As I move further and further into my “twilight” years I’ve come to think of myself as having been born too early. Reading some of the code on this very website prompted this insight. Yes it is convoluted but it has an oddly “English” ring to it, and consists of basic logic. Now, had I been born in the late 70’s or 80’s I would have been so into this stuff. I think I could’ve been a whiz. But I wasn’t born in the late 70’s or 80’s. I am a baby boomer, so…no soup for you. What this has to do with Ash Wednesday? I’m not sure…just rambling about how I could have lived in Atherton by now and and and and… (Welcome to my brain!) Time marches on!
Speaking of ramblings…today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the six weeks of Lent. When I was young it was all about “giving up” something. For me it was usually chocolate. That was a biggie. I made sure to tell everyone what I was doing so they would be impressed at my great sacrifice. However, in the middle of Lent someplace is March 17th St. Patrick’s day. In my young mind St. Patrick’s day was a time-out day for all the fasting stuff. I rationalized that it was on this day I could pig out and have candy. In reality I probably broke my fast and the whole “giving up something.” It really showed just how much I bargained with God about penance. I could just say, “well I gave chocolate up for 39 days, that’s pretty good, huh?”
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
…wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden. (Matt 6:1-6; 16-18)
That’s the challenge. Matthew lays it out specifically. I can pray, if I want. I can give alms, if I want and I can fast, if I want. The deal is that it is not a show of holiness to the world but rather quietly personal. I guess the attitude could be compared to the stark difference between Trump’s victory speech and John Kasich’s second place speech last night from New Hampshire. Trump’s speech was full of “me” this and “me” that, while Kasich’s was more reflective and transformative and quite frankly, challenging. I am no republican by any stretch of the imagination but I was drawn more toward the Ohio governor’s inclusive call than the empty bombast of the New York real estate person.
Maybe this Lent thing is not about “giving up” but rather “doing”…something. Maybe it’s getting involved in this election cycle, or volunteering for some organization on a regular basis, or giving money to a homeless guy without asking what he’s going to do with it or even making an effort to be “more kind” to individuals. So instead of Lent being a one-off type thing, the spirit of Lent could develop into a habit of living a fully human life. Pope Francis talks about focusing on “mercy” this Lent, working to eradicate the us/them and focusing on diminishing indifference. Flint, refugees, inequality, violence and hatred are all good places to start saying, “Hey, this is important to get my time and attention” quietly and effectively without bravado or showmanship.
They are challenges to be sure and require an investment of something I will never get back, time. Even though I was born too early to have a pool house in Atherton, I guess it’s never too late to become more fully human.
..and so it goes…