It’s about You. It’s about the collective Us

I saw The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and it hit me right where I needed it to. I’m re-reading the play and stumbled upon this gem in the first few pages.

I also think that religion gets a bad rap in this country and that non-maniac-type people who are religious or spiritual have a responsibility to stand up, be counted, and gently encourage others to consider matters of faith and to define for themselves what their responsibilities are and what it means to try to be “good.” It’s not about joining a team or a church or choosing sides or learning a prayer. It’s not about man-made concepts of good and evil. It’s not about doing “enough” or “too little.” It’s not about shame and guilt. It’s about You. It’s about the collective Us. Thomas Merton said, “To be a saint means to be myself.” What if that were true? What is it that we need to overcome in order to truly be “Ourselves”? I won’t pretend at all that this play answers that question, but if it provokes the question in you, then please let it. Ponder it. Because we need you.

—STEPHEN ADLY GUIRGIS NEW YORK CITY, 2005

Guirgis, Stephen Adly. The Last Days of Judas Iscariot: A Play . Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.

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Ashes: On Lent and Choice

I have always struggled with the concept of Lent.

In theory, I’m a huge fan of a 40-day retreat leading up to the Spring and Summer. It allows us to become thoughtful as we end the busy holiday and New Year season, and ensure we can reset our intentions (in any given context) around the new year. It’s a period to look inward, question ourselves, and push ourselves to grow as people and as Christians.

Still, Lent also comes with a whole host of rules that even non-Catholics question. Why am I fasting today? What if I have an athletic event that day? Why can’t I eat meat? What counts or doesn’t count? If I eat meat Friday can I get away with being vegetarian on Sunday instead?

I struggled with these questions because, honestly, I don’t really think God cares that much if I eat meat or not today, or whether or not I fast. If I ate a cheeseburger right now but still tried to generally be a good person, I don’t think I’d get kicked out at the pearly gates when my time came. I don’t think that would happen to anyone else either.

As I got older, though, and returned to my faith a few years ago, I realized that I wasn’t becoming involved in Lenten practices out of fear of my Father, but rather as a thoughtful choice to better myself as a person. Lent has nothing to do with “having” to give things up, it’s a choice to let go of things in your life that you may not need, or create some healthy distance from parts of ourselves we have perhaps become too indulgent in. Lent is the opportunity to actively step back and re-evaluate what you actually need, what you can let go of, and what you can do to enrich your life.

In addition, though, Lent is the opportunity to welcome new, more giving parts of ourselves. I’ve often enjoyed hearing from priests like Fr. James Martin SJ, who invited us last year to add more kindness to our lives this Lenten season. I was also happy to hear that Pope Francis encouraged us to give up indifference towards our fellow humans.

So, this year I have a few things I’m giving up privately. I’m hoping to become a healthier person physically and emotionally, so I’m using this season to work towards that.

I’m also, though, planning on donating to and shouting out a different charity each week. I struggled with this a bit– I don’t want to come off as boastful (and, let’s be honest, I’m a teacher– I’m not giving a lot of money). Still, I want to encourage others to find charity this season, Christian or not, especially in times where resistance and power are sometimes financial.

So, this week, I’m donating to the Southern Poverty Law Center. As someone who has benefited immensely from Teaching Tolerance and been involved with the amazing work they do. As we fight to ensure equity and safety for so many students, the work they do to educate teachers and students is essential. I encourage you to send a donation their way.

 

The Miracle Is That We Are Beloved

The worst part of death is the terrible silence. It is absolute– a void so empty it is rich in its darkness.

Be it of a loved one, a relationship, or a period of our life, there is always still the silence. The pause after the final breath. The moment when any denial we had about what was happening is stripped away. We can only look down at our hands and know, ‘This is my reality now.’ I heard that silence when I hung up the phone with my grandfather after telling him goodbye, knowing I wouldn’t be able to see him before he passed. I felt it when I returned home from an ex’s, with three years of my life reduced to a few garbage bags in a now empty-feeling apartment. There is nothing we can do but look down at our hands and realize that our previous reality has shattered, and that there is a looming darkness we can only face.

It is easy to feel unworthy in those moments. Everything we held dear has been stripped from us, it seems, and we realize just how fragile we are, how human and imperfect we are as we stumble through life. It is easy to look in the mirror, see nothing but the pain and darkness of that death and feel like we will never find the love or joy or happiness we are certain has left forever with death.

And yet.

