Lent and Lint
Lent. Not to be confused with Lint – that mysterious substance that collects on the filter of your dryer. Yet, Lent is just as mysterious, and it is a time to clean the lint filters of our lives – all the things we ought not to have done and all the things we ought to have done and did not do. For lack of a better word, sins.
Sin. It has come to sound old-fashioned, out of date – and yet, look at the world. Just the other day the front page of the Baltimore Sun (yes, there are still print newspapers!) carried the following stories: A student at UMD shot two of his roommates and then took his own life; an officer was shot in the head in a training “accident;” and a rogue former LA policeman was on the loose having already shot and killed several people while declaring “asymmetrical war” on the LA Police Department. The entire front page was devoted to people shooting people with guns.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. North Korea blasted a nuclear weapon. Gabby Giffords, Newtown, CT survivors, and other gun incident victims were on hand at the State of the Union, along with rock and roll gun advocate Ted Nugent. Syria is awash with bloodshed on a daily basis. The streets of Chicago see innocent children being shot in the crossfire of gang warfare. Human trafficking continues here in the U.S and abroad. And yet Sin gets a bad name – is considered passé.
If Sin were Lint, we have a lot of filter cleaning to do. For Christians, Lent is the time to get rid of the Lint called Sin. Easier said than done.
As Rabbi Hillel put it so well so many many years ago: If I am not for myself, who is for me? If I am for myself alone, who am I? If not now, when?
It begins with me. And I suspect it begins with the longest and most disrespected of the Ten Commandments: keeping Sabbath. When disciplining children we call it “Time Out.” The problem seems to be that as we grow up we stop “disciplining” ourselves. We become too busy to take Time Out. There is no one to send us to our Time Out corner.
And yet, nearly one-third of the Ten Commandments is devoted to instructions on keeping The Sabath. Shabbat. Nothing can be said about Sabbath that has not already been said better by Abraham Joshua Heschel in his book, The Sabbath, and its meaning for modern man. We spend most of our time wanting, acquiring, grasping and tending to things of space. Sabbath calls us to observe the holiness of time – what Heschel calls the architecture of time. Resting on the seventh day is the one observance that has defined
Judaism since the wilderness sojourn following the Exodus (approx. 1300 bce). The seventh day is not tied to a lunar cycle, to a month, or to an event. Just stop every seven days and take time to simply be.
It is Evelyn Underhill who once said that we spend most of our time conjugating three verbs: to want, to have and to do; overlooking the fact that none of these has any meaning aside from the verb, to be. Being must precede wanting, having and doing – or else we become slaves to wanting, having and doing.
Think of it – In the beginning, after six days of creative labor, God takes time off. God needs a rest. How can we not need a rest? Yet, like God’s people in the Wilderness for 40 years we want to return to slavery – slavery to wanting, having and doing. Whatever we are doing is just too too important to take a day off once a week. It is not that long ago that stores were closed one day a week. Theaters were closed. Families spent a day together – together with one another, together with God. Now everything is not only open seven days a week, but many businesses are open 24 hours a day. 24/7.
Heschel writes, “There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space becomes our sole concern.” P.3
Who can deny that the world could be a better place if we just took the time to be. I find that life goes at such a speed these days that I need Sabbath time every day – as often as five times a day. I ask my students to take 3-5 minutes in silent centering prayer to begin each class – an invitation to let go of the rest of the day and just “be” for a few minutes. Sabbath time. Try it and you surely will like it.
To have any chance of cleaning the lint filters of Sin during Lent we need to stop wanting, having and doing and give ourselves time to be. If it was good enough for God, it’s good enough for me.