Ash Wednesday | By the Rev. Larry Carden
Joel 2:1-2,12-17 | Psalm 103 | 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 | Matthew 6:1-6,16-21
When you pray, go into your room, shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
There's something disturbing about being watched, especially about the possibility that we're being watched secretly - that we're being spied upon. We resist surveillance in the strongest way. (Think of the recent spy balloon incident). On a more personal level, a lot of us are bothered by the constant technological surveillance that, through our computers and phones, tracks our interest, website choices, and purchases. So if we think of this God who is and sees in secret in terms of surveillance, we're probably going to become theologically paranoid - traumatized by a God who perceives, notes, and remembers every thought, inclination, and desire.
But then, there's another kind of seeing in secret, isn't there? Something very different from the violation of personal space that comes with surveillance. What I'm thinking of here is the seeing in secret that comes with intimate personal relationships. Someone whom we're very close to, someone who loves, can look at us and into us in ways that we can't see by ourselves. The gaze of love sees in secret, sees our secret self. So we may say sometimes "She or he knows me better than I know myself." The gaze of love penetrates beyond the disguises, the posturing, the confident face that we present day by day. The gaze of love sees to the heart of both our brokenness and our essential wholeness.
If, as we say, the essence of God is love, then the God who is and sees in secret sees us in love - sees each of us from the very source and foundation of love, which is also the source of all that we are. This gaze in love sees beyond our fears, doubts, blind spots, and tendencies toward despair. The God who sees in secret "looks for truth deep within us and makes us understand wisdom secretly" as Psalm 51 puts it. The NRSV translates that verse from Psalm 51 a little differently. Instead of "Make me understand wisdom secretly," we have "Teach me wisdom in my secret heart." This imagery of a "secret heart" brings something new into our reflection on secrecy. Not only is God in secret, but so is the self - each one of us at the heart of our being. And it's this hidden inner core within us that, even beyond conscious intention, yearns to be taught and guided by God's secret presence and wisdom. Between us and God, it's a matter of one secrecy calling out to another .
It seems to me that this prayer for wisdom in the "secret heart" could be a helpful guide into this Lenten season, for this is the season for going back to the basics, for determining what really matters, for getting to the heart of ourselves - even to the "secret heart" within each of us, the secret place gazed upon in love by the God who dwells always with us and in us in secret.
 Psalm 42:9 "One deep calls out to another"