Growing up, I had a priest who once reminded us that the renewal of God’s love at Easter didn’t, you know, have to take place on Easter. “If not today,” Fr. Fred told us, “Easter will come.” Even if it was not that Sunday morning, we were reminded that at the end of it all God’s love renews, heals, saves. Even after we have beaten, spit on, and ridiculed Christ, God still decides we are worthy of His love and forgiveness. 

I am reminded of this now, on an Easter Sunday where I am in the process of rebuilding. The darkness we face after a death isn’t a completely false one. Often times, it is an important reminder of our own humanity and imperfections, of the places we faltered and failed.

The darkness isn’t the lie; the lie is that we will never find that joy again.

I know that the miracle of God’s love is not that the world is perfect or that everything is good. The miracle is that, with those imperfections, we are still beloved. The miracle is that even when we are sure we are horrible and hopeless creatures, God reminds us that we are still worthy of love and grace. If we allow them, we still have people and moments that move us to uproarious laughter and countless joy.

This morning, I send a friend of mine a quick Easter message saying, “Rejoice! His is Risen!” He replied in kind and mentioned how blessed we were that we looked inside the tomb and see that is empty.

There, too, is the miracle. The story of Easter does not run away from the notion of death itself. Christ is still crucified on Good Friday and mourned for those three days. We all have parts of ourselves that die as we seek renewal. God’s love doesn’t make death disappear. The resurrection is not a wiping-the-slate-clean reaction of naivety. When Christ looked down and showed us His hands after the resurrection, they weren’t magically devoid of scars. Christ still bore the wounds of His past and crucifixion, even after He rose.

Easter is not about easy fixes or magic healings. It is when we acknowledge both death and the imperfections that came before it but do not stay in the darkness with the decaying forms of our past. The tomb is empty. We don’t have to cling onto those parts of ourselves anymore. Instead, we decide to walk out of the darkness with Christ and rise up better than before.

So, as this Easter comes, I am eager to walk forward in the miracle of God’s love. I look down at my hands and see the reality that they are still weathered and broken from the last part of my life.

This is my reality now, and that is okay. It is good. It is blessed. I have no need to dwell in these past pieces of my life. Instead, I stand up and walk forward out of the tomb and towards light.

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Knowledge, Self-Control, Endurance: On Lent

It’s the Lenten season again, which means a time for reflection and renewal. A time to let parts of us die so we can draw closer to Christ.

I’ve struggled a lot with what to do this Lenten season. I’m much busier than I had planned to be this spring, and I honestly worry that keeping to something particularly strict would be too hard and not in line with what I actually need.

Last year, I gave up ice cream and alcohol. A noble task and one that I’m proud my partner and I accomplished (having an accountability buddy certainly helped). While it was probably a healthy thing to do, I don’t know if it brought me closer to God. It pushed me as a person, but I don’t know that it pushed me in my relationship with Christ (though the two aren’t mutually exclusive).

This year, Pope Francis has declared it a year of an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. We are called to revel in Christ’s extraordinary mercy on us, and seek to live that holy mercy in our everyday lives. It is only fitting that the reading for Ash Wednesday this year are the Beatitudes. The juxtaposition of those who are struck low now being brought high by Christ reminds us that there is always room within God’s mercy to be made whole again; life tends to trend towards an equilibrium.

For me, this means attempting to live compassionately towards others and towards myself. It is a reminder that in Christ is not just the compassion we hope to be brought, but what we should bring and seek within ourselves for others as well.

Since last year was a year of extreme physical sacrifice, I am going to try and live a compassionate life– towards others and myself. This Lent, I am going to seek moderation. I hope that, in learning to live a more balanced, tempered life, I can attempt to find a sustainable way to live with God at my center. As 2 Peter says:

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

God reminds us that love isn’t just butterflies-in-the-belly, but flourishes in knowledgeable, self-control that helps us endure trials when the path is less than rosy. Love of all forms– towards each other, ourselves– isn’t always about the extremes. It’s also about the patience and ability to endure.

So, for Lent, I am going to do a  few things to try and live a more moderate life– around drinking, rest, and social media use.

I’m also making a conscious choice to keep these personal. I worry that some aspects of my faith have become for show, and want to try and keep somethings for myself (despite doing work and generally enjoying sharing about my life).

I hope the Lenten season pushes us all to be more compassionate and seek more of Christ’s understanding love in ourselves and each other.

One final thing: check out the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Lenten journey for Racial Justice. I’m really excited to take part.