John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Against introspection

Memorial Episcopal Church publishes a series of Lenten meditations by members of the parish. I was invited to contribute this year but, distracted and preoccupied by other matters, missed the deadline. Now, to stop ruminations from rolling around in my head, I offer them to you.

In Lent we are invited, encouraged, and exhorted to engage in self-examination, which is a healthy enough thing to do, but which can easily lead us astray.

In introspection we may wind up dwelling on the pains of the past: the injuries we have done to others, the wounds we have suffered that still ache, the actions we have failed to take, and the defects of our character that stubbornly persist throughout our lifetimes. Introspection can mire us, and the more we reflect on our failures, our hurts, and our limitations, the less we may be able to extricate ourselves, the more we may feel powerless.

I'd like to suggest that after a little self-examination, it might be better to consider actions.

For many people, the main action in Lent is to give something up: red meat, liquor, desserts, caffeine, cigars, whatnot. How about, instead, giving up something from the past that is beyond remedy? Those love letters from a failed romance? Recycle them into pulp. The same with that letter of rejection for a job you sought. Mark something over and done with in your mind, and rid yourself of the physical manifestation.

Another action is to make something right. Make an apology to that person you injured. You may not be forgiven. Or give up on the resentment of someone who injured you.

Cast your mind on what you might yet do instead of what you have done or failed to do. As Paul Writes to the Philippians, "forgetting what is behind me, and reaching out for that which lies ahead, I press towards the goal."

Some of this might be good for us corporately as well. As much as we honor our history and our identity as a denomination, a diocese, or a parish, it is better to live in the present and press toward the future than to live in the past. Reflecting too much on our past glories that have faded, or focusing on past failures and resentments, will not get us where we wish to go.