Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Lent

We are in the Christian festival of Lent.  The day before Lent began was called Shrove Tuesday.  Shrove is derived from the word ‘shrive’ which meant ‘to confess’.  Christians confessed their sins.
Sin to Christians means ‘to miss the mark’ as in archery.
I have an intention, which is usually good, even, but often my ‘outcome’ is not what I intended.  Christians see this failure for ‘intent’ to be ‘true’, so that ‘outcome’ was not always what one ‘intended’, as principally a product of individual ‘pride’.  I may ‘aim’ an arrow, in this case, my life, but the outcome or where the life ends is dependent on so many things, especially God.  For what is the outcome, is truly ‘God’s will’.  It’s ‘fact’ and while my ‘intent’ or ‘expectation or ‘pride’ might have said otherwise, what ultimately transpired, the culmination of all factors is Thy Will, not My Will.
To Christians, as to Greeks there is a condemnation of ‘hubris’ or individual ‘pride’.  Pride is not the healthy self esteem that comes from doing esteemable acts but rather the superiority of the individual over other individuals. Christians saw ‘arrogance’ as putting oneself above God and above one’s fellow men.  Napoleon may well have been the greatest general of his day until Waterloo.  So Christians always collectively know 'its not over till the fat lady sings'.  Further, to Christians 'true judgement' isn't in this world but at death when one meets St. Peter and the events of our lives are reviewed in a spiritual way, not a worldly way.  The worldly man or woman of Wall Street may be unloved by almost all like Dickens Scrooge or Duddy Kravitz but he may be seen as a 'big man' as Hitler was once seen as such.  To a Christian, the ultimate value is not in a 'worldly' view, what the courts may say of a man, or governments for that matter, but what God says at his or her death.
The great summation of Scripture (the Holy Bible of today and the Torah of Jesus’ day) was said by Jesus, “Love God and Love thy neighbour as thyself”.  The sin of pride is ‘self love’ and the setting up of oneself and one’s desires as superior to that of God and others.  While the corporate winner of this world is the boy or girl with the 'most toys at the end' this 'shallow' conception of 'life' is not that of the Christian whose values are 'deep'.
It is said by Christians there are two things that you can’t do alone, be a Christian, or be married.  Christianity is a community.  It is said to be God inspired.  There is further an idea that God, the culmination of all things, has a plan of God, beginning to end. To scientists this is called ‘determination’ or to philosophers’ fate’.  To a Christian God is omniscient and omnipotent.  He is all knowing so while we here in the earthly transition of Scott Peck's 'kindergarden' see what St. Paul describes as 'but through a glass darkly' God knows the alpha and omega. Men are forever judging creation based on the limits of their brains and bodies and ideas but God is infinite and infinite, mysterious and imaginable and unimaginable.  God is nothing and God is all. God is the ultimate paradox and yet God is love.
In consideration of the interconnectedness of everything then the idea that I individually can independently without a myriad of consequences and influential factors ‘move’ anything ‘alone’ is ultimately ‘insane’.  There is God and there are the many, i.e. all of us and all of creation.  If everyone and everything were making decisions independently then there could be ‘chaos’ if everyone had ‘free will’ in that alienated sense.
Ultimately Christians see ‘sin’ as a hierarchy too.  If I murder my neighbour, I have not only put my ‘will’ as superior to another ‘human’s”  I have denied him existence. On the other hand if I eat too much ice cream on a diet I’m ‘sinning’ but not so greatly.  Sins are translated into ‘crimes’ in this context. They are crimes against individuals, humanity and self.
Shrove Tuesday, I confess, ‘my’ sins, for Christians believe in community we must be honest and true, especially to ourselves and to others.  In the world of individuals paranoid and vying psychopathically to dominate and destroy, secrecy is the key.  We plot in secret and we war with all manner of secrecy.  To the Christian confession is the sharing of our failures with another, often a priest or lay minister. This ‘sharing’ through confession allows us to ‘half our troubles’.
