For the western Christian tradition (all those who are not Greek or Russian Orthodox, etc.), this week has brought us the season of Lent. As usual, my childhood memory of Lent is non-existent. Basically, Quakers did not observe Lent. It is not so much that we were against it as that it was not necessary. Quakers are a funny bunch. At least originally, they sought to be serious about their faith on a daily basis. I still find that laudable. So it meant they were not inclined to set aside days and periods when a Christian should be more serious and others days and seasons when they could lighten up.
On the surface, I still agree with my Quaker heritage. However, I also know the downside of that heritage is that it could produce the sour, dour Quaker who took everything so seriously that there was no longer any spice to life. There was no reason to laugh and, maybe even, celebrate things. To be chronically serious is probably neurotic or worse. So I have tried to give up that part of being Quaker!
But when you do that, Lent makes sense in that way I think the larger Christian world understands it. So I try to participate at that level. I also appreciate this is a thing Christians do that has a similarity in other major religious traditions. Ramadan, for example, is the Muslim month-long fasting period, which has early roots in Islamic history. Not to eat from sunup to sundown, as the Muslim does, is challenging. Probably most Christians do not face a comparable challenge in his or her Lenten resolution.
But this meditational reflection is not so much about me as about some other significant ones whom I watched on Wednesday---the beginning of Lent. I went to an Ash Wednesday service, which is an ecumenically sponsored event with our College Chaplain and the Newman Center, the Catholic campus ministry. It was a meaningful experience, which culminated in most of those in attendance marching to the front of the chapel for the “imposition of ashes.”
I had ashes “imposed” on my forehead. I had been marked! Clearly, now I was identifiable as a Christian…at least for that day. My Jewish sisters and Muslim brothers were not so marked. I must admit (and maybe it is my Quaker uneasiness) that I am not quite sure what to do with it now that I have a marked forehead. It makes me a little self-conscious. That in itself is an interesting spiritual issue.
I also knew a Catholic priest would later be on campus and there would be another Catholic service and many more folks would come to confess sins and be marked.
And later that night it hit me. I went to the Rec Center and at least four of the athletes were marked! I knew nothing of their story. But I was impressed. They were ready to play a game with those ashes on their forehead. What a witness!
I have no idea what any one of them felt or thought. And perhaps, it did not even matter. They did it. And I was proud of them. They stood for something and were willing to show it. It is different than wearing a cross as a piece of jewelry or the Star of David (although this takes more gumption). Wearing ashes on your forehead is not “fashionable.”
So these athletes became “more” in my mind (and this sounds like I had thought of them as “less”). The “more” they became had nothing to do with sports. It had everything to do with their faith, their witness, their commitment, and their spirit.
They became teachers for me. They were models. I was the wimp; they were the spiritual champs. It makes me smile once again at the spiritual irony of life. Yet again, young teach the old. And I am grateful.