Marvin Repinski: When Lent comes to our home

Published 6:01 am Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Four words spelling “Lent” are provided as suggestions to enhance our spirituality. Viewing the words, “when Lent comes to our home,” strength and insight may be provided.

•LEARNING. Mary Gordon, the author of many books, mostly fiction (stories that strengthen the soul and inform), writes the following: “I’ve just gone through an old prayer book of my mother’s, which I used to read a lot as a child.” She comments that the prayers illustrate the emphasis on the life of the mind, always in the service of God.

Lent is for many persons in the Christian tradition and maybe, as Ms. Gordon notes, even ex-Catholics or persons of many persuasions, a 40 day journey of receiving a focused renewal of one’s pilgrimages. The 40 days, starting on Ash Wednesday, compel a person to look both inward and outward. Forty is a sacred number in the Bible. For instance, Jesus coming into a focus of his life’s purpose was in a season in the desert. Forty days. Reflection?

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This Ash Wednesday I spent next to my wife Becky, at an altar area where the sign of the cross was placed on our foreheads with ashes. In these older days of my life, my emotions move in many directions. I remarked to a group recently, “I am one-third Protestant, one-third Catholic, and one-third skeptic.” I am a believer; the life of Jesus and his teachings have a grip on my life. Additionally, I am a life-long learner, an experimenter, seeker, and live on the edge. Call me a truth-seeker.

These 40 days are a gift. They give us a lease on life to realize again and again that our lives are a time of pure grace granted by One, whom I regard as God.

Returning to Ms. Gordon, she refers to her grandfather as a simple Irish Catholic. Her mother is remembered as someone who embodied, from her father, “a kind of peasant Catholicism that he romanticized … their faith was the most important thing in the world.”

The memory of her young years is referred to somewhat reverently, as a comedy. She early on experienced a gap between the ideal and the real. What a religious life portrayed by the saints and a collision, as she called it, with her pedestrian life. “I tried walking with thorns in my shoes for penance, but then I found out that it hurts. So I walked around on the heels of my shoes and put the thorns in the toes, so I could have them in my shoes but not feel them.”

Most of this, at least in American religious practice, is past tense, but there are yet the pamphlets that say, “do this or that and you will go to hell.” Of my many memories, a lady in my Pentecostal church warned all the girls, “don’t wear lipstick or Jesus won’t love you.”

Formation and a reconstituted religious life may be enhanced by a sincere Lenten journey. For those who read this with negative memories of church, think again and form a larger future.

•ENDURANCE. Scripture is full of admonishments. Some are dated; some are of little consequence, formed with different cultural conditioning or not to be universally applied. One verse from John 8:12 has long stayed with me: “Again Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’”

I suggest that not only is divine light walled off to people who know Jesus. The Book of Psalms for instance, has decades of people who were in God’s tender care, but years before Jesus was on earth.

Writing as a “liberal” believer, in the love and forgiveness of God, that has been a mercy to my life, I wish to imbibe some historic themes of the Lenten season. My unblushing assertion is that for me, a strength, stability, and if there are any virtues, are retained by outside help. We go on and on and with goals to live well because of an endurance that many persons and institutions provide for us. It’s not quite like the joke: What kind of stories do rabbits like the best? Ones with hoppy endings! Oh! We will endure — the happy may happen, but either way, win or lose, we will stop and still tie our shoes and stay on the journey!

•NURTURING. My declaration in this essay is grounded, especially in these days, on the concept of freedom. While in college, I often attended the Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Minneapolis. Hello Presbyterians!! The wisdom of the principal pastor, Arnold Lowe, captured my attention. What he offered deepened my desire to “hit the books,” in order to embrace a civil world.

In one of his books he writes: “Freedom is not something which is created by men (persons). Men may write constitutions and declarations of independence. They may write charters of freedom, but they cannot create freedom. Freedom lies in the hearts of men and women.”

His reference to Judge Learned Hand’s statement needs repeating. “When freedom dies, there is not constitution or law or court that can save it.” I risk the political thought of today to say “Listen up!” Question: Can some of this by applied to immigrants?

We must believe that a person has a right to be free. Lent is a reminder that a 40-day pilgrimage of the spirit means that my life matters. We cannot be owned by a nation, a particular person, a group, a union, “the boss,” or any other person. I am not a lone wolf. After all that we may say about freedom, it is with certainty that we have limits, a pursuit of the nurturing of our civility; we have duties, promises, vows, and obligations. I set this before one who travels 40 days to say the gifts of God are precious.

•TRUST. The word Lent is of a special season. We may choose it. To continue believing in the good, the healing of the power of the reconciliation of differences; even the elimination of “bad taste” is a possibility.

To love another is in many ways a component of loving ourselves. Lent may teach us to appreciate that self-love is not a curse but a necessity.

Contentment is not a sham, invention, or a false face. It is what a human being can realize. It is not every day that I can embrace some thoughts with a full heart. “Like what, you say?” Well, Psalm 46:1. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. There we will not fear, though the earth should change.” Now, there we have big words!

We don’t say every day, “a good time was had by all.” But the long view is to believe that this limp will not be forever. Trust is a strange word. Enough mixed mud happens in a life for one to say, “is it all quicksand?” No, that is to give in too easily……

In Lent we are invited to see in Jesus, teachings that are preserved for us. To say and be an example that Jesus was. C.S. Lewis has said, “Jesus is who he says he is, or a poached egg.”