Listening to our brother, David’s homily last Ash Wednesday evening, took me back to the way we shared Lent in our home church of St. Christopher’s in Dallas. Fr. Matt was our rector and I remember when he gave us all an adaptation of the William Arthur Ward poem, “Fast From, Feast On” in the church newsletter on Ash Wednesday. I promptly took it to work with me and posted it on the bulletin board over my desk.
I remember how Charles and I used it through several Lents to help us stay focused on what was truly important to us in our lives before God. It was such a gift. I offer you this adaptation and hope you might find it useful too during this wonderful season of change and transformation. May you Have a Holy (Healing) Lent.
During Lent, let us…
Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ within them.
Fast from an emphasis on difference; feast on the unity of life.
Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.
Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from worry; feast on trust in God’s Care.
Fast from unrelenting pressure; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from facts that depress; feast on truths that uplift.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that undergirds.
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragements; feast on hope.
-William Arthur Ward ( Mr. Ward was an American author, teacher and pastor, and fellow TEXAN.) [1921-1994]
I am excited about the speakers who will join us this year for VOICES during the season of Lent. Thank you to the committee who imagined the people we might invite, found ways to be in contact with them, and helped tell the story of Redeemer and the VOICES series in the process: Karen McGee, Millicent Bain, Murray Taylor, Rayner Wharton, Keri Frisch, and Deborah Callard.
March 8 Dr. Richard Bell is a professor of history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Bell’s most recent book, Stolen: Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home, is a gripping and true story. Their ordeal—an odyssey that took them from the Philadelphia waterfront to the marshes of Mississippi and beyond—shines a glaring spotlight on the Reverse Underground Railroad, a black-market network of human traffickers and slave traders who stole away thousands of legally free African Americans from their families in order to fuel slavery’s rapid expansion in the decades before the Civil War.
March 15 Shane Claiborne is a best-selling author, activist, and speaker, who teaches around the world about making peace, creating community, and embodying justice. Claiborne’s newest book, Rethinking Life: Embracing the Sacredness of Every Person, was just released on February 7. He is the leader of The Simple Way in Philadelphia, and a founding member of Red Letter Christians, whose “goal is to stay true to the foundation of combining Jesus and justice.” Claiborne’s work has been featured in a variety of media, including Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and CNN.
March 22 Dr. Joanne Martin is a historian, educator, and researcher, who founded with her husband Baltimore’s The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Through the Museum, which began as a travelling exhibit and is now housed on North Avenue, Martin has committed her life to impacting future generations. Children are her special focus, igniting a spark in them by helping them to understand the history of African Americans.
March 29 Jason Green is an attorney, former associate counsel in the Obama White House and co-founder and senior vice-president of Skillsmart, a technology firm based in Germantown, Maryland. With his sister Kisha Davis, MD (White House fellow 2012), Green produced the film Finding Fellowship, which tells the story of how three racially-segregated Methodist churches— two white and one black—merged into one in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination. After screening the film with us, Green will answer our questions about this important story, set in Quince Orchard.
And as a special event, we will begin our series on March 1 with “house meeting training.” The evening will equip us to gather a small group in life-giving conversation. Over a simple meal, we will learn how to create a circle of fellowship, action, and prayer. Join us in the parish hall and sign up here.
Last Thursday, the Church marked the feast of Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation, when Jesus was presented to God in the temple forty days after his birth. As we hear and read in the Song of Simeon, Jesus was recognized as a “Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of [God’s] people, Israel (Luke 2:29-32, BCP 135).” The focus on light developed over Christian history, leading to candle lit processions on the Feast of the Presentation, and eventually the custom of blessing a parish’s candles. It’s from these traditions that we get the name Candlemas.
It’s also the beginning of Black History Month, a time when we are invited as a country to celebrate the life, contributions, history, and legacy of Black Americans. As I was reflecting how the beginning of this month coincides with Candlemas, one image in particular stood out: Harriet Tubman, the Moses of her people, carrying a lantern through the dark woods on her flight from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where she was enslaved, to Philadelphia, and later Canada – lands of freedom.
Or at least, I thought that was the image I remembered. When I went back to look for it in the book I had been reading, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, I couldn’t find it. Maybe it was later in the book, when Tubman returned to lead groups of enslaved people out of the South. But no. It wasn’t there either. I’d imagined it.
