On a long car journey some years ago, my wife Eva and I had the reflective time alone for good conversation. Encapsulated for hours together as we sped south from Montreal across northern New England towards Boston, we talked of our 30-some years together as a couple. Going over the events that punctuated our personal history, it became apparent that all too often we could discern our life path only by looking backward over where we had been together.
In the rush of daily activities, life seems to constantly propel us forward. Family obligations, our daily work routines and the seasonal round of activities alone can fill our personal calendars and leave us longing for a three-day break like this Rendezvous weekend or a couple of free nights just to slow the pace down a bit. It can seem regrettable that only a sudden illness or life-altering event, like the loss of a long-time job, would truly force us to stop our personal merry-go-round of existence from spinning us mindlessly onward.
Our values and our family ethic rooted in our upbringing, religion and formative experiences of youth all too often can be trumped or pushed to the back of our minds by work deadlines or other exigencies of daily life. No matter how carefully planned or how determined we hope to be, our resolutions can fall by the wayside amidst a welter of seemingly more pressing demands.
Acknowledging this human reality, the great religions of our world all set aside a special time, a time of preparation, a time of reflection and a time for transformation. Christians call the season beginning with Ash Wednesday earlier this week and running for 40 days, excluding Sundays, Lent. The word ‘lent’ comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word for spring. For Christians, though, it marks a time for fasting, prayer and alms giving in preparation for Easter, the celebration commemorating the resurrection of Jesus. Easter itself is the name of the old Teutonic goddess of Spring, but, syncretically, now is a Christian term.
Lent has often been seen as a time for doing without. This can be a way to develop empathy for the poor around us and freeing up personal resources for alms giving to organizations like the Whitehorse Food Bank and other groups serving the poor in our Yukon communities.
It can pose, however, a much more active challenge. As the Jewish prophet, Isaiah, states emphatically: “This, rather, is the fasting I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”(58.6-7)
No matter which path we choose, taking this yearly opportunity to pause, reflect and pray provides an antidote to the unrelenting push and prod of our consumer society.
Possibly it will allow us to refocus our lives on our foundational values. Is it too much to hope that our reflection and prayer will bring us to the point of recognizing again what is truly important in our lives?
Maybe our yearly Lenten rendezvous will allow us also to recognize, as Naomi Klein did in This Changes Every Thing, a book on the Occupy Wall Street Movement available at Alpine Bakery, “That the world is upside down: We act as if there is no end to what is actually finite – fossil fuels and the atmospheric space to absorb their emissions. And we act as if there are strict and immovable limits to what is actually bountiful – the financial resources to build the kind of society we need.”
Klein continues: “The task of our time is to turn this around: to challenge this false scarcity. To insist that we can afford to build a decent, inclusive society – while at the same time, respect the real limits to what the Earth can take.” Maybe our Lenten rendezvous offers us also a time for a radical degree of honesty.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.