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NB: I did not write this post. My friend Joan Frisz did. But it is so luminous, so lovely and so very timely that I was impelled to give up my weekly post in hopes that you will read this instead. It is a wonderful Lenten reflection, and I am proud to pass it on to you.
Well, it’s Lent again!
What began as a reflection for Ash Wednesday has morphed into this, so you’re going to get an amalgamation of things for this first Sunday of Lent.
Let’s start with the basics: I don’t like Lent. Never have. Being a competitor, I just haven’t felt I was very good at it. It’s not the giving up or giving more that seems to be the challenge. I can surely must up the self-discipline for that, at least for 40 days – and all the Sundays that don’t even count. I think the challenge for he has always been the expectation (have I mentioned that I’m competitive?). Perhaps it’s that I don’t like change. That is what this is all about, isn’t it? Changing our ways to make room for change in our hearts?
As I begin this reflection, I draw on the Litany of Non-Violence from the Sisters of Providence (I will draw on this throughout the reflection):
Provident God, aware of our own brokenness, we ask the gift of courage to identify how and where we are in need of conversion in order to live in solidarity with Earth and all creation.
Today we have the opportunity to say yes to the journey of Lent. These 40 days recall Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness and Jesus’ 40 days in the desert that prepared him for his public ministry. It prepares us to celebrate the mystery of the Cross, where the end of mortal life becomes the beginning of eternal life. It is a time to encounter God, to encounter Christ in others, and to respond with justice and compassion. it is a call to conversion, both personal and societal.
Deliver us from the violence of superiority and disdain. Grant us the desire, and the humility,
to listen with special care to those whose experiences and attitudes are different from our own.
Archbishop Oscar Romero has been in the news recently as he has been named a martyr for the faith, paving the way to his beatification. I would guess that that wouldn’t be as important to him as justice for the poor. the story of his conversion is well- known. A conservative priest and bishop, he was suspicious of the reforms of Vatican II and troubled by Liberation Theology emerging in the Latin American Catholic Church. He believed in the basic goodness of those who were in power in el Salvador and did not see the need for an end to the social, political, and economic status quo. However, he was deeply moved by the suffering of the poor, those whose experiences were different from his own, the killing of priests and others at the hands of the death squads, and he became an outspoken critic of those in power, calling for an end to the repression. Even as he was being converted, he called for the conversion of the powerful who had turned against him. For his efforts he was assassinated as he celebrated the Eucharist.
Deliver us from the violence of greed and privilege. Grant us the desire, and the will, to live simply so others may have their just share of Earth’ s resources.
One of the three pillars of Lent, almsgiving, gives us a deepened awareness of how blessed we are. We let go of some of our abundance so that others might prosper, too. The challenge is to examine our want for money, power, comfort, and privilege. By my race and nationality, I was born with a certain amount of privilege. By my gender I may have lost some of it, but overall, it has probably been regained with education and opportunity, job stability, family and community support. I know this is not true for all white, American women. Women the world over, including in our own backyard, suffer from religious and cultural norms that exclude them, or reduce them to less than fully human. As racial tensions ebb and flow in our own country, we realize that these are not isolated incidents with certain individuals, but they point to larger systemic ills in our communities and in society as a whole. Upon the death of a homeless man in our community just this week, the Assistant to the Mayor, lamenting the lack of funding that could have provided adequate housing to him, wrote to the St. John Center staff, “We seem to be a country comfortable with paying for punishment but not so willing to fund cures for societal ills.” As a covenant people, our baptismal call is to bear witness to the truth revealed through Christ, to be love and peace in our troubled world.
consent to abuse, war and evil.
Grant us the desire, and the courage, to risk speaking and acting for the common good.
I was struck by the language of the opening prayer prescribed for Ash Wednesday. It reads, in part, “Grant…that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint….” “Battle.” “Armed.” “Weapons.” Really? As one who believes that words do matter, I’m not sure this is the best way to engender a spirit of peace, especially in our troubled times. Someone has said, “Truth is what you get when truth is what you speak.” (Melissa Etheridge) The same could be said about love and peace. Peace is what you get when peace is what you speak.