Secrecy requires so much ‘space’ on the ‘hard drive’ of life and while it may be beneficial in a day to day reality for some time, it is also true that long term ‘secrets’ bear on us and can cause insanity.  This ‘unburdening’ by confession is a ritual of Christian practice that allows input from community into each individuals ‘problems’ and ‘troubles’.  It also assumes that when we ‘share with another our worries, fears and angers’ then we invite God or community into the ‘solution’ of those worries or fears or troubles.  Jesus said ‘where two or more are gathered together in my name, there too am I’.  The power of one human computer addressing a problem is formidable but by adding another there is a quantum leap in power which results in miracles, unforeseen, apparently impossible solutions to problems ,which after the fact look obvious and possible but were not, before the confession and ‘redemption’.
Secrets separate us from our fellow men and women.  Confession ‘redeems’ us. This old language has meaning which is very ‘explicit’ and ‘implicit’ like all the deep language of religions the world over.  There is often no word with the ‘specific’ meaning that an ‘old word’ has. The word ‘confess’ and ‘sin’ are ancient words and while we have a wealth of language today the Christians hold onto these old words partly because with time and practice the ‘specificity’ of meaning of these words surpasses any of the modern ‘simplifications’ or ‘elucidations’ of meaning that might appear at first to make the religion more attainable.  But religion like quantum physics has a language whose ‘meaning’ is as important to the adepts and truest practitioners. There is power in words as well.
When I call myself a “sinner’, and I call myself a ‘sinner’, I’m saying something very different from ‘I make mistakes’.  Calling myself a sinner means of course that I make mistakes but it means much more to me and other Christians.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of the 6 and a half weeks of Lent.  Lent is the time of repentance, abstinence and fasting that leads up to the most important festival of the Christian calendar, Easter.
On Ash Wednesday a cross is made on the forehead of the Christian usually in a church ceremony by a priest.  Christians cross their foreheads and their foreheads are crossed with holy water, during baptism, and oil on other occasions such as for healing.  On Ash Wednesday Christians are crossed on the forehead with ashes as a reminder of death and a symbol of letting go of that which they have done that is wrong.
Easter is the time of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Christians participate in this ritual in their individual lives as they each die to the materialism (or addiction) of their individuals lives and are ‘reborn in the spirit’.  To the Christian this life is but a small part of eternity.  Christians believe they are ‘spiritual’ beings living a ‘material’ existence.  They also believe that they become ‘attached’ to things of the ‘flesh’ i.e. the material world and limited world and must ‘break their bonds’ to become ‘free’ ,seeing themselves as part of the wholeness of God, rather than separate and apart and alienated.
In the journey of Lent that follows the beginning of Ash Wednesday Christians symbolically forsake something that ‘attaches’ them to the worldliness of reality.  For some this is just ‘sweets’ or for others it may be ‘gambling’ or ‘prostitution’ or ‘pornography’ or ‘swearing’ or ‘lying’ or ‘masturbating’ or ‘cursing’ or whatever. The idea is not so much the ‘fasting’ as the ‘turning away from the world of the senses  to focus on the spiritual.  This ‘fasting’ process is called part of the ‘via negativa’.  The road of ‘nada’ ,as St. John of the Cross referred to it, was that one said ‘no’ to the things of the world, to realize that God is not in the alienated parts of the creation. Though God is immanent God is also transcendent and we are not just limited but have the limitlessness of God.
We are encouraged in Lent, therefore, to ‘reflect’ on God and turn ‘inward’ in meditation and prayer.
Our ‘senses’ , taste, smell, sight, touch, and hearing ‘connect’ us with the ‘material’ world.  Our ‘intuition’ and ‘imagination’ connect us, in contrast, with the ’spiritual’ world.
We imagine a loving God and intuit a loving relationship. We visualize our relationship to God and all others in a communion of loving souls. We pray for peace and love and the health and good life of our friends, family and community.  We lift up our thoughts to God. It is not that we “reject’ the world but seeking something greater and all encompassing we look beyond this world to the infinite. I guess, arbitrarily, we have said the ‘outer world’ is the world of the ‘senses’, the world of ‘brain’ as it were, the brain being the central computer of each individual that translates the experience of the senses. Instead we turn inward to our mind and soul , that interconnected individuality that can contemplate and know in special ways which are not merely acquisitorial or dominating but gentler and truer and participatory.
