“Grace is the beauty of form under the influence of freedom.” Johann Friedrich Von Schiller
“Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
My readers who have been with me the past couple of years know that Lent is probably, no wait definitely my least favorite part of the liturgical year. I think it is because the way that I saw it in the past. The problem was that I saw a long list of things not to do, or too do and that Lent was more about getting things “right” in terms of obligations, fasting, prayer, penance and trying to survive 40 days until Easter liberated me from the torture.
The last couple of years I have tried to make light of Lent writing about how to survive the season in rather humorous ways, or rather cynical ways as I struggled with PTSD, depression, abandonment and a loss of faith that for all practical purposes left me an agnostic. It was the only way that I knew how to deal with it because before Iraq my Lenten observances prior to Iraq, while genuine were torturous because I had missed the reason for the season. This year is different because my life is starting to come back into focus and faith after a long absence has returned.
This year I begin Lent in a new church. My readers know that last year I was tossed out of my old church by a corrupt bishop who later got destroyed his ministry and lost his office because of his own duplicitous nature and hubris. The charge was that I was too “liberal” and that I would be better I found a home with the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church, North American Old Catholic. I also was transferred to be the head of the Pastoral Care Department of a very busy Naval Hospital on a Marine Corps Base. Both the changes in church as well as the change in duty assignment have helped me. I am more at peace and find work rewarding. I find that I am at peace in the ACOC a church where my Catholic faith and more “liberal” views are in sync and where I am not looking over my shoulder wondering if I will be censured or silenced as I had been in my previous church on a number of occasions.
While I still struggle with PTSD the effects are not as pronounced as they were even six months ago. I made my first trip by air since my father died last June. Since returning from Iraq air travel, crowds, noise and light have often sent me into a complete panic and what I would describe as a PTSD “meltdown.” While I still experienced some anxiety during the travel I was able to deal with it and had no panic induced meltdowns. That was a major milestone for me and a sign that I am getting better.
So this year Lent and Ash Wednesday was different than either before Iraq when I was trying to faithfully observe the rituals but missed the bigger point and the time after Iraq where Lent made little sense because I didn’t even know if I believed in God. This year my celebration of Lent, and I use the word celebrate rather than observe is grounded in the love, grace and mercy of God. Something clicked this year and I think it was in really understanding the words found in Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, the 5th Chapter verses 17 through 21.
“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:17-21 NRSV emphasis mine)
What I have discovered in this is something that has changed is that middle part “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.”
That has become liberating because I think I finally get what really means. It is about a God who of his own accord loves his creation; he loves real people in a real world including me. Lent like all of the Gospel is about reconciliation between God, humanity and creation. Likewise it is also about reconciliation and forgiveness between people and even nations. It is about the Prince of Peace and less about external ritual.
I’m not saying that there is no value in observing spiritual disciplines such as fasting, abstinence or additional prayers or good works, but if they don’t lead us into a deeper relationship with God and help bring us into right relationship with others they really are worth nothing. I think that Jesus when talking about those that made sure that everyone saw the external aspects of their faith, or to better put it how holy they were, hit the nail on the head. In fact it was the Gospel lesson today in the Ash Wednesday Liturgy “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them…” It is faith and the grace of God in Christ Jesus that is the only antidote to the sin that keeps us from living fully reconciled to God and our neighbor and for that matter the only things that can bring us to joy not trying to impress people with our piety.
I will be observing some of the Lenten disciplines this year but with a far different attitude and expectation in the past. I will seek to live the reconciled life both with God and those that I in relationship with and those that I come across. I realize that it is okay to be me and that I can be real and don’t have to try to be someone or something that I am not. It is to live in grace and freedom in right relationship to God, people and his creation. This Lent I will endeavor to live in that grace and freedom seeking to live the reconciled life.
God bless you during this Lenten Season.