Every day we are bombarded with stories and images of war and violence. Guns, bombs, drones, swords, and torture. All these – instruments of war – used to exert power and control. We pray for an end to violence. It begins with the setting down of these instruments so that our hands are empty to take up instruments of peace. While empty hands can cause much harm, they can also embrace, created, nurture, heal, liberate, share, and empower. Lent invites us to give up so that we have the capacity to embrace something new.
Deliver us from the violence of irreverence, exploitation and control.
Grant us the desire, and the strength, to act responsibly within the cycle of creation.
And here, we are invited to consider the third pillar of Lent, fasting. Fasting challenges us to give up in other ways, realizing that we take in more than enough to sustain us. This can be, but is not necessarily limited to food. There are many things from which we can fast – irreverence, exploitation, and control, for example. Sr. Sue Scharfenberger gave us some options several years ago that bear repeating: We can choose to fast from having the last word, or fast from holding on to a past hurt or memory. We can fast from always being right so that we can hear and hold sacred the truth of another.
Fasting – how, when, where, and from what – involves choices. When we face temptation, as Jesus did in today’s Gospel, we also face choices. While we cannot avoid them altogether, we can choose to walk away from them. In that choice, we decide who we want to be and how we want to live. Jesus embraced fully the human reality of struggling to be faithful. He faced temptations and he made a choice – to go to Galilee and proclaim the gospel of God. “No doubt about it,” Joan Chittister writes, “Fasting surely has something to do with peacemaking. It puts us in touch with the Creator. It puts us in touch with ourselves. It puts us in touch with the prophet Jesus who, fasting in the desert, gave up power, wealth, comfort, and self-centeredness, and teaches us to do the same. It puts us in touch with the rest of the creation whose needs now cry out in our own.”
The Litany of Nov-Violence concludes:
God of love, mercy and justice, acknowledging our complicity in those attitudes, actions and words which perpetuate violence, we beg the grace of a non-violent heart.
The journey of Lent, indeed “our discipleship journey, is a constant call to move back onto the path that Jesus marked for us – a path that calls us to be instruments of God’s peace,” (Dave Robinson)
to sow love where there is hatred pardon where there is injury
faith where there is doubt
hope where there is despair
light where there is darkness
joy where there is sadness. (Prayer of St. Francis)
The pastor of the Arab Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Aleppo, Syria, states that “being a pastor in this crisis is not as much about preaching as it is being with the people in their difficult time…. we are called to live in hope. We trust God and we do our job – praying, taking care of each other, reading the bible and being an instrument of love and peace in this community. This is what we do, and this is the hope we live in.” (Rev. Ibrahim Nsier)
Yep, Lent is here again! Amidst the challenges and expectations, let us walk this journey together, seeking peace within our own hearts that we might bring peace to our homes, to our city, to our country, and to our world. Amen!
— Joan C. Frisz
Recently I’ve seen a number of posts and write-ups about moving your focus from “stuff” to God during Lent. One of them challenges the reader to get rid of one full trash bag each day in Lent for forty bags in all.
Forty bags of stuff seems overwhelming, and I guess that’s the point. If I’m overloaded by stuff, than I’m not focusing on God which makes sense.
That said, I haven’t accepted the challenge. I’m goal oriented in the extreme. Give me that particular goal and I will be bound and determined to get rid of a bag of stuff a day. Personally, I don’t know that I could do that and focus on God at the same time.
Yes, I would be decluttering but my focus wouldn’t be on God. It would be on the clutter. The end result might be good, but God would still not be my focus as I worked to fill bag after bag. And only the days I couldn’t manage it? Those days would be both frustrating and demoralizing. I know myself well enough to know that.
That said, I’m going back to a challenge that I set up for myself at the beginning of the year. It fell by the wayside for a week or so as I worked on two deadlines. I’m getting rid of at least one thing every day.
