passage set down for this first Sunday in Lent, the story of the temptation of Jesus (Luke 4:1-13). I read a story of Jesus saying ‘No!’ to the very things I find so irresistible: Jesus says ‘No’ to the temptation of independence (‘feed yourself’); he says ‘No’ to the lure of popularity (‘make a spectacle of yourself’); and he says ‘No’ to the premise of power (‘take control of the kingdoms of the earth’). Where Jesus has the strength to say ‘No’, I am so ready to say ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ I know I am not alone, for it is a fatal flaw in our human condition: a desire to have it all, to live on our terms rather than God’s terms. And in acknowledging that, I gain insight into my prevarication: the line between me and Cardinal Pell is really quite thin. I can hear those voices from the past … ‘there but for the grace of God go I’ … and I wonder at my own capacity to hurt others and to feel anger and to satisfy my own needs at the expense of those around me. Is there any hope for me? For Pell? For Pell’s victims? For any of us?

The Navajo nation of North America is famous for its woven rugs. They look almost perfect. But in every Navajo rug there is always one deliberate, clear imperfection woven into the pattern. And the Navajo artists believe that this flaw is precisely the spot where the Spirit moves in and out of the rug!

We can learn from the Navajo nation. Only God is perfect, and we can neither make anything perfect nor be perfect. We would do well to stop our frenetic striving for perfection and learn to live with our flaws, accept our imperfections. After all, God does! This, you see, is the miracle of grace – not that we become perfect and are therefore loved by God, but that we are loved by God with our imperfections! Indeed, we need God precisely because of those imperfections, and those flaws are precisely where the Spirit of God enters our soul! Divine perfection is not the elimination of imperfection. Divine perfection is the ability to recognise, forgive, and accept imperfection—just as God does with me and with you!

This is not a rationale to excuse the abusive behaviour of George Pell. But it is an invitation to recognise that his flaws bear at least some resemblance to our own, an invitation to use this Lenten journey to give thanks for the abundant mercy and grace in which the Creator Spirit bathes us, and an invitation to live with overwhelming compassion toward all people – the deserving and the undeserving, the righteous and the unrighteous – for this is what we receive from God.

David Brooker.

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