LENT: A MANY-SPLENDORED SEASON

Lent 2016 - Pienza, ItalyFor some seekers of the sacred and for many Christians, the season of Lent — the span of time between the arrival of Ash Wednesday and the ensuing 40 days leading up to Easter Sunday (minus, of course, the Sundays during the season, which are regarded as “little Easters”) — is a time of holy disruption, of orientation, disorientation and re‑orientation.

Since Christmas, folks who follow the Christian calendar have been moving through time in a fairly smooth manner. Then comes an instant when they are a bit befuddled and bedazzled, caught in a surreal disturbance of the normal. This happens for a veteran long-timer as well as for the novice, for elders as well as for the young, for adults as well as for children.

Some have described their experiences of Lent as like being unwitting characters in a snow‑globe that’s suddenly shaken up.

For other folks it’s like that moment in a movie theater, when, after settling into your seat with popcorn and soda, after the endless previews, it’s time for the main event. All of a sudden, for the life of you, you can’t recall the title of the movie you’re about to see. In that instant of existential vertigo, you’re virtually adrift. But then you do recall, and you shift your attention into gear, and the space and time of your world begin to make sense.

For other seekers and sojourners Lent is a continuing pageant of great power. Lessons learned in Sunday School about humility and hope are held in symbolic relief as one comes forward during an Ash Wednesday service to receive the imposition of ashes. A Palm Sunday parade inspires participants and onlookers alike. A dramatic reenactment of the Lord’s Supper proffers a wondrous mix of divinity and humanity as Jesus presides over the last meal he would share with his first followers. A recitation of Jesus’ “Seven Last Words from the Cross” creates a solemnity rarely known.

Majesty. Heightened humility. Dramatic portrayals. Theater of the ultimately real. An on‑going pageant of great power.

Whether disruption or pageantry, Lent helps Christians to shape and transform their faith. May the shapings and the transformations lead each and all to a closer walk with God, greater love toward all neighbors, and personal fulfillment unlike any known before.

© 2016, Robert Lee Hill

[From LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE (Woodneath Press, 2015)]

SOME NEW (IRONIC) TAKES ON “MERCY”

Mercy-grace street sign - 2016(Given the thematic emphasis by Pope Francis and our Catholic brothers and sisters on the “Jubilee Year of Mercy,” I thought a musing about mercy might be in order.)

“What is mercy?” The meanings of mercy have been plentiful and varied for a long time. Just recently, I began wondering, in an ironic way, what some new takes on “mercy” might be, and came up with the following:

I am thankful for the “forgetfulness” of God, who has chosen to obliterate my mistakes, misgivings, and misdeeds, and who cannot recall ‑ or so God says, in the Biblical witness and in countless ministrations! ‑ all of those actions in relation to which I have been carrying burdensome guilt. “Put it down,” God says, “and forget it already. I have.”

I am thankful for the “loathing” of the communities of faith of which I have been a part, who have borne with complete faithfulness an unfailing loathing of all things that would hurt or hinder children and make them cry.

I am thankful for the “neglect” of my parents, who so consistently neglected to respond to those times ‑ too numerous to count!! ‑ when I did not live up to their dreams and hopes for me, but instead kept on dreaming and hoping on my behalf any way.

I am thankful for the “rudeness” of my sister, who rudely awakened me to the fact that she needed a listening ear and comforting shoulder to cry on and thus gave me an occasion to care for her.

I am thankful for the “amnesia” of my family, who have consistently failed to remember how self‑absorbed and obnoxiously confused one can be when one is 15.

I am thankful for the “disregard” of my friends, who have disregarded and ignored those times when I have been less than my best self.

So, what is mercy? An un‑doing. An alpha‑privative reversal of the deathly denials of our experiences of need. These are the surface scratchings on the immense stone of hopeful mercy that God bids us to stand upon, to rest upon, to stay alive upon, and thereby to be forgiven and free.

Let us always be grateful for the unending mercies that are ours to cherish and share with one another.

© 2016, Robert Lee Hill

[From LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE (Woodneath Press, 2015)]

LOVE ON VALENTINE’S DAY

LOVE -Square - ChicagoWhile not a church holy day in very many circles, Valentine’s Day does have church roots. The myths about St. Valentine are many and varied.

