This post isn’t about the ideas of Christianity. Every religion
celebrates times of abundance and times of solemnity. Yom Kippur,
Ramadan. They talk of repentance, of turning away from our past and our
For me, this year, this season is more about turning toward than
turning away. Turning toward other people and embracing their pain,
rather than ignoring it. It is a difficult discipline. But our true
wealth, says Wendell, comes when we recognize that while one of us
suffers, we all suffer. While our brothers and sisters live in poverty,
we do too.
Until that guy on the corner has a bed and a shower, neither do I.
I’ve begun thinking about religion again. Mostly because I made a deal.
Why else become a Catholic again at the absolute most miserable time to do so? Why else successfully resist the spiritual booty call of Christmas joy only to succumb in January? I hate Lent. I’ve always hated Lent. It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s damp, it’s miserable, and then you go INSIDE the church. The relentless focus on death and guilt and the crushing burden of being worthy of someone else’s sacrifice, and the natural presumption that you aren’t because who could be?
Then you go home to give up chocolate or in my case booze (I know, but I probably needed to give it a rest anyway), and really, April cannot get here fast enough. Somebody wake up that rabbit and get his cotton-tailed ass on the bunny trail. I can’t wait three days to roll back the rock. It snowed another half a foot last night and it’s all turning to slush today. I’m permanently tired. This is the time of year I forget and start to wonder if we’re going to make it out of winter alive. Maybe this time the earth will just stop turning.
I made a deal, because when someone you love is dying that’s what you do. You make deals. You make white-knuckled deals with the beyond to get you through the hour between three and four o’clock in the morning, and when the sun comes up you try to live up to them. Sometime in mid-November my regular conversations with whatever deity exists took the form of “I swear to you, you asshole, you stop her suffering and I will do whatever, and I mean WHATEVER.” Whatever, anddon’t bother to lecture me about how it’s all in my head because the crazy thing thing is I’m fully aware, seems to have taken the form of signing up for my local parish. And every Saturday night vowing to get my ass out of bed for the early service, and every Sunday barely managing to make it to mid-morning Slacker Mass on time.
The last time someone this close died I cut all my hair off. I go there, in no small part, to talk to her. She would find that blasphemous in the extreme and I’m aware of the humor in it. The church is old and the radiators make banging noises. I’m distracted by badly behaved children (jealous because I’d have been soundly smacked for clambering over pews and pushing my brother) and badly behaved adults. I remember most of the prayers but none of the songs are the same. It’s not a bad parish, all things considered. Lots of emphasis on
service, lots of discussion about challenging oneself to not be such a
dick all the time, clothing and food drives, the stuff I like.
I am hoping, at present, that if I just keep behaving like this eventually it will make sense and I’ll be able to be more articulate about it, particularly as it informs my politics (Told my mother once, “You’re the one who dragged me to church with all that crap about the widow and the orphan, and guess what? It took.”). For now, though? You breathe in and out, says a line I love from a movie I loathe, until it no longer hurts to breathe in and out. There’s no real way of getting around it, Lent. God, I hate this time of year.
Paul says this salvation is on your lips and in your heart. If it isn’t
in those places, where else would it be, and what good would it do you?
And if it is in those places, what good is it if it doesn’t make you
act? If it doesn’t lead you, drive you, compel you, to behave
accordingly? What good is your salvation, if it doesn’t make you feel
safe? And if it makes you feel safe, why wouldn’t you then do what’s
You could go out into the wilderness, and not be
afraid. You could go out to where God is most clearly seen, where there
are no distractions, no confusion, no mistaking something else, some
false idol, some human made object, for God. Where money is useless and
the noise is from nature and the sights are God’s handiwork. You could
go out into the wilderness and not be afraid; if you felt safe.
wilderness is not a place, of course; it’s s state of mind. You could
be in the wilderness right now, sitting before your computer, reading
these words. You could be safe right now, but in the wilderness
tomorrow morning, when the work week starts again. What salvation do
you have there, in the place where you don’t feel safe? What good is
your salvation, if there is a place where you don’t feel safe?
safety justice? It can be. “A wandering Aramean was my father,” but God
brought the ancestors of Israel to a place of safety, and then told
them to take care of the aliens among them. They were safe because God
had made them safe, and that meant they had to remember the lessons of
justice, and where their safety came from, and why they should not be
afraid, even of the aliens who lived with them, the ones who were not
children of Abraham. They weren’t better than those aliens; God didn’t
despise those aliens; there was no reason for the children of Abraham
not to feel safe. Because the word of God was as near to them as their
lips and their hearts.