Yet more reckless lavish extravagance! As we studiously simplify and abstain in this season of Lent, all manner of wine, oil and food is aflowing! A small, indignant torture in the face of disciplined self-restraint. I have been fasting and plastic-free shopping and find these past weeks’ gospel readings less than encouraging. Or are they?
At the beginning of this journey I was emboldened by a desire to get control over my consumption and to establish some measure of order and calm. I felt manipulated and seduced by the turbulence of compulsion and need. And to a large degree these two Lenten practices have helped me find focus, balance and quiet.
Our curbside garbage has decreased to a fraction of what it used to be. Before, we were putting out a couple of big bags a week, but that has petered out to a couple of big bags a month…maybe.
The internal shame and grief I felt as I peeled back layers and layers of polyethylene has lessened to tolerable levels.
The compelling ache for more and more has quieted with an assurance that I will not faint or die from not having It. Whatever It is.
But what is really remarkable is how utterly freeing it is to reposition materialism. I am sure I knew this at a rational level, but feeling it is so awesome! Almost all the things we crave aren’t essential, necessary and indispensable after all! The biggest fear I had with both of my Lenten practices was the grief of losing things I treasure. But the gift of these practices has been the realization that there is a different kind of bounty when we are prepared to loosen our white-knuckle grip on our latest, greatest claims.
I now get Mary’s reckless offering of the costly perfume. The shift of values she must have experienced through her life with Jesus made it possible for her to lovingly give away something that was really valuable but not at all essential.
As we draw closer to Holy Week, what spiritual insights have you gained from your Lenten practice (your One Thing, perhaps)? Are you sensing your spiritual practice has helped shift your values in any way? If you take a moment to reflect, you might come to see that making changes in behaviour—even those that are subtle and small—can make a deeper impact than we first realize.
“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:18
JOHN 12:1-8 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
PHILIPPIANS 3:4B-14 If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee, as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
PSALM 126 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, then were we like those who dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy. Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad indeed. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev. Those who sowed with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed, will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.
ISAIAH 43:16-21 Thus says the Lord, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.