Today, for the first time since Tim Crummitt detailed my car last fall, I cleaned the car.
It was a humbling experience.
I felt a lot like going to the dentist and realizing the lost time I flossed, he actually flossed me, only the accuser was a Hyundai, and I was able to see the accumulation of my own filth. Despite the 90 degree heat and entire lack of wind associated with Columbia, there was something cathartic about vacuuming the carpets and wiping down the dash. Much like flossing, there are tons of hard to reach crevasses in cars, and strange things end up stuck there.
Unlike flossing, you see the accumulated grime, first in the vehicle, and then in the sweeper's canister. You are forced to face the real effects of ignoring the buildup of gunk in your life. Yet, the dentist and Tim are much better at cleaning my teeth and my car than I am. So why should I worry about this stuff in the first place?
That unmediated address of my dirtiness made me do two important things. The first was to clean it up, however imperfectly. The second, and the much more important, was to forgive myself.
Cleaning my car was cathartic in large part because it was an unexpected allegory for sin.
Somewhere deep under the front passenger's seat I realized how easy it was to avoid the filth I live in every day, so long as I don't look too hard. Just like sin, gunk was pervasive. But only when I do the hard work of getting rid of the dirt, of both cleaning up and changing habits that led to such filth, do I come to realize the prevalence of the junk. With sin, the hardest part is not just realizing the dire straights in which we mire ourselves, but actually doing something about it, both in terms of transformation and in terms of forgiveness. But only when we ourselves face the mess and the path forward can we forgive ourselves.
Yet, just like the car, sin is never handled only personally. Car detailers like Tim know what they're doing much better than I do, and so I need someone to truly take care of the fullness of my filth. So too sisters and brothers in Christ know the business of forgiveness, and Jesus chief amongst them. Of course, I need to forgive myself, and to work toward change. However, fullness of forgiveness is only found in the absolving words of Christ in the liturgy: "You are forgiven." These words, on the lips of a friend, become like an incredible cleanser that gets into all the nooks and crannies of our soul, pulling out the garbage and restoring the divine shine to the imago dei.
I encourage you, then, to get involved in your cleansing and forgiveness. Jesus is the one who offers us all that opportunity, and the one who offers the fullness of forgiveness and promise of transformation, but in his image we too must floss our own teeth, clean our own cars, and yes, learn to forgive others and ourselves in the way that Christ forgives us.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.