Among the most popular recollections is one about a valiant Christian named Valentinus, who was jailed because of his steadfast refusal to venerate any of the Roman idols during the reign of emperor Claudius II Gothicus. The jailer’s daughter, Julia, so the story goes, came and visited Valentinus, and he tutored her in mathematics and faith in God. Blind since birth, Julia received a note from Valentinus at the time of his execution, February 14th. The note thanked her for her kindness during his imprisonment and was signed “Love, from your Valentine.”

As the story also goes, when Julia received the note, her sight was restored. The year was 270. The gate where Valentinus was executed was later named Porta Valentini in his memory. It is said that Julia herself planted a pink‑blossomed almond tree near his grave at what is now the Church of Praxedes. Because of the reported miracle of Julia’s restored sight and the compelling power of Valentinus’ faithful witness, Pope Gelasius I of the Roman Catholic Church eventually decreed February 14th as Saint Valentine’s Day in the year 496.

A millennium and a half later, we are now fully engaged in remembering St. Valentine’s Day, though, in the U.S. context, with a lot more chocolate than when it began.

Over the years traditions have multiplied. In Wales wooden “love spoons” were carved and given as gifts with hearts, keys and keyholes as favorite decorations on the spoons; the decorations meant “You unlock my heart.”
In the Middle Ages, young men and women would draw names from a bowl and then wear them on their sleeves for a week. In contemporary times, chocolate sales soar, flower orders quadruple, restaurant reservations triple, and marriage proposals and weddings abound on Valentine’s Day, as on no other day on the calendar.

It’s all good, in my book. I encourage us all to enjoy the day as much as possible with as much enthusiasm (and chocolate) as we can muster.
Let us also honor the inspiration for the occasion which no mythology can confuse or obliterate: love. And allow me to suggest three actions for consideration:

(1) Say your love to those closest to you. No matter how often or infrequent you may normally say it, engage in the practice of verbal love with those in your innermost circle of relationships.

(2) Pray that love may be infused in all relationships in all aspects of human existence. From the meagerest to the mightiest person on the face of the globe, love is the ultimate mold in which we were all created. Love is our origin and our destiny, and we cannot be fulfilled until we experience love in all of its fullness.

(3) Live in such a manner that the work of love will be increased world‑wide and help to defuse international crises. Love is not merely kind words on a card nor only a nice sentiment expressed one day of the year. Love is an ethic for the living of our days. Jesus mandated love as the key to our relationships with God, neighbors, and even enemies. The apostle Paul described love’s enduring capabilities when he rightly noted that “Love never ends.” The Hebrew prophets and the psalms consistently affirmed the unfailing love which God has for humanity and the world.

In the long run, hate can never prevail in human relationships. It is only the ethic of love that can build a better world. It just may be that a keener appreciation for Valentine’s Day could be an ultimate blessing for the world’s future.

[From LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE (Woodneath Press, 2015)]

Should I study the sacred texts of faiths other than my own?

Honored to offer a response to the question “Should I study the sacred texts of faiths other than my own?” in today’s “Voices of Faith” column in The Kansas City Star, Sat., February 6, 2016. http://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article58523373.html

“Voices of Faith” Column for The Kansas City Star – February 6, 2016

       The simple answer is “Yes.” For any person yearning to live a truly relevant and authentic faith in an ever-changing world, the answer is “Absolutely, yes!”

       Some people may regard the sacred texts of religions other than their own as detrimental or potentially damaging. But such thinking borders on superstition.

       How poor is our faith and how weak our understanding of our own traditions if a Muslim is threatened by reading the gospel of John, or a Christian is threatened by the thought of perusing the Bhagavad Gita, or a Hindu is threatened by exploring the soaring rhetoric of the prophet Isaiah.

       We are impoverished if the only sacred texts we read are the holy books from our own faith. Reading sacred texts from religions other than one’s own expands one’s worldview with surprising insights. For example, when Christians read the Qur’an, they discover that Mary, Jesus’ mother, is cited more there than in all the New Testament documents combined.

       Further research reveals that Muslims, particularly in Turkey, highly venerate Mary and regard her as a holy person.

       For Christians, the Hebrew Bible, what is commonly called the Old Testament, is not only recommended but essential reading for a fulfilling faith. The Psalms were Jesus’ prayerbook, and he continually referenced psalms and the prophets throughout his foundational ministry.

       Sacred texts are the cornerstones of every religion worthy of adherence. And understanding the sacred texts of others is a crucial cornerstone for a saner and safer world.