Lent came early this year and for good reason. In the last few months we have seen, heard, felt and tasted such pain. We have experienced much. The season of Lent invites all Christians to come to their senses, to know the times and our moment in them. In times past we were told to mortify our senses as they were the gateway to sin and a life separated from God. This Lent, however, I invite you to come to your senses. I invite you to really see and not just look; to truly listen and not just hear; to slowly taste, gently touch and celebrate smell. It is a paradox, for the reason we fast from matters sensual is that we may truly come to our senses and be sensual. This is truly incarnational.
We have just celebrated the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. John Paul II noted on January 19th that this week of prayer is “taking place a few months after the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of the decree of Vatican Council II: Unitatis Redintegratio, a key text that firmly and irrevocably placed the Catholic Church within the ecumenical movement.” During this season of Lent I wonder where we Catholics are in terms of ecumenism. These are times when I agree with a recent moderator of the United Church who said: “Ecumenism is nothing but a mere yawn.” Lois Wilson said this in 1983 at a World Council of Churches meeting in Vancouver. Speaking with her recently she noted that the situation is worse. We know from the Gospel of John that this is a scandal. Lent is a time for all Christians to begin once again to work toward unity that our presence in history and time might be and speak the Word to power. Let us truly listen and not just hear.
Lent is also a time of year to examine the role that idols are playing in our lives. The first commandment: “Thou shall not have strange gods before me” is first for a reason. Our God knows that we become what we worship. The real question has little to do with theism or atheism, belief or unbelief. The real question is who or what are the gods in which we believe and place our trust. I believe that we stand on the edge of the most profound spiritual revolution in human history. We will never be able to encounter this reality until we allow the traditional God concept of our childlike humanity to die. The concept of God that many of us were taught is not true to our human experience. Because the concept is found wanting many deny the existence of God.
A British professor of New Testament Studies in 1981 announced: “God no longer has any work to do.” He goes on to argue that if God is a Being, supernatural in power, living somewhere external to this world, who invades this world periodically to answer prayers, to accomplish the divine will, or to protect from peril or enemies, then God has become inoperative. A natural catastrophe like Tsunami brings these questions dramatically and urgently into view. Let us come to our senses.
In 1755 in Lisbon after the Great Flood that killed thousands, religious people killed hundreds of perceived sinners and heretics who were believed to be the cause of God’s wrath and the flood. This was the way Europe understood the Bubonic Plague in the 14th century and the sinking of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Thank God, except for a few insignificant exceptions, this was not the case with the recent Tsunami.
Lent invites us to re-conceptualize God. Instead of seeing God as our judge eliciting our guilt, we begin to see God as the source of our empowerment. Instead of only seeing Jesus as a divine visitor who came to rescue sinful humanity, we see Jesus as the fully human one inviting us into his divinity. Instead of seeing the Holy Spirit as the source of our piety, we see Spirit as the source of expanding life. Instead of blaming God as the cause of disasters, we accept our responsibility for building a world where every person has a better chance to live, to love and to be all that each of us is capable of being. Let us come to our senses.
Like many Canadians I watched parts of a T.V. special on CBC presenting our artists and musicians raising money for the victims in South Asia of the recent Tsunami. The event was titled: “Waiting for a Miracle.” Dear readers we are the miracle we are waiting for.
On January 27th we remembered the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Army in 1945. Had the world remembered and had humans “come to their senses” maybe there would not have been a Darfur, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Congo, the deaths in Central America in the 1980’s to name only but a few tragedies of our recent history. Friends documented the number of those who died of AIDS in Africa in the same two weeks following the terrible Tsunami in South Asia. The numbers were almost identical. Why the unbelievable generosity for the Tsunami victims and the difficulty in even raising awareness concerning AIDS in Africa? Let us really see and not just look
St. Paul reminds us that “we are ambassadors for Christ.” Lent is a time to truly ask ourselves what this challenge really means. The prophet Joel reminds us: “Return to the Lord, your God, for God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” What does it mean to return?
Lent reminds us that we are, on the one hand merely dust from the earth, yet on the other hand, a little less than the angels. Lent is a time, with scriptures in hand, to go to that place where we allow ourselves to be transformed, to recover the pledge of our baptism and the fire of our confirmation so that we may relearn the art of “breaking the bread and the drinking of the cup.”
Lent is time to go into our personal wilderness and not to run from desert places where in fasting and prayer we may truly come to our senses and know that we are truly called to be God’s people in our time.
Paul E. Hansen