whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh-
my adversaries and foes-
they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
Psalm 27 begins, "the Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?"
Once we say it aloud, this passage includes us all in God. Do you ever wonder why we give things up for Lent if we are already included in God's infinite embrace? One reason is that humanity's search for a holy embrace has a long history worth revisiting.
Ages before Jesus showed on the scene, people sought the holy embrace by seeking pleasure in all its forms, denying nothing. If you had unlimited food, wealth, drugs and sex, you must be happily close to the center of holiness. This isn't at all like Lent. In fact it was more than likely you were a local prince who came to power via violence or greed - not so much holy, just envied. Later came people seeking a connection to God by denying themselves food, water, clothing, shelter, even by tormenting their bodies. Is this some sort of role model for Lent? Let's hope not. Then, 500 years before Christ, Buddha tried both of these approaches to life. He was born to the hedonistic life, embraced it with enthusiasm, then abandoned it for the severely ascetic life and practiced that path for several years. He found both paths wanting. After a long long long contemplation, he preached the Middle Way - a contemplative path to holiness. Interesting, but where do Jesus and Lent fit into this narrative? And what about that Easter thing? Lent is, after all, a warmup to the joyous mystery of Easter. Being a temporary ascetic and giving up something on our way to Easter is confusing.
It's a bit more confusing because Jesus did not seem to preach asceticism for everyone. He did demand it of his disciples - they had to give up their homes and families. But for everyone else he taught love, unconditional love. By extension he taught us to see God in every person. In that love, and in that seeing, we would find that we all share God's unconditional strength. Jesus taught it, many saw it, and then he was killed on the cross. What a mess- no wonder the disciples were in lost in confusion.
Two days later came Easter. The witnesses were profoundly astonished.
God's infinite power exploded before them in the resurrection. Jesus wasn't just all talk, He was the Real Deal. Out of the confusion that had followed Jesus' death, the resurrection brought on an urgent need to actually go back and re-listen to His messages of love, to hear Him, and to rediscover the call to follow Him. God had astonished them so thoroughly that they could not ignore the call.
Back to this Lent thing. Today, are we to give up something for Lent as a prep for a few people being astonished two thousand years ago? It has to be more personal and more sublime than that or we'd have abandoned Lenten rituals long ago. Could it prepare us to experience the power of God here and now? Yes, it could. In fact, it does. We have a chance to feel the strength of God come gently alive in ourselves merely by denying ourselves something we felt was essential to daily life. In this very self-denial we get the chance to rediscover that God's embrace will carry us forward with ease.
Our quite personal daily rituals or pleasures turn out to be our individualized ways of actually avoiding reliance on the strength of God. Once in a while if we nudge our lives out of the daily rut, calm ourselves a bit, listen with our hearts, listen with prayer, we find His sure embrace there and waiting. Lent is when we annually nudge ourselves a little harder. Remembering that God's embrace is always there, do it, it's just a nudge.. Give your life a nudge, bump something out and accept the Embrace that follows.
Let us pray that with these small nudges God's safe embracing love will shine a bit more within us day by day.