In Lent we prepare for death on the cross of Jesus and his resurrection.  We prepare ourselves for our death with him and our resurrection too.  Lent is that time of preparation, that time in the dessert, that time of individual and communal contemplation on the inner world beyond the consumer materialisms of our age.  In Lent we turn away from the politics and business and withdraw at different times of the day to what St. Theresa of Avila called the “inner castle’.
The media is shouting and the salesmen are hawking and the big men and women of the times are swaggering and proclaiming. There is loudness everywhere. The global warming kooks are threatening that the worlds going to end if we must buy their books and thermometers. There's the right wing politicians and left wing politicians and the beaks and tail feathers all strutting their stuff and preening their plumages.   On every street corner someone's selling pot or crack or heroin or their slaves girls or boys.  There's  has a ‘sensational’ new ‘product’ to make material life better everyone everywhere must know about every minute of every day. Everywhere there are promises of youth and better scents and new hair and new hair removal, better restaurants and new epic movies. There are even douches and viagras and depends and better depends and laundry soap. There’s a cacophony of delight for the senses.
In  the ‘city’, everyone must be in touch with the ‘latest’ and the ‘greatest’. Every day there is ‘news’ News and more news!  Not just local news but global news and now news from the Moon and news from Mars. Astronomical news. And sports news, not just one sport, but every sport and countless leagues.  Everyone must know. You really must must know.  You must not get 'behind'. We must not forget either.  IF we don't sit up straight and pay critical attention, we will get  shocked.  We might get locked up or fined or called stupid or demented.  Never forget. You must never forget.  
 Always we are commanded and harangued as we ‘must see’ or ‘must do’. There are always 'shoulds and shouldn'ts.  There are police and soldiers and terrorists and governments.  There arejudges and doctors and engineers and weather men and even priests and ministers, immans and rabbis.  There are teachers and  professors. They’re all shouting.  And always there are sexual innuendos between men and women, men and men and women and men. You mustn't look and you mustn't mustn't ever touch. There are the young too and the old.  There are ‘urges’ and ‘drives’ and ‘desires’  ‘prohibitions and’ taboos’.  There's drugs and alcohol and gambling too.
During Lent we ‘detach’. We ‘detach with love’.  We find as Christians, moments through each day to  meditate and pray. There's the Jesus prayer and the Our Father, and just talking in silence in our heads to the most loving and all wonderful of friendly kindly beings.  It was said by some that if God didn't already exist man would have needed to have invented him so that he could contemplate the very best of himself.  It's in this kernel of connectness that all creation is .
The idea of ‘spirituality’ is that this is the experience of the individual in relationship with God but ‘spirituality’ ,while it focuses on the individual experience of the divine, overlooks the message of community.  We are not alone. Religion all over the world is the gathering of people around the spiritual enlightenment of individuals. It’s not unlike the labs that were built for Einstein. Einstein was the wise man of science but his ‘congregation’ included the lab builders and the book printers. People criticize religion because they are children and children are very good at criticism but it takes adults to ‘create’ . Religions are the creation of adults and amazingly these marvellous ‘songs’ to the ‘heavens’ last for thousands of years and billions participate.
Ultimately we must let go of religion when we meet God in spirit.  All that is ‘worldly’ such as religion is left in that face to face encounter.  There are no words to describe the indescribable. All is metaphor like the medievalist who called this the 'cloud of unknowing'.
Lent is the leaving of winter with Easter the spring festival of renewal and grace.  The pagans, those religious folk, before Christians consolidated all the religions of the day into the Catholic Christian religion, celebrated the spring time renewal of life.  This is the miracle of the planet's renewal as we experience in our seasons of change in the wondrous locality of the reawakening of life..
Now in Lent we are moving towards Easter and spring and a greater awareness of Jesus Christ and our own spirituality in the community of religious.  With Easter the Christian life is the life of renewal on a daily basis.
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