Happy Lent!

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the penitential season of Lent. As such, it is usually seen as a very solemn day, a day of judgment, a day of accepting ashes as a metaphor for life. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, from dust you come and to dust you shall return. . . .”

ash Wednesday dust filled hands stmarkscatholicchurch com
stmarkscatholicchurch.com

This is very dry, one could start coughing for the dryness in the throat.

But what if we thought of this time as rich and deep, a time for exploring real stuff, soul stuff, heart stuff. What if we gave up something really real for Lent, not just television or chocolate or drinking wine or going to the movies, but something really important? What if doing so created some real happiness in our lives?

Fear is a choice patriciapattypat blogspot com
patriciapattypat.blogspot.com

What if we gave up fear for Lent? Every time I feel fear, I will take it out and look at it and say, “Okay, I have to careful but I don’t have to avoid doing important things, things I want to do, out of fear of how someone else will react or judge me.”

Or gossip? Every time I am tempted to talk about someone else’s foibles or stupidity, I will remember to look in the mirror and see my own. Then, I have a better chance of being whole and humble and pleasant to be around.

stingy-fist  pastorburden com
pastorburden.com

What if we gave up stinginess for Lent? Whenever a homeless or street person asks me for help, I will give them something. I can carry change or dollar bills deliberately, maybe protein bars, too (not a substitute for financial help but a statement about being fed) in preparation for the opportunity to give away some  of what God has given me. Giving creates happiness for the recipient and the giver.

What if we gave up shallow political talk for Lent? This one may be for me. I say I am really tired of “horse race journalism,” the tendency of most our media to report not on substance and issues and positions on important public questions but on who is ahead and who has the most money and who has the momentum or who just committed the latest gaffe. But I can’t seem to stop reading it–it is like gossip in that it becomes addictive. Life would be better if I ignored it entirely–I could really have some fun every day if I gave up shallowness.

I think you get the idea. Go deep for Lent, and seek out a new way of being that can bring contentment and even joy.

And it might be good to remember these words from Isaiah, who knew a thing or two about living a soulful life.

Do you think God
    wants you to give up eating
and to act as humble
    as a bent-over bush?
Or to dress in sackcloth
    and sit in ashes?
Is this really what God wants
    on a day of worship?

I’ll tell you
what it really means
    to worship God.
Remove the chains of prisoners
    who are chained unjustly.
Free those who are abused!
Share your food with everyone
    who is hungry;
share your home
    with the poor and homeless.
Give clothes to those in need;
don’t turn away your relatives.

Then your light will shine
like the dawning sun,
and you
    will quickly be healed.
Your honesty[b] will protect you
    as you advance,
and the glory of God
    will defend you from behind.
When you beg God for help,
    God will answer, “Here I am!”

Isaiah 58:5-9 Contemporary English Version adapted

And if Isaiah’s words seem heavy to you, if you think they are just one more thing to do, one more obligation, remember this: liberating others helps to liberate us, too. And that can feel really good–not to mention that you don’t have to wear ugly clothes and sour expressions.

This is a time for self-change, a time to clear the decks for new life that is coming. Yes, I mean Easter and Pentecost and Passover and Spring and the movement of God in the world.

new life 2But do you not know that new life is always coming? God is always on the move in the world, in you, in me, through you, through me, in and through everyone.

So, have a holy Lent, but don’t let it be hard and ugly and an uphill battle. Go joyously into it, know that God already has gifts for you and that as you give up something that lightens your load you will be able to receive what new gift God has for you.

Drop that thing you are carrying that is not feeding you and open your hands and arms to receive the bounty of God.

And have a Happy Lent!

Because Quiet Time No Longer Exists?

If you had repented and waited patiently, you’d have been saved; if you had been quiet and trusted me, you’d have found strength. — Isaiah 30:15 (The Inclusive Bible)

Because quiet time no longer existsI remembered this verse, in its more traditional form (In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength), as I walked on 7th Avenue in Brooklyn yesterday. The prompt for my memory was this sign (left), an advertisement for Seamless, a food delivery service in New York and Washington, and probably other major markets, too.

BECAUSE QUIET TIME NO LONGER EXISTS . . . could it be true? Do they know something I have missed?

I know it is true in public places. The television blares while I wait for my car to be repaired, and at the airport, alwaysSeamless at bars and even in many restaurants. Even when the sound is turned off, the words of the speakers go skipping across the screen. It is hard not to look.

So often when walking in the park or a woods, someone is playing music. Of course, people (and this includes me more than I want to admit) are always on their cell phones. When not on the phone, many watch television at home for hours. Some people get up in the morning with the radio and it plays all day long.

Egyptian President Mubarak's speach broadcast live on a television set to CNN at Kennedy Airport where terror alerts are back on there highest level. While thousands celebrated in Thalir Square anticipating his speach where rumor had it he was stepping down, the crowd grew angry when he didn't resign. The protests in Cairo fueled by the protests in Tunisia were fuled by social media.

It seems that maybe we are afraid of quiet? Unwilling to allow silence for even a few moments. I am often frustrated in church or other gatherings where the leader invites us to have a moment of silence, and we don’t even get a moment. Before even a real breath, we are told, “Time’s up! On to the next thing.” I think most people are relieved.

Silence, quiet, is challenging of course. We have to sit with ourselves, with our silly thoughts and our scandalous thoughts and what seem like our empty musings.

But how anyone expects to hear the divine, or even wisdom greater than that offered by the media, or how we expect to really hear eachman and woman screaming at each other other in the deepest sense, without turning off, or at least down, the volume (and the constant video pictures), is a mystery to me.

I wonder if our lack of national cohesion is related to all this noise. Clearly, our leaders do not listen to each other. They just talk past the guy or gal on the other side of the aisle.

There is little wisdom because there is so little quiet. How can we learn from nature if we talk over it all the time? How do we learn from our children when we don’t listen to them, when we actually teach them that listening is not worth the bother (go turn on Sesame Street or something, dear…..don’t bother Daddy right now, please).

Isaiah 30-15bI yearn for the strength, the wisdom, that comes from quiet, from waiting for God. I sit for 30 minutes every day, and my great struggle is to be quiet. I don’t speak, of course, but oh my mind always wants to go, flitting from one thing to the next, nursing some obsession, thinking of something I “need” to look up online. But the lack of sound helps, and before the 30 minutes are up, I have achieved some measure of serenity, sanity–not perfect, but better than none at all. I recommend it for everyone.

Now, I am trying to create small patches during my day, a minute or two or even five, where I am quiet again. When I succeed, things are much better. I even discover wisdom and strength.

Imagine that. Old Isaiah was on to something.