Dear human family,
This past Sunday before church, a child in the pew behind me asked his mother why there was purple cloth over the cross. She said,
“Um, well that probably has something to do with the fact that it’s Lent.”
His mother and I both struggled with the proper words to explain Lent. Neither of us used Jesus language. We didn’t say that Lent is a somber period of time prior to Jesus being murdered and then resurrected three days later. We didn’t talk about Satan testing Jesus in the desert for 40 days. Instead, we explained that we cover crosses as a reminder to be introspective and thoughtful during the time before Easter. I offered that it’s a time to think about how we can make ourselves better people and the world a better place. Afterwards I thought about how, instead of filling this child’s head with jargon that he may remember but not understand, we sought to explain Lent in terms that anyone can understand – Christian or not, kid or adult, politician or constituent. This child can grow up and be or become who or whatever he feels called to be, whether that happens to be Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan, Agnostic, or Atheist. The list goes on.
I realize Christians, especially Episcopalians, do things that sometimes appear silly, even to ourselves. We drape crosses in purple fabric. Swing incense. Smear ashes on our foreheads. Drink wine or grape juice and call it Jesus’ blood. Yet, these symbolic or theological rites that have been in practice for millennia have powerful meanings that carry great significance in our spiritual journeys. Yet, I argue, it isn’t our rites that make us Christian, but our hearts. And we all have hearts no matter our religious identities.
I think I speak for most of us that we all yearn to be better people. I think it’s safe to say that most of us are hungry for change within ourselves so we are happier, so we can then share our happiness to change the world – however we approach it. I think it’s safe to say most of us seek to love and be loved more. It just feels good.
And I think it’s safe to say that in a fast-paced world full of material possessions and polarizing politics and death and disease and plenty of other scary things, we all seek some sort of peace and common ground, in the midst of all the STUFF, on which to build and embrace our core being. We could all do a better job of loving ourselves, our families, friends, neighbors, and those who are alone or struggling.
Which brings me to the topic at hand: love. If our reaching out to each other across religious lines does not come from a place of love, but rather a place of fear that the church or our various religious or nonreligious institutions may die, we are selling ourselves short. So first off, I love you. Please don’t go.
No matter whether we humans cover crosses in purple cloth, meditate, burn offerings, practice astrology, light candles, fast, dance, or chant, among so many other practices; there come seasons in our lives during which we seek a deeper understanding of what it means to be human in this fragile universe. What is the meaning of life?
It just so happens that Episcopalians, and many other Christians, set aside a structured time each year to explore just that – to find out what on earth we’re doing with the bodies we temporarily inhabit as well as what it means to be part of the human family. We have an internally-focused period of 40 days to work on making ourselves more whole and more capable of doing good in the world by living the Gospel – or being more like Jesus – which really boils down to loving all of humanity, animals, and the planet more deeply. We use this time to refocus our attention on how our inner devil may be testing us so the rest of the year we can rejoice and put into practice what we have learned.
I don’t think you need to read the Bible to understand what it means to love and to yearn for a heart full of it. Love is pretty easy to define and difficult to manipulate in the purest form – have you Googled the definition? Maybe I’m being naive or narrow in my thoughts, but all the people in my life seem to be seeking pretty much the same broad thing in life: to be good people, and to love – and there are so many synonyms for love, aren’t there?
I think we all practice a form of Lent, just in different settings, with different voices, vocabulary, and worldviews. I, and many like me, believe we are all part of the human family. We can love each other into even greater wholeness by supporting and embracing our differences. Because that is what makes us who we are. That is what makes us beautiful.