Some things go in the recycling. We’re heaving duty recyclers around here. We have rolling cans for both recycling and trash and we fill our recycling to capacity much more than we fill our entire trash can. We’ve always encouraged our son to recycle. It’s one way that we take care of the Earth over which God granted us stewardship.
Some things to in the “giveaway” pile. Our church has two rummage sales and a book sale every year. Every item that they sell earns a bit toward our annual operating expenses. Money that doesn’t pay the bills goes into mission. We are big on supporting our local food pantry and Heifer. Feed the poor.
You can declutter and focus on God. Just make sure to set goals that keep your focus on Him instead of the stuff all around you.
I did a very human thing today: I overslept. That is, I allowed myself to oversleep. As a freelance writer and editor, my days are very much mine. Still, I like to keep to a schedule, knowing that each day there are things to be done. This morning, however, I didn’t much care. Sleep felt good.
It got me thinking about what silly, frail things we humans are and why God made us this way. That thought, along with yesterday’s (Ash Wednesday) reminder that “Thou art dust, and into dust thou shall return,” brought the following poem into being.
Mostly hairless we emerge,
without camouflage, no defense for weather,
readily succumbing to the vagaries of air,
mold, wee beasties. The odds are stacked against us.
Frequently too moist or too parched, we wend our way
on just two legs — imagine! We give in to fatigue,
illness, our own primal fears.
We need love or we will turn out badly.
What divine fingers forged such clumsy forms!
And yet we take to the skies,
solve the seemingly insoluble.
And for what? A prize? Prizes too are made of dust.
Whatever is eternal has left its mark on us.
Yes, we are clay, both ash and angel,
the ultimate cosmic conundrum.
All the possibilities dust ever faced —
to wreak and wreck and be swept away
or to transform:
We carry them in our pockets,
along with our insecurities, our moments of transcendence.
Will we face our Maker with dirty hands
or new wheat? It is madness to let dust decide.
And yet it does.
Many people giving something up for Lent. Friends have given up coffee, chocolate, carbs, or television. One year my family gave up soda. That was several years ago and I still almost never drink it. This wasn’t part of my plan, but apparently God had other ideas.
This year, instead of giving something up, I’m going to try to develop a new prayer habit. I’m going to pray for my enemies.
I’m not James Bond, so I don’t have real enemies. No one is out there planning my demise even as I type this.
But we all have trouble-makers in our lives. You know what I mean – those people who, when we see them, cause our shoulders to tense up and our eyes to narrow. We know trouble is coming. For my family, this list includes someone whose teasing has a knife-sharp edge as well as someone who cheats and lies.
Instead of telling God how to fix these people, and I have some very firm ideas on the subject, I’m going to ask him for understanding and healing. Help me to understand what makes them so unhappy, angry or scared that they take it out on other people. I am going to ask him to bring them blessings and healing abundantly so that their hollow places are filled.
I’m not sure why this is what I need to do. Yes, it is a good idea but I don’t think it is my idea. I feel to compelled to do this thing and I know it will be hard to do it right.
So I’m going to force myself to make a list so that each day in Lent I can pray for these people. I’m going to post the list at my computer so that when I see it I will pray. Without the list, without it placed as a reminder, I know I would put it off. Why would I put it off? Because as much as I know that I need to do this, I know it is going to be so very hard.
My former boss once told the story of a job he had as a teenager. He was in charge of loading up machines that automatically washed heads of lettuce, then used centrifugal force to dry them. One day, the lettuce was coming out too soggy. He tried a longer spin. Still mushy. He spun the lettuce longer. Even worse! Eventually, he figured out that all that spinning was breaking down the heads of lettuce and releasing their internal, cellular water, turning them into mush. The lesson in this story? Sometimes overworking a problem doesn’t make it better. It just exacerbates matters. It makes things mushier.
I’m the kind of person whose brain comes electrically alive the minute it hits the pillow. Suddenly, I think of a hundred things that need to be dissected, worried over, analyzed. All at the worst possible time, a time when I ought to be relaxing and letting go. I’m sure I’m not alone in this cycle of illogic. Millions of people suffer from insomnia. I am one of the fortunate ones; my natural sleepiness always overtakes me. It’s not so easy for other folks. What can you do when your brain can’t stop spinning?
