Ash Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Sister Marie Therese (MT) Summers OSB

Lent is a time to intentionally measure our life. It is a time for regeneration. It is a time to refocus our lives. These 40 days are like a spring cleaning. We can choose to clear out the clutter of our spiritual lives; we can use it as an opportunity to reshape the patterns of our lives so we can live more fully.

Benedict in Chapter 49 of the Holy Rule on Lent says: “during these days let us add something to the usual service and practices “with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thess.1:6)” Can we cultivate a joyful response in the call:  

  • To return to God whole heartedly.
  • To rejoice in our God, who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, loving and forgiving.
  • To be ambassadors of Christ, being messengers of hope and joy in our giving alms, prayers and fasting.

Observances in this season can vary from person to person. Practices vary as we each address specific area that will help nurture, grow our relationship with the Divine, and deepen our self-awareness and mindfulness as we love our neighbor as ourselves.

As we face a world fractured by war, starvation, violence, racism and all the numerous “isms;” as we live in families and communities with the separation from comparisons, competition, and the righteousness of closed mindedness, I offer two stories for us to consider as we move into this Lent 2022.

The Zen Master Hakuin (Haa-queen) lived in a town in Japan. He was held in high regard and many people came to him for spiritual teaching. Then it happened that the teenage daughter of his next-door neighbor became pregnant. When being questioned by her angry and scolding parents as to the identity of the father, she finally told them that he was the Zen Master. In great anger the parents rushed over to Hakuin and told him with shouting and accusing that their daughter had confessed that he was the father. All he replied was, “Is that so?”

News of the scandal spread throughout the town and beyond. The Master lost his reputation. This did not trouble him. Nobody came to see him anymore. He remained unmoved. When the child was born, the parents brought the baby to Hakuin. “You are the father, so you look after the child.” A year later, the mother remorsefully confessed to her parents that the real father of the child was the young man who worked at the butcher shop. In great distress they went to see Hakuin to apologize and ask for forgiveness. “We are really sorry. We have come to take the baby back. Our daughter confessed that you are not the father.”  “Is that so?” is all he would say as he handed the baby over to them.

The Master responds to falsehood and truth, bad news and good news, in exactly the same way: “Is that so?”  He allows the form of the moment, good or bad, to be as it is and so does not participate in human drama. To him there is only this moment, and this moment is as it is.

Events are not personalized. He is no one’s victim. He is so completely at one with what happens that what happens has no power over him. He knew that by resisting what happens, places him at the mercy of what happens, and then the world will determine his happiness and unhappiness. The baby is looked after with loving care. Bad turns into good through the power of nonresistance. Always responding to what the present moment requires, he lets go of the baby when it is time to do so.

The second story is about a wise woman who won an expensive car in a lottery. Her family and friends were incredibly happy for her and came to celebrate. “Isn’t it great!” they said. “You are so lucky.”  The woman smiled and said, “Maybe.”  For a few weeks she enjoyed driving the car. Then one day a drunken driver crashed into her new car at an intersection, and she ended up in the hospital, with multiple injuries. Her family and friends came to see her and said, “That was really unfortunate.”  Again, the woman smiled and said, “Maybe.”  While she was still in the hospital, one night there was a landslide and her house fell into the sea. Again, her friends came the next day and said, “Weren’t you lucky to have been here in hospital.”  Again, she said, “Maybe.”

The wise woman’s “maybe” signifies a refusal to judge anything that happens. Instead of judging what is, she accepts it and so enters the conscious alignment with a higher order, the wisdom of non-judgement of events, circumstances, and people.

Year after year, Lent invites us to break from our normal routines, acquired thoughts, and habitual actions so that we can refocus our lives on God. Can we cultivate an attitude of non-resistance? Can we cultivate an attitude and practice of non-judgment? I hope that our hearts might expand with remarkable joy as we dare to dissolve barriers through non-resistance to what is, and non-judgement that moves us to acceptance.

Sisters and friends, Ash Wednesday is not meant to be disheartening, on the contrary, it points us toward the fresh hope of the Spirit. By choosing to live differently than the world around us, let us joyfully declare that our hope rests firmly in the one who created us; the one who is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, loving and forgiving.

Let us be messengers of that same gracious mercy, kindness, love, and forgiveness.

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