Instead, what I found were pictures of Tubman in the dark, lit only by the moon. Traveling under the cover of darkness was one of the ways Tubman and the people she freed were able to move. There was no lantern in these illustrations –the darkness helped keep them safe. Why had I imagined that there was a lantern, that light was required?
Christian symbolism and imagery often plays with images of light and dark. This is rooted in Biblical imagery for Jesus (the Song of Simeon in Luke 2:32 and throughout the Gospel of John, among others places). We chant “The Light of Christ! Thanks be to God!” as we process the Paschal Candle during the Easter Vigil. On Sunday the baptized babies and their families were given candles lit from the Paschal Candle representing that same light.
Over time, however, images of light and dark in the West have become synonymous with good and bad. Think of descriptions of Gandalf and Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, or the outfits of many Disney villains (Maleficent, Jaffar, Ursula, the Evil Queen in Snow White – they all wear a lot of dark colors). This had made it all too easy for systems of oppression, like racism in the United States, to use the color of one’s skin as the basis for subjugation and judgement. But darkness isn’t bad. Indeed, as pastor and theologian Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown writes, creation began in the dark and God blessed the day and the night. She reflects on Howard Thurman’s book The Luminous Darkness in which he reframes the definition of darkness, finding beauty in himself and in the dark, reminding us that “God is also God in the dark” (Brown).
God was certainly still God in the dark for Tubman. Accounts of her life attest to the dreams and visions by which God guided her safely along the paths of the Underground Railroad. In addition to her own survival skills that she had learned from her father, like making remedies from plants and roots, predicting the weather, which nuts and berries were safe to eat, and how to navigate by the stars, her deep faith by day and night kept her and the people she led alive (Weatherford). She carried Christ without any physical light – as Cristina preached in her sermon on Sunday, it glowed within her, her own luminous dark.
Reflecting on Tubman and Candlemas, I wonder how we can hold on to the light of Christ – a potent and powerful image that has certainly helped me through difficult times – without limiting our perception of light and dark to one thing only. After all, no one symbol or image can capture or contain the full presence and meaning of Christ (Kelly Brown Douglas, A Womanist Approach, 108). Just like seeds planted in the ground, we need the dark of the soil to grow and nurture our roots the same as we need the sun above to help us grow our leaves. We need them both. It is easy to fall into either/or patterns of thinking, but again and again I am reminded that such dualism is limiting, and often harmful. Instead of finding a lantern, I found something infinitely more powerful: the witness of one of the Saints of God, making her way through the perils of day and night, led by her gifts and her faith in God.
A member of our congregation graced me with a copy of a book she seemed to always have her nose in the first couple of times I met her. I noticed that she had underlined, written in the margins, and generally marked the book up like I have a tendency to do when I am reading something of deep interest to me. I asked her about it, and she showed me the title one day. Then she bought me a copy. It is called, Everyday Tao: Living with Balance and Harmony by Deng Ming-Dao. It is just what the doctor who lives within me ordered.
There is so much in “Everyday Tao” that I want to commend to you. It refreshes my perspective on things I know and understand at a heart level that is deeper than my head. Wisdom requires that an individual learn intellectually and then integrate that learning into their life so that they experience the teaching. Experience is the real teacher. Cellular memory matters. That is wisdom.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the place of non-violence and non-violent principles in our individual and communal lives. It bothers me that as I long for active non-violence in my life, I fall short of it most of the time. But I am persistent, and I will continue this path for no other reason than it is the opposite of the violence that is prevalent today. By the way, some of us just hear or read about the latest murders, while others of us experience those murders closer to home.
Frankly, we are strongly out of balance as individuals, as a nation, and as a world and this lack of harmony is out of order with the created cosmos as well. Hence, all of life—even the weather and the bees—seem wonky. (Is that a word?)
So, I have been studying and learning through Pace e Bene, the international non-profit committed to a non-violent world. It may be a large order, but then war and the various isms we live with are much more costly because they kill the spirit of the human being who was created and destined to soar.
Can you IMAGINE even one day living creatively and without violence? What would such a day look like to you? Can you close your eyes and visualize a day hearing a substitute for what we commonly call News? Visualize hearing of new legislation that benefits all and leaves none out?
I cannot yet do so, but I am working on it. I believe that the energy of non-violence that I contribute to the world balances the overwhelming energy that is being distributed ad nauseum in the present moment. What do you think?
Dee says TAO = “the Way, the Path, the Route, the Road.” She reminds me that we are all on our paths. Peace and All Good on your Journey.
Much Love and Many Blessings,