I learned this trick from the great and good Thomas Merton, author and monk, and — in my head, anyway — a saint. You start at your feet and think, “I can’t feel my feet…I can’t feel my feet.” Slowly, your feet seem to disappear into weightlessness. That’s when you move on to your ankles, then your shins, etc. By the time you get to your head, you should be nearing sleep, if not already unconscious. It’s simply a way of breaking the spell of overworking problems in your head, of worrying yourself out of the sleep you need. It works wonderfully well for me.
Prayer also works well. Pick something soothing, that you know by heart. The rosary makes a magnificent choice. If your brain is busy following the familiar grooves of a favorite prayer, it can’t get lost in a worry rut. My friend SueBe has lauded the use of prayer beads and finger labyrinths. It’s all the same concept: You replace a bad thought cycle with a better one.
Who knows why some people are natural mush-makers while others drift through life carefree and breezy, falling asleep the second their noggin hits the pillow? I can’t explain it. God made us in our infinite variety, worriers and non-worriers alike. God may not be a worrier (it would be difficult to be both omniscient and anxious, anxiety hinging as it does on fear of the unknown), but Jesus understands how we feel. He knows what it feels like to anticipate, to know not only that bad things are coming but that — even as you worry — you can ultimately do nothing to stop them.
It’s comforting to know you’ve got a friend somewhere who knows what you’re going through. Especially if you’re a lettuce-head like me.
My husband is taking classes so that he can join the Catholic Church….and boy, am I learning new things! For instance, only nuns who live in cloisters can rightly be called “nuns;” all the rest (you know, the ones you actually meet on the street, who teach your children and tend to the sick) are “sisters” or “women religious.” I have never heard this differentiation in my life.
And the practice of holding hands with one’s pew-mates during the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer during Mass? According to my husband’s teacher, this is “not an official part of Mass.” In fact, she doesn’t know why anyone still does it. I could tell her why: Community.
Church services are a celebration of Christian community. Otherwise, why not hold our own private services each week? The body of Christ is comprised of all of us who believe, and we — like it or not — are human beings. And human beings are tactile creatures.
I just happened to glance out my window. A car just pulled into my neighbor’s driveway. A man got out. Upon seeing my neighbor, the two men embraced. That’s what friends do. Why? Because, as Mary Gordon once wrote, “Flesh is lovable.” Or, as Finn, protagonist of the show “Adventure Time” (yes, I watch cartoons!), would say, “Hugging helps.”
When we get together to celebrate Christ’s death and resurrection, touching ought to be involved. Yes, of course, there is the Sign of Peace, a moment to connect with one’s neighbors, but to me, that’s not enough. Holding hands during The Lord’s Prayer shows solidarity of faith — here’s what we believe, and look how we are proud to demonstrate it! I think that’s what Jesus would have wanted from his prayer, both remembrance and affirmation, all in one.
Some people blame the post-Vatican II years for bringing too much sloppy emotion into the Church, too much Counterculture kumbaya-ing, too much hand-holding. But they forget that this was a reaction to centuries of icy cold rigidity: the priest facing away from the people, the Mass said in Latin rather than the language of the people. There was a remove between God’s people and God’s word. Vatican II brought down that wall. One can hardly be blamed for rejoicing.
As times have grown more serious (the ‘60s and ’70 may have been politically tumultuous but they were also rather silly — fluorescent pink hot pants and fringed leather vests, anyone?), a good deal of the touchy-feeliness of the post-Vatican II Mass has been toned down. But I, for one, would hate to see it dissipate entirely.
I belong to a parish community. These people are my friends. We share a faith, a home, a belief system. Why shouldn’t we embrace at every opportunity?
So if you ever happen to be seated next to me at Mass and I extend my hand to you, I hope you’ll take it. It may not be de rigeur, but love never is. Love is a choice.