Wednesday, March 5, 2014

crazy catholic practices

Why is today important?

It's not the day; it's just a Wednesday.

Nor is it religion, a religious group, or a religious calendar that gives it significance.

Tradition itself can be a powerful force for good - or for evil.

So what makes today different than any other day?

In some ways, it is like asking about the value of an anniversary.  Anniversaries mark a time to remember.  They may be a reminder of joyful moments that prompt us to celebrate - like birthdays or weddings - or they may be a reminder of not-so-joyful moments, moments of death and loss, prompting times of grief.  The truth is, we remember both, and we often take the time to remember both the joy and the sorrow of special anniversaries.  It's like we know inherently somewhere deep in our DNA that remembering has something fundamental to do with being human.

The purpose behind tradition and 'religion' or any kind of spiritual discipline has really always been remembering - not a living-in-the-past kind of remembering, a longing for 'the good ole days' or a denouncement of the current culture, and not a rigid kind of remembering, either, like a following of a set of rules and recitations.  No, originally the practice of remembering was deeply meaningful and deeply personal.  It was the stacking of stones on a grave or near a wilderness passage.  It was the telling of a story.

It was like living death.  Our homes were hovels.  We were beaten and worked until we collapsed, then we were abandoned and left for the vultures and dogs.  They killed our children.  We were not even allowed to bury our dead.
We were slaves.  We knew no other way of life.  Truthfully, I don't think that we even prayed for freedom anymore; I think we had forgotten what the word meant - if we ever really knew in the first place.  
But there was a cry in our hearts, in our very bones.  It was an ache beyond words.  And God heard that cry.  He was not content to leave us there.  (Retelling Exodus 1:9-22, 2:23-25)

That is what is significant about Ash Wednesday - and the Lenten season.  It is an anniversary of sorts.  It is about remembering.   

          remembering who we are 

         
                                       remembering who we've been
                  
remembering what God has done
                                                               
                     remembering the covenant we've made 
           to be the people of God

Lent is an opportunity to seek, to search out the mystery that is sharing in God's own story. It is not about the things we 'give up' but the things we choose to remember in the sacred space that we create when we say no to something.  In fact, the very process of turning away from something and turning toward God is the very working out of our salvation!  If we never learn to do this, I'm afraid we are as good as dead in our sin - we might as well use grace to sin all the more - because ultimately we claim a form of godliness but deny its power.

Because the power is in remembering.

The Old Testament is filled with the tales of Israel's woes, woes that always began when they "forgot."

"You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth" (Deut 32:18).

"The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord.  They forgot the Lord their God and served the Baals and Asherahs" (Judges 3:7).

"But they forgot the Lord their God, so he sold them into the hand of Sisera" (1 Sam 12:9).

"They did not keep God's covenant and refused to live by his law.  They forgot what he had done, the wonders that he had shown them" (Ps 78:10-11).

"But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold; in the desert they gave in to their craving, in the wilderness they put God to the test.  So he gave them what they asked for..." (Ps 106:13-15a)

They stopped telling their own story. They stopped telling the story of God in them - and they forgot.

Ash Wednesday is our anniversary as a people, our opportunity to remember.  And so I challenge you this Lenten season, over the next 40 days, if you give something up or if you don't, in the sacred space wherever you may find it, may you take time to remember:

Who am I?

Who have I been?

What has God done?

What is my covenant?

I will be posting here on each of these questions during the season.  I will also be posting reflections on scripture and my own Exodus experience as I remember who I am and what God has done for me.  Feel free to follow or subscribe if you find yourself looking for reasons to remember, if you're looking for meaning in what seems like a crazy catholic practice, or if you'd just like encouragement as you live out your own Exodus story.

May we find the power and transformation of resurrection life as we find our own story in the story of Christ, as we tell God's story in the telling of our own.

Amen.

1 comment:

Thank you